Software to the rescueSoftware, TECHNOLOGY Friday, August 31st, 2012
By Rez Gopez-Sindac
Three churches find easy-to-use Web-based solutions to their room scheduling, facility management and online ticketing challenges.
If anyone at First Baptist Church-Hendersonville, NC, needed to schedule an event and secure a space for an event back in 2001, the staff would have had to use a large planning calendar, write entries on it in pencil, and transfer the information to a Word document.
Amy Parce, a student ministry assistant, says the method was cumbersome and time-consuming as “we are a big church with lots of activities and rooms. It was difficult to read the paper calendar and make changes to any event.”
This prompted the church to purchase ACS Facility Scheduler, “a hosted, central calendar coordinator designed specifically to synchronize calendars and manage facilities across your organization,” according to the company website. “Now, only one person makes changes to the calendar,” says Parce.
That person is receptionist DeeDee Shehan, who is also responsible for tracking the use of the church’s five buildings. Keeping up with facility use would be nearly impossible without the ACS program, she says.
Shehan is not the only one who appreciates the usefulness of the ACS Facility Scheduler. The maintenance and custodial departments also depend on it daily. They have to make their weekly and monthly schedules based on what rooms are booked at that time.
This is how the process for booking a room at First Baptist-Hendersonville works: First, the request is put on a form. Next, Shehan takes the request to their weekly calendar meeting where the request either gets approved or denied. If approved, Shehan adds the event to the calendar.
“I have a notebook full of all the upcoming requests that have been approved so I have all of the contact information on everything that is scheduled in case we need to make any changes,” she says.
To explain the complexity of scheduling events, Shehan gives a specific scenario: One ministry has a banquet. They use the gymnasium to eat, after which they transfer to the fellowship hall to view some displays, and then they move to the worship center to hear the guest speaker.
This takes a lot of planning. Shehan says the custodial crew checks the online calendar ahead of time to determine how many people are needed to prepare the rooms and clean them after the event. Also, the security crew looks at the same calendar to know what time to unlock the facility and to do the rounds of locking up and setting all the alarms.
When there is a big event at the church, Shehan says she can decide quickly, by looking at the online calendar, whether it is OK to book other events. Problems arising from overlapping or not having enough parking, equipment or things like chairs and tables can be easily prevented, she adds.
Managing resources faithfully
For Sean Moyer, facility manager at Savannah Christian Church, a light bulb moment came after learning that his assistant had been spending at least 20 hours a week just scheduling rooms. At the time, the church had one building and 37 reservable spaces and was building a youth center.
Moyer says he knew that as the church grew, managing the spaces and resources for various meetings and functions was only going to get worse. Immediately, he searched for a better way to ease the process and came across a scheduling and event management solution called Events Management System (EMS).
The difference is night and day. What is most helpful, says Moyer, is that all facility reservations can be viewed via the church’s network in real time and on any computer or mobile device. In contrast, the old system was installed on only one or two computers, and the calendar had to be printed out “for the rest of us to see it,” says Moyer.
Before Savannah Christian Church purchased the EMS software, room scheduling consumed most of the working hours of Moyer’s assistant. With EMS, all that responsibility is put on the requester. “They input all the information that we require, as well as times and contact information. It only gives them the option to request a room that is available for those times,” says Moyer.
Only staff members are allowed to request rooms. This puts the responsibility on their respective ministry and prevents unauthorized use. And if the room is left in a disorderly manner, Moyer says it’s easy to know who is the responsible party.
“A process that took at least 20 hours a week for 37 rooms now takes about an hour a week to handle 120 rooms in nine buildings on three campuses,” says Moyer.
As far as managing resources, Moyer says EMS has been a stepping stone for his church. The room scheduling software alone saves Savannah thousands of dollars a year on manpower, he adds. But by integrating it with HVAC scheduling software, which automatically controls the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, Moyer says his church has taken stewardship one step further. Air is cooled only when rooms are in use, saving the church energy, time and labor.
Previous to using HVAC software, Moyer says the church was running its HVAC units 515,424 hours a year. Now, it’s down to 128,856 hours a year. “Not only are we extending the lifespan by three years for every year we have the units, we also have been able to reduce our maintenance costs,” says Moyer.
Reaching its community effectively
Phoenix First Assembly of God in Phoenix, AZ, is another congregation that stepped outside the box to provide efficient and convenient service not only to its members but the general public as well.
The church hosts hundreds of outreach ministries, but one of its most successful events is “The Celebration of Christmas,” which has been going on for more than 30 years. A case study done by Active Network shows how the company’s 100 percent Web-based ticketing software, ServiceU Ticketing, has helped Phoenix First streamline the ticketing of nearly 24,000 patrons over nine performances.
Richard Buoscio, director of facilities, says the church started using ServiceU Ticketing in 2004 and tested it on a very small area of seats within their facility. “Everything worked so smoothly that we slowly integrated the system into our entire event,” he adds.
Despite increasing attendance every year since, Buoscio says the church has actually reduced its full-time ticketing staff from four to one.
Having tickets available online has also been incredibly convenient for community members who no longer have to stand in line to purchase tickets, says Active Network.
Although the church still sells tickets at their box office for people who don’t have Internet capabilities, more than 70 percent of the tickets sold are through ServiceU Ticketing via online sales. The church offers free seating – which is on a first-come, first-served basis – along with reserved seating – which is almost always the best way to go.
“ServiceU Ticketing has proven to us over time that they will be able to meet all the technological needs we may have as our church and productions grow,” Buoscio says.