Ministry and Money

dollar sign notebook

Ministry and money. Talking about the two together in the same conversation sort of freaks people out. For me, it’s like someone talking about snakes. Never okay. Writing about ministry and money can be difficult. But, this time – for me – it’s not.

Because I have a story to tell and, well, as you’ll soon see – it all points to God. And He wants us to tell people about Him.

Please don’t take what I’m about to write as some “prosperity Gospel.” It’s not. It is about choices, commitment, and obedience. Yes, at the end of this story, I received a blessing, but it was long-awaited and I’m summarizing in a short post, a story that could take hours to tell.

A few years ago, I found that sweet spot where ability, affinity, and affirmation all meet. I love guest services, and more specifically, seeing people take their next steps and get connected to the church. The time between first-time-guest to membership class (at our church we call it Partnership Class – you may call it something different at your church) is my absolute favorite! Assimilation is one of my favorite words. Following up with our guests when they “check the box on the card” will drive me to commit hours as service almost equal to the number of hours for which I get paid.

My son and I go to Guatemala on missions trips. They cost money. In Guatemala, I serve with our medical/dental team. Medical and dental supplies cost money. My kids like to go to church camps and retreats. Those cost money.

So when I told our Pastor I’d like to take the hospitality at some of our connections events to the next level, I also told him I’d commit some of our own personal funds to make that happen.

Why? Because I’m passionate about the ministry – I’m committed to do whatever it takes. And I know this is the ministry to which God has called me. Even when I’m tired, I’m committed to it – out of obedience to Him. When I know a Partnership Class is coming up, I budget for small things – bottled water, k-cups, chocolate, mints.

So a few weeks ago, at the grocery store, I was buying our family’s groceries and a few extra things for a church event and I maxed out my weekly budget. (I actually went $4 over budget, so if you know my husband, don’t tell him. Oh wait, he might be reading.)

Anyhow, after leaving the grocery store, I realized I had to pick up prescriptions. Funny thing – a stroke leads to several new medical expenses. We don’t have the best insurance. For some reason we have both high premiums and high deductibles. That doesn’t lend itself to a lot of margin in our budget.

So pulling into the pharmacy, I had a dreaded realization: I may need to use the credit card.

The cashier said to me, “it looks like you’ve met  your deductible. Your prescriptions won’t cost you today.”

Yes. I walked out of the pharmacy holding what should have been $250 in prescription medication without paying a dime.

If I told you these things happened all the time, I’d be lying. They don’t. Over the years, we’ve made a lot of sacrifices for ministry-related items and church-related expenses. It’s taken a lot of faith, trust, and sacrifice.

But that day God gave our family an unexpected blessing.

Take your next step. Give. Serve. It may not be easy. Do it anyway. God’s already given you the ultimate gift of his son, Jesus. We couldn’t ask for anything more. But maybe – just maybe – you’ll have a cashier say to you, “this won’t cost you today.”

Serving Others

lift moving box

99.99 (999999999)% of my job is serving others. I’m either helping our Pastoral staff and ministry team leaders run statistical reports – attendance, assimilation, etc. – or preparing items for our guest services team to use on Sunday.

During times that we don’t have a front desk volunteer, I get to greet guests and answer incoming phone calls in the office.

And I get to assist our Lead Pastor and his wife with some of our special events (things like dinners with church partners and Partnership classes).

I like serving others. And I don’t mind that my boss has never put me on stage – or screen (have I ever mentioned how smart he is?).

We even have a database field for ‘how they heard about our church’ and one of the things I get to do using our forms feature is track how people first got connected to our church.

I’ve found that many people get connected through service. Either people from our church have reached outside the walls of our church to serve someone and that person decides to come on a Sunday see what we’re all about. Or someone has a gift, skill or talent and they want to donate their time to one of our service projects (this happens sometimes even if they don’t already attend our church). During the time of serving, they get to know us and decide to come on a Sunday and see what we’re all about.

See how serving can work in so many ways to help lead people to find and follow Jesus?

I get to see that through data entry and attendance reports.

But there’s nothing like coming out of the office, out from behind the computer screen, and serving people.

I get to do it by serving with our Guest Services team each Sunday. I serve at the check-in desk, welcoming new families to our Children’s Ministry, and I serve at our What’s Next Desk – helping people take their next steps at our church.

Serving on Sunday mornings wasn’t part of my original job interview, and I doubt our Pastor would fire me if I told him I just needed a break on Sunday mornings. Serving on Sundays is something I GET to do and I look forward to doing it.

