I (Chris) have been a pastor for more than ten years serving a couple of churches. Through PCOGuru I’ve helped hundreds of churches do more effective ministry and database organization by utilizing Planning Center Online.
In doing this, I’ve noticed that in almost every single church we’ve worked with, there’s a tendency for them to treat their database or Church Management System as a closet.
This is especially clear as we assist with migrations. We help churches transition from one system to PCO. In that process, the mentality can be one of simply moving one closet’s contents to another closet in the same exact way. That’s a mindset that puts you in a position where you’re not making the most out of that opportunity.
Maybe you like your current situation, but you don’t feel like you’re being as effective with the information that you’re tracking or managing in your database. How helpful do you feel your database organization is to your ministry? Do you feel like you could do more with it?
I want to help you avoid this pitfall. That’s why I’d like to offer you three questions that you can use as you’re transitioning your information to a new Church Management System, or even to improve your current system. I want to challenge you to use these three questions as a lens to determine out how you should structure and organize your information.
1. What Information Matters to You?
Many Church Management Systems today allow for customization and the creation of custom fields to track specific information.
The good news is you can track pretty much anything. And the bad news is that you can track pretty much anything.
You can put yourself in the situation where you’re tracking 10, 15, 20 different areas of information. I just got to tell you: You’re going to be bad at that. We all are, myself included. When you spread yourself so thin and you’re trying to focus on so many things, you’re going to miss the mark.
What to Do:
You should answer these questions as a team. I encourage this first question to be a Blue Sky time. Meaning, get a white board out and put up all the pieces of information you might be interested in.
Spiritual gifts assessment? Date created in the previous database? T-shirt size? Favorite coffee, candy or treat? Whatever that information might be, don’t limit this time. Let anybody put anything on the board. You could even organize it strategically or categorically into groupings of information so you can kind of see how it all connects.
Regardless, answer the question- What information matters to you?
2. Why Does It Matter?
Then, you take every piece that goes in that whiteboard, and answer the question: Why does it matter to us?
And this is a bad time to say, “Because we’ve always tracked it.”
For instance, a great example I see in a lot of churches is the “How did you hear about us?” field. But it’s just not used well or at all. The point is, you’ve got to have a reason for why you’re tracking that information that’s more compelling than “we’ve always tracked this information.” That’s a really bad reason to keep information in your database, and an even worse strategy for database organization.
You don’t ONLY have to track the essential stuff like demographics, contract info, household info, etc. There are really creative ways I see churches use their information to care for and connect with people.
For example, one area of information that I like is Volunteer Information. This is information you might collect during an on-boarding process for a new volunteer.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
What’s your favorite coffee drink?
What’s their T-shirt size?
This may seem silly or unnecessary, but if you can collect this information during the volunteer on-boarding process and deliver it to their team leader, you’re doing two things:
- Equipping your Team Leader to care for their volunteers in simple yet thoughtful ways
- Showing your Volunteer that they are appreciated.
This second question is meant to help us whittle down the initial lists to the things that matter to us and we also know WHY it matters to us.
3. What are the systems and processes that you will put in place to capture or update this information?
This is the key the secret sauce for how you take your database from just a place to store information and turn it into an engine for doing more effective ministry.
Take that volunteer info tab for example. The system and process related to that is basically just volunteer on-boarding. If you’re a larger church, maybe it’s centralized to begin with and then kind of breaks out into the individual ministries. Maybe your midsize or smaller church leaves that on-boarding for their own volunteers with background checks.
Either way, one of the steps needs to be getting the volunteer to provide that information. Maybe it’s a paper form, digital form, just a quick conversation – it doesn’t matter. We’re capturing it during that on-boarding process for all of our volunteers.
What to Do:
Regardless of the information, this might just be a peg or a step within that entire process. You need to consider that system or that process through which you’re going to capture that information initially. Also, maybe consider updating it once a year. Send out that digital form again to your volunteers to update that information if they change their T-shirt size or if they change their preferences
I promise you this – if you take the time to be intentional about the information that you are tracking, I guarantee you you’re going to take your ChMS from a information-collecting space to an engine for ministry growth.
PCOGuru provides custom solutions for churches, including Migration Assistance, Training, Consulting and much more.
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