Riding the Web Tricycle: 3 Internet Systems Every Church Must Have
Assessing what you need as a church when it comes to online systems is not easy. I speak to a lot of churches about their Internet needs and in a lightbulb moment realised that these can be simply described by way of a three part diagram.
Most churches have similar needs. They have a need to communicate, administrate and connect their members.
You may look at a lot of web-based systems for your church but having this framework in mind will enable you to effectively evaluate which of the three areas any system covers – and no system covers all three – and make sure you have a comprehensive web and communications strategy.
1) A Content Management System (CMS)
This is something which enables you to create and edit web pages without requiring a designer. The focus is primarily on general communication to the outside world as well as your members. Either you’ll use a pre-built template or a custom-made design.
Your CMS may enable you to upload audio and video so people can listen to, view or download. It may enable you to speak to different audiences at the same time. However, what you’re primarily concerned with is content on your website. CM systems are not generally unique in themselves (a recent look showed over 1,700 currently available).
We deisgned ChurchInsight with strong content management features: Web Office, Publisher, Calendar, Multimedia, Audiences, Conferences/Events, Podcasting, Blogs, Themes, Shop, Polls and more. ChurchInsight.com has details of all those.
2) A Church Management System (ChMS)
This will have a mixture of contact management tools to keep track of your members' details as well as administrative tools to manage the common tasks that support your church’s activities. Communications tools tend to be direct – enabling you to keep in touch with your members via email or text message.
In the old days you might have tracked members' details on a spreadsheet somewhere in your church office or wrestled with Microsoft Access or some other database system. Now you can do it much more effectively, and securely, via an online membership management system as part of a ChMS. It will also provide you with the ability to see your data in different ways, via a query builder or through pre-built reports that show such things as who’s in which group in the church or an overview of the church’s group structure. This kind of information is not only important for administrators but those in pastoral leadership as well.
Again, ChurchInsight is packed with useful church management features: Web Office, Membership Manager, Rotas, Address Book, Mailings (email, post & SMS), Attendance Tracker, Donations, Analysis & Reports and Resource Booking.
3) A Social Network (SN)
The world has changed profoundly in the last 10 years in terms of communication. Increasingly, people are looking for a greater degree of connection and conversation in their interaction with organisations. This type of personal interaction takes place via social media or social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
The growth statistics for Facebook, despite a recent slight slowdown, are awe-inspiring. It currently has over 750 million active members and is on target to reach a billion active members some time in early 2012. Facebook claims 50% of these members log in once a day. If Facebook was a country, it would be the third largest in the world. It’s fair to say that much of the world is on Facebook, and probably many of your church members and the people you’re trying to reach.
So, your communications strategy must include Facebook. As a congregational leader at Church of Christ the King in Brighton, I always publicise our meetings by email and via Facebook.
Here’s the other thing – the world is watching us on Facebook. It’s a window through which those outside look into our community of relationships as churches and the kind of friendship and support we give one another. It’s not primarily about having a new marketing channel for our publicity (although Facebook Pages are very useful for this). It’s an opportunity to get to know people; to connect and for them to see us as we are – normal people who have found Christ – rather than the caricature of Bible-thumping bigots and weirdos they might be expecting.
Facebook Groups can be used to join like-minded people together, but it’s not possible to organise these groups into a hierarchy or connect them together in any way. That’s where you need a church management system like ChurchInsight.
ChurchInsight covers the content management and church management areas very well, but isn’t a social network. Facebook is a great social network but includes very limited features for content and church management. Used together, ChurchInsight and Facebook form a powerful combination.
So, make sure your communications and administration strategy has all three wheels of the Internet tricycle firmly on the ground and you’ll go far.
Let us know what you think on (where else?) Facebook.
Alistair Birch, 19/07/2011