But now that you’ve read how I feel about serving, I want you to read what our Pastor says about serving. I know I’ve already referred to him as smart. He’s also a very gifted writer. Read about serving others and what our church is doing here: www.claytoncrossings.com/dayofservice. (While you’re at it, pour some coffee and take time to read his other blog posts. They’re pretty darn good!)

How do you serve your church?

Guinea Pig / Test Family

guinea pig bibleThis morning our family visited a new church. This week, I had spoken with the Lead Pastor and one of their Elders and they both knew of my love for knowledge of neurotic obsession with CCB (Church Community Builder) software.

Their web site and social media gave us enough information to know where we needed to go and a general idea of what to expect when we got there.

Their greeting team did a great job of telling us the important information: where to take our kids, where the bathrooms were, where to get coffee. We were walked to (not pointed to) the children’s check-in area.

It was there that this magic happened. The Elder serving at the children’s check-in desk was helping to explain to someone a new thing they were trying with CCB check-in and said, “she [pointing to me] wouldn’t mind being  our guinea pig and testing this for us.”

Wouldn’t mind!? That’s a bit of an understatement. Does this guy know who I am and what I love? Jesus. Family. Coffee. Church Management Software. I try to keep it in that order. I’m not always good at it.

“Wouldn’t mind.” Make that: “happy to…” “I’d be mad if you didn’t ask me…” “I’ll report for work on Monday morning. Where’s my office?”

Okay, I didn’t say that. I thought it. I didn’t say it out loud.

I did tell him I’d blog about it. So here it is.

Their children’s team did great and when I pointed out that it may be taking too long to check in a new, first-time guest and made a suggestion about about what I’d seen and helped with at other churches, they listened. I don’t know if they’ll do what I suggested. But they showed an interest in what I said. (They may be blogging about the crazy first-time guest who tried to tell them how run their church.)

The Children’s Pastor took us from there to where we’d leave our youngest son. (Again he didn’t point; he walked us to our destination.) Our middle-school daughter had the option of staying with us or participating in a Bible study. This morning, she chose to stay with us. He asked me how I came to love church management software. I told him that while serving as Next Steps Director at another church, I saw it’s power and ability in helping us get guests connected and retaining them long-term. He said he’d only really been using it for about a year. (It’s okay, I’m here to help. I’ll report for work Monday morning. Where’s my office?)

Side note: I’ve been known to tell churches that they didn’t even have to pay me. That I believed so much in this software helping them, I’d help them implement it for free. With two kids in college and rising insurance rates, my husband has suggested that I rescind that offer.

We saw a few friends. One we saw just last week. Another we hadn’t seen in 19 years. It was great to see them both.

After service, we got to chat with the Pastor and his wife. The Pastor asked us to send an email with our feedback. I’d send an email if I had anything critical to say. Because I have nothing critical to say, I’ll post publicly on my blog.

This morning was fantastic. I have no doubt, we will be back.

And any time you need a guinea pig to test a CCB feature, please use our family. We are happy to help.

 

A Few Of My Favorite Things

desk computer phone smartphone coffeeThis week I had a video chat with some people of Breeze. They asked me what my favorite part of the software is? I went with what we use the most: sorting and emailing.

But the more I think about it, those might not be my favorite things. Here’s a few things I really like. Not just with Breeze, but also with CCB, and any church management software.

Profile fields that offer ways to help people connect.

Most people profiles are going to contain very basic information: name, address, phone number(s), email. But I love it when we go deeper with custom fields: gifts, talents, abilities, interests. By running regular search reports on those fields, we can help people connect to areas of service – and to other people. Most software companies offer ways to customize your profile fields. Take advantage of those. Then regularly run those reports and make sure people are getting connected.

Forms.

I’m about to do a whole blog post on why forms are important, but here’s a few key points:

Ensures everyone gets the same information.

Helps with pre-planning and organization

No more “lost” emails. Saved digital record of form submission.

Follow-Ups and Process Queues.

Whatever your software calls them, I love them. When a first time guest is entered into the system, a follow up is assigned to a pastoral staff member (the youth pastor for any new students in the youth group; our senior pastor for any new families). Once that follow up is complete, the Pastor can add notes, and check the ‘complete’ box. Then we run regular reports on completed follow-ups, in conjunction with event attendance reports to see how people where people are connecting.

What are your favorite things?

mom.com

As I sat down to write this, my son referred to my blog as “mom.com.”

