Church IT

Official Press Release

Thanks to Dean Lisenby for posting this on his blog. As I was doing my study tonight, I needed a diversion so hit my top six blogs to see if there was anything new. Appears I am a day behind. I am glad they made the announcement. Here’s why these things make me nervous:

A little about me- for the last four years I have been the Bus . Admin. for a traditional, denominational church. I.E. – committees fearful of change. Like most denominational churches, we have seen a steady decline in the last 30 years or so as we have failed to match the changing demographics of the area. Where we have failed is in expecting the world to come to us just because our doors were unlocked at 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00. Right now our Session is in the midst of a Vision planning and reorganization strategy as part of a larger Transformation process.
When I took over my current position, we had about 800(half of which show up) members, no elementary school, a preschool with about 40-50 students and an annual budget of $1.2 mil. We now have still about 800 members (still about half attend), 80 children in the preschool, 130 in K-8 and a total budget of almost $2.5 mil. And we have 40% LESS admin staff to do it with. So a lot of stuff gets prioritized away. Frustratingly so.

We have made some progress. Last year, we put screens in the Sanctuary. Horrors!
Implementing online giving was a big step for us. That led to online tuition payments. As time progressed, the challenge always becomes “How can we buy staff time back?” Our vendor for online giving and tuitions did not provide decent reporting. When I found out ACS was going to have a direct gift import through AccessACS, I was all over it. Spend $30 a month and free up 4-6 hours of staff time? Sold. Especially in light of the fact that usage will increase dramatically in the coming years. Everything else you can do with it? Gravy. Solid reports with batch totals was what I wanted. I have committee chairs who maintain their own groups and print their own mailing labels,have “one button email” access to everyone on their committee, plus the ability to email every other committee with easy pulldown filters. You are on Hospitality and need to get a message to Budget and Finance? No problem.

Then we took a look at Extend. Our website was controlled by one very well meaning volunteer who was way too busy and was a programmer by nature. Not a visual guy. To say there was outdated information on it was an understatement. But it is just not fair to expect one volunteer to be responsible for that. Hiring someone to do that exclusively was not possible and, it seems, unwise – thanks to my friend Jason Reynolds. In Extend we found the ability to
a. remove all the outdated, irrelevant material
b. introduce some basic features
c. look at it from an outreach standpoint instead of an “electronic flyer”
d. have the ability to dream
A small core group took some initiative and made a decision, with the blessing of leadership, that it was better to have minimal information, but what you had was accurate, than to have gobs of erroneous information. Strip down and build up from there. This has also been an important learning excercise in what ministries are actually functioning well.

Through the ACS desktop applications, Extend, and AccessACS, I now know that we, as a smaller church in the midst of a vision change have the tools to do ministry just as well as those with much larger budgets. This does not count the other offerings from ACS like Outlook API’s tied to the database, an awesome calendaring program running on a thin client, Silverlight applications that pull calendar events and announcements in real time into a digital display (still in beta). Ability to search your database straight from a Windows Smartphone or iphone. And some other really useful things on the horizon (can you say A/C controls linked to your ministry calendar? Sure you can. Just a LONG way off).

We don’t have an annual payroll of multiple full time IT people. Well, we do, it’s just that they all live in South Carolina. If we have done anything well, odds are 1-800-669-2509 was a part of the process. If we didn’t have tech support that was leading edge and concerned not for us as a customer, but us as a Ministry Partner doing God’s work, we would be in serious trouble. Have you ever had a vendor call you and say, “Need any help? How about if we change ‘x’ to ‘y’? Would that look good?” I have. More than once.

That is why change is so crucial to me. That is why change in my number one ministry partner is important. Having watched the trajectory of ACS over the last few years, seen first hand the potential, and then hearing the future possibilities, anything that could upset that trajectory is cause for concern. As long as God has me here, I am counting on them to help this church be the influence in the community we once were and can be again. A small church can have all the ministry and communications resources they want and need-without the fulltime IT staff to support it. Which is exactly why I am relieved to see in the press release a committment to “more of the same”. In this case, it’s a good thing…..

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