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Ministry Monday extra: Church Management Tools (Pt. 1)

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Posted by John Percival, 5 Oct 2015

John Percival explores some electronic tools for managing church life. (Please note that facts were correct at the time of printing, in April 2015, but in the fast-changing world of technology care should be taken to see how these services have developed since then.) Here is the first of a four-part extended review appearing on this blog this week:

Introduction

Do you ever face these questions in church life…?

  • How many people do you need to tell at church when you change email address or mobile? The administrator, rota organiser, small group leader, children’s ministry team, vicar…
  • Did anyone do anything about that new family that left their contact details last Sunday?
  • How am I meant to run the sound desk while I help in Sunday School and also lead the prayers?
  • What are we going to do when Hilary is on holiday and can’t send out rota reminders?
  • It’s great that we have 100 people in small groups, but how many of them actually turn up on a regular basis?
  • Did you want the traditional or modern tune of ‘How firm a foundation’? Can you remember which book that tune is in?
  • How long will it be before Margaret gets a replacement phone so that she can let me know whether the small hall is available on Monday evening? Oh, the calendar wasn’t backed up…!?
  • Do you have a list of all the people who have joined the church in the last 6 months so we can invite them to a newcomers event?

In this review I am going to highlight four tools that can help a church to handle these questions. Technology makes a wonderful servant but a dreadful master. That is why great care must be taken in picking a solution that will fit the ethos and values of a church family. The goal in employing a Church Management Tool is to enable effective administration so that God’s people can better love one another and serve the mission of the church. Quite a lot can be achieved by careful use of Google Docs and/or Dropbox for collaborative working within churches, but these solutions reviewed below will go far beyond what can be achieved by mere document sharing.

Overview

Church Management Tools have been around for a long time, but in recent years online offerings have become all the rage. Now that many people are used to Facebook, online banking, iCloud, etc. our church members will benefit from the option of interacting with the church’s administrative processes online. The data are stored in ‘the cloud’ and so don’t require investment in further IT infrastructure for the church office. Each of the companies described here offers impressive security, stability and backup protection.

In terms of features, the four systems highlighted here all provide the ability to manage people: groups, families and customisable profiles, with powerful permissions settings to control who has access to what and who can see what. They each offer configurable ministry areas with teams, events (along with ticketing and payment systems), and media (such as sermon downloads). Volunteer scheduling is a vital part of church life, and the systems provide rota tools for different ministry teams, tools for automated reminders (by email, and some also offer SMS integration), and highlight clashes. Highly configurable reports (including maps) can easily be generated on each system. Individuals can access a personalised church calendar, so that rota responsibilities and church events are automatically synchronised their phone or email client.

The four systems I am reviewing are not the only ones, but they are the main ones for UK churches. There are also a number of American options that are beyond the scope of this review. These tend to have move of a social network feel to them, with numerous ways of volunteering, discussing, requesting and offering help, and devolving responsibility. These include Church Community Builder (CBB), The City (which has grown out of what was Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Seattle network and is used by a number of larger New Frontiers churches), Cobblestone Community Network, and Table Project (born out of John Piper’s church). The scene is changing quickly as American companies look to expand into international markets (CBB is particularly worth watching on this front) and as new features and interfaces are developed. Even while I was working on this review, several of the solutions added substantial new features.

This article will cover four, UK-based solutions:

This article originally appeared in Church Society’s quarterly magazine, CrossWay. All facts were correct at the time of going to print (April 2015).

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

John Percival is curate at All Souls Eastbourne

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