And so begins this ridiculously long blog post about the random things God has been teaching me.

99.99% of the time, this blog is going to be devoted to church management software. Mainly because I like church management software. It’s what I think about for fun.

But I also think about the church web site (which is slowly edging out the church management software for the #1 spot), guest services and assimilation, and handful of other church-y things. And I also don’t forget that it’s about God. It’s about how He is molding us and shaping us into who He wants us to be for His glory. It’s about growth. It’s about change. It’s about connecting people to church and people to people. It’s about facing challenges and recognizing His blessings. It’s about finding peace in the midst of a trial.

And so…every so often…I’m going to break from writing all about church management software and databases and just give you a glimpse into our lives. And how God is working in our family. And what he’s teaching me – as a mom…and in other areas.

This summer has been challenging for our family. Any change – even recognizably good change – brings it’s own set of challenges.

A few weeks ago, my youngest son – who is in public school after 5 years of homeschooling – had a difficult week. There were some things that brought him to tears, which in turn, brought me to tears. And I questioned. I questioned a lot.

Was I supposed to go back to work? Should I still be home with him? What if we’d put him in public school two years ago when we first had an inclination that he might do better in that setting? What if we’d never put him in at all?

So as I was listening to my son’s fears, concerns, and cries. And as I myself was crying and questioning, I received a hand-written note card from my boss. Except that he didn’t write it as a boss. He wrote it from the perspective of a Pastor.

To some of you, this might be nothing. But when I got that card in the mail, I realized he was already thinking of our family as part of the church family and not just of me as an employee. And I realized how grateful I am to serve there.

Then God took it to a whole other level (He always does!).

One of the things my son was struggling with at school was making new friends. He felt a little left out. But this week he received a birthday party invitation and he is extremely happy. And I was able to use this situation to teach him how powerful prayer is. I told him that last week, when he was so unhappy, that we had people praying for him (for both of us), and this week he’d gotten a birthday party invitation. Not only that, but when I called to RSVP, the other boys’ mom seemed genuinely happy that my son was coming. I showed my son the note we’d received from my boss Pastor, and I made sure he realized how much God loves us.

This week, two other churches contacted me about team structure, leadership development, and volunteer development. I’m not even sure why they contacted me or how they got my name, but it’s truly humbling to think that not only could I play a small part in what God is doing at Fairview Baptist Church, but that He’s allowing me to play a small part in what He’s doing in and through other churches. I always think there are probably 1,000 other people out there more qualified than I am and I am grateful each day for the opportunities He gives me.

In talking to another church leader, I (we) realized that we can approach paid staff (both Pastoral and other) in two ways:

The first is that we can look at them primarily as paid staff members who also attend our church. We look first at their position, title, and authority. We look at their job duties and expectations first, before looking at them as part of the church family. And in some cases, they are never looked at as part of the church family.

The second is that we can look at them as part of the church family, who – because of position, title, authority, and expected duties  – we honor and appreciate by giving to them financially.

In a perfect world, I believe you’d see a good blend of both of those views all the time. However, after much discussion, I admitted that as a church staff member, I’d rather see the second. I’d rather be seen as part of the church family first, employee second. One of my favorite quotes is by Tim Keller: Our daily work can be a calling if we reconceive it as God’s assignment to serve others.

What about you? How do you think you are viewed and how would you like to be viewed? Is there a third option we didn’t consider? Or have we completely missed the mark?

And finally this week – I began a new Bible study on the Book of James. And almost immediately, I had to admit how selfish and prideful I’d been in many areas. You see, at our old church, I oversaw the database and first impressions teams. I was always at the info desk which means that I usually had all the info. I entered events into the database, which in turn went to the public calendar (web site) and I created online sign up forms that would be displayed in the lobby.

But going to our new church is different. The person who held this position before me, did not attend, and seeing my face on Sundays is a new thing for some members to process. People have said, “this is new. We’ve never done this before.”  I get it. It’s new for us, too. And thus, I have yet to serve on a Sunday. And I miss that.

But maybe in all of this, I’d become too reliant on my own talents and abilities and not fully reliant on Him and what He can do. I found contentment and fulfillment what I did, rather than who I did it for (Him). I took pride in what I had done, not fully giving credit and glory to Him and thanking Him for the gifts and talents He had given me.

This week, I received an email from Google indicating that our searches, clicks on our web site, and other actions had taken a dramatic increase of the past month.

