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When software can help smooth out crooked paths

By Geoff Johnson

In scripture, the concept of making things easier, safer and generally better is often captured with the image of making straight paths for your feet, as when Solomon advises his son (Proverbs 11:5). As any pastor I’ve known would acknowledge, ministry itself has many ravines, mountains and crooked paths. Ministers must implement processes to minimize risks and provide tools that are readily available to staff and volunteers.

One of the tools you can use to overcome obstacles to effective ministry is church management software. Arena is a browser based, shared-source church ministry system from Shelby Systems, and it offers tremendous benefits to managing the volunteer-related aspects of a ministry. The program provides volunteers access to information and tools that can be accessed anywhere, anytime and on any Internet platform. The Arena Select suite, introduced in June 2010, has been optimized to meet the needs of medium to large-sized churches.

Valuable volunteers

Volunteer management can be a deep ravine in ministry, as it is often a time-consuming process. However, given that volunteers are literally the hands and feet of ministry, effectively managing volunteers is essential.

One of the most labor-intensive tasks in volunteer management is putting the right people in the right positions, especially if your church is blessed with a large membership and a correspondingly large children’s ministry.

Before any other consideration, many churches run background checks on volunteers who work with children. Software that integrates with a service, such as Arena Select does with Protect My Ministry, can greatly simplify that process. Of course, you also want to put the people with the right spiritual gifts into suitable positions.

Another crucial aspect of volunteer management is communication. As electronic communication has become more and more prevalent, and indeed for some it is now the preferred medium for information, computer-based tools for facilitating that communication are essential.

By keeping your volunteer data in one database software package, you provide a single point of reference for e-mail addresses, Web addresses, cell phone numbers, SMS, and all other contact information. This reduces the chance that someone’s change of address will fall through the cracks.

Getting data into the database is only half the story. The other half is getting the data out in a meaningful and timely manner. Your data management software should easily generate key indicator reports that keep your finger on the pulse of the ministry activity, such as attendance statistics, income and expense tracking, volunteer placement statuses and more.

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is working with users to create customized reports that give them the information they need at the touch of a button. Of course, not all reports are elaborate enough to require the creation of custom reports. Even routine tasks such as printing contact lists and rosters are easier with management software.

Efficiency and accuracy

Of course “easier” is not the same as “effortless.” Nothing will make ministry effortless, but there are many ministry functions that software can help you do with significantly improved efficiency and accuracy.

As critical as volunteer management and money management are, where the “rubber meets the road” on Sunday morning is in classroom management. The three areas where church management software can boost the effectiveness of classroom management are speed, security and safety.

Check-in kiosks with barcode scanners or touch-screen monitors greatly increase the speed of the children’s check-in process, allowing parents to check in their own children as they arrive. Most churches that have implemented automated check-in stations see marked improvement of the speed of the process over manual methods. Of course, an attended station for visitors and for helping out when problems arise is still an important part of the check-in strategy.

Most churches have a check-in procedure for children, whether automated or not, because they want to provide security and verify the identity of the person dropping off and — even more important — picking up the children after services are over. Check-in and check-out is a way to keep the children safe from estranged parents and others with malicious intent. The automated systems generally make use of a security label or receipt printed at the time of checking in and presented in order to pick up the child.

Biometric scanning

One enhancement to the Arena software is support for biometric fingerprint scanning as a way to check children or families in and out. Because fingerprints are nearly impossible to fake (Hollywood not withstanding), and because no one would forget his own finger (unlike the ID cards many ministries use), fingerprint scanning is currently the fastest and most secure method of children’s check-in available.

Even after the children get to the classroom, it is critical to maintain a safe and edifying environment for the children. Information such as medical conditions, allergies and behavioral annotations, may be added to the children’s records in the software system. Often this information is printed on the check-in receipt, but it can be printed on class roll sheet as well.

Have you heard of BASF? It is a chemical company; their products are polysyllabic scientific terms that few people can pronounce let alone understand. Their work is entirely behind the scenes of consumer experience; no one will ever point proudly to a car or television or any other product and say, “BASF made that.” But a few years ago they had an ad campaign that summed up their role perfectly: “At BASF, we don’t make a lot of the products you buy; we make a lot of the products you buy better!”

Church management software is a lot like that. It is entirely behind the scenes of most ministry work. Management software doesn’t greet parents with a smile or encourage a hesitant child or make colorful illustrations of Bible stories. It does not pray for people, encourage the struggling, or deliver meals to the homebound, but it can increase the odds that all those things happen.

Geoff Johnson is the education team lead at Shelby Systems Inc., Cordova, TN.  www.shelbyinc.com

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