There would have been a time when my immediate response would have been to pat myself on the back. But instead, I found myself ‘speechless’ before God. I could not believe my efforts had produced these results. And I had nothing by thanks for Him.

 

There are still some things I miss about serving on Sundays – pre-service team prayer, meeting our first time guests and first time guest follow up – to name a few – but I’m also exceedingly grateful that God has given me new opportunities to learn and grow in other areas.

Tonight in the car, my youngest son said, “Mom, the Bible is 100% true. All of it.”

And with that, I’ll get back to Church Management Software and processes. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into our family’s life. Until next time…

 

When To Give Them Keys

teenager car keys“Mom, can I have the keys to the car? I’d like to go out.”

“Sure, son. See you soon.”

Except that ‘son’ hasn’t passed a driver’s test. He doesnt’ have his license. He never even gotten his permit. He hasn’t taken Driver’s Ed class. And he’s never driven this car.

Would you do it?

I hope not.

And yet, we do it every day with our software access.

New staff member? You get staff access.

New ministry team leader? You get ‘group leader’ status.

New teacher? Don’t forget to take attendance.

Software administrators get frustrated when data is entered outside of the boundaries of standard operating procedures.

Executive Pastors get frustrated when their end reports are inaccurate.

And our new-hires and ministry leaders are frustrated because they don’t know what they did wrong.

Here are a few things that can help avoid some uncomfortable situations and unwanted scenarios:

1. Training. This is my favorite word. Set aside some intentional training time for new-hires, new group leaders, no ministry directors, etc. Make it part of the onboarding process. The more access they have, the more training they need.

2. Continuing Education. Just as software administrators receive emails from software companies regarding software updates, so should the people using the software. Anytime there is a software that will effect their area of ministry, make time to talk to them about it.

3. Clear Expectations. Do the teachers know they are supposed to take attendance? Do the ministry team leaders understand they are expected to use the software to plan events and schedule volunteers? Do group leaders know this is used as the primary means of communication? Make sure they know what’s expected.

4. Written Documentation of Policies. Written documentation protects you from being accused of favoritism. There’s temptation to make one person sit through an hour-long training session, while you let another person slide because you know he or she is a computer genius and has a PhD in Computer Science. Don’t do it. Develop a set of standards. Write them down. Everyone should follow policy.

5. Revoke Privileges. This is my least favorite thing to do. If you break a traffic law, your license could get suspended or revoked. If someone is using the software in a way that is causing you to consistently go in behind them and “fix” or “undo” what they’ve done, revoke their privileges and have a private conversation with them. Chances are very good they simply forgot to do something or this topic was overlooked in the original training. In most cases, privileges can be reinstated after they’ve had a ‘software refresher course.’

The good news is that most of the current ChMS programs on the market today, have ways to fix, or undo, any data entry errors. Also remember that this is just a software program – a tool in the process – and that any relationship with a co-worker, fellow church member, and friend is to be treasured far more than the systems, processes, and tools we use.

When Words Cannot Express…

Helping our college-aged children make decisions about their future, and one of our younger children starting a new school, and planning a family vacation, and and and…

…wasn’t enough change.

Nope. Not enough change for our family.

Earlier this year, God also called us to a new church. And sometimes, even when you know it’s God, and even when your joy is found in following His will, it’s tough.

Very rarely on this blog will I mention a church by name. I know a lot of people at a lot of churches and para-church organizations and because of our professional relationships, I get to know things about their churches and organizations and we talk about what’s happening and how they are navigating their own challenges.

But I’m about to mention this church. Because they are setting an example.

We began attending in June,

However, we have not taken the next step to join with the church as members.

And then this week…

There was a death in my family. And I was faced with booking some last minute travel and making some last minute schedule changes.

So here we are: having left one church; not yet members of another. And I had a second moment of feeling alone.

But unlike some other areas of my life, the church we are attending is displaying Jesus and showing his love. This church – these people – have reached out to me in so many ways.

I sent an email to the Pastor around 11pm on Monday. On Tuesday morning I woke up to emails and texts (he had used the database to email the prayer team…since this blog is all about databases and processes). One person actually wrote out a prayer for me and my family in an email. Throughout the day on Tuesday I received calls, more emails, more texts.

My boss himself is stepping in to handle some things that should fall directly on my shoulders. He’s picking up my responsibilities. Servant Leadership.

So thank you, Fairview Baptist Church. Words cannot express how much I thank you for what you have shown our family and how grateful we are to know yours.

 

How A Church Management Software Got Me Out Of My Comfort Zone

As we’ve already established, this is my comfort zone:

coffee laptop desk

The only thing it’s missing is my phone which is always nearby (skin grafted to the palm of my hand).

Except today.

Oh, how I was looking forward to today.

There are six of us living in our relatively small-ish 3-bedroom, 2-bath house. I love my family. I LOVE MY FAMILY. But, there are times when you crave peace, quiet, a space alone, time to clean out a closet without distractions, and a good chick flick.

Due to different schedules, vacations, and grandparents, I realized my oldest son and I were going to have roughly 36-hours at home alone.

That’s 36 hours of peace, quiet (well, he’s a guitarist with multiple amps, so maybe not so quiet), space alone, time to clean out a closet (or two), and maybe even a good chick flick.

And then the church member.

I am having trouble with my class attendance and follow up report.

I’ll investigate that for you.

Would you come to my class Sunday and help me?

No. I can’t on Sunday.

Why?

I will not be at church Sunday.

Where will you be?

Here:

couch woman laptop

On my couch. Watching a televangelist. Maybe even eating bon-bons.

“Hmmm…” She said, “bon-bons or the WORD OF GOD?”

Guilt trip, anyone?

Okay, okay, I’ll be here. Meet me in the office and we’ll go over attendance.

The guilt trip continued to the next stop until we reached our final destination.

I’ll go to her class. I’ll stay in her class and maybe even participate. I’m even staying for church.

But, truthfully, I don’t think I’d have been happy staying at home this morning.

I’m grateful to be here.

Don’t Do It Alone

baseball teamJust like you can’t do it all; you also cannot do it alone. Being the software administrator, you’re probably also in some type of leadership position at your church. While teaching others how to manage their own areas of the software and not trying to do it all, you also need other leaders around you. Here are some ways that have helped me:

  1. Join/Commit to a church. I was talking to a friend recently who does freelance graphic design for several churches. She considers it a service and charges a very small fee, even sometimes providing services free of charge. Yet, she’s not currently a member of any church. She’s got two small children. She’s struggling with a few issues. She has no church family. (They’ve been visiting a church for about a month, but are finding the membership process to be difficult. I told her I’d write a whole blog post on that. I will.)
  2. Get in a small group. Depending on the size and structure of your church, it could be difficult to develop deeper relationships by just attending church. If you’re not already involved in a small group, do it.
  3. Serve somewhere else. I often joke that my comfort zone is at my desk with my laptop creating a buffer between myself and the other person any other people. It’s not really a joke. To get myself out of my comfort zone, I began greeting on Sunday morning. I started as a door greeter, moved to lobby greeting, and quickly found my ‘home’ at the information desk (or Next Steps area). (The joke then was that I had a table and ipad kiosk between me and the people, rather than a desk and laptop. Again, not really a joke. This is very real.) But that got me out of the office, and with people. And I found that I really, really enjoyed that. I was using the software to see our first time guests move through the system. I was the first point of contact for first time guests – I hand wrote each note and send my business card. Meeting them seemed logical. I enjoyed it so much, that now it’s difficult to NOT serve in that capacity.
  4. Find a peer group. Some software providers have peer groups. I am a member of the Church Communications group on Facebook. Find peers outside of  your church that you can talk to about what you’re doing. If you can’t find one, start one.
  5. Pay for it if you need to. Earlier this year, I participated in Connections Confab at Summit Church in Durham, NC. It was a small group of people. I learned a lot. I have 12 new BFF’s. It wasn’t cheap. It was, however, worth every penny. Join professional groups. Ask your church if it’s in the budget. If not, skip the expensive coffee shops for a few months and save up. You’ll be glad you did.
  6. Find friends and do something outside of church. For me, the biggest struggle. I genuinely like what I do. I enjoy it. I think about when I’m off. I did it for a few years on a volunteer basis (ie, unpaid). This is my thing. Yet, I purposely make myself think about things other than church data. We go camping and to a local comedy club with our best friends – who don’t attend our church. I play video games with my youngest son. (I’m way ahead of him on Angry Birds.) I have a friend I see a few times a year just to go see low-budget horror movies at the $2 movie theater (that sells $17 tubs of popcorn). Two of my favorite authors would not be found in the Christian section: John Grisham and James Patterson. Even if only for an hour or two at a time, stop thinking about church data – and do it with people outside of your church.

Managing the database is not an easy job. Get some people around you that will make you smile and laugh. Get some people who will pray for you when things don’t go as planned. Don’t do leadership alone.