The dichotomy churches are experiencing during tough economic times creates an interesting set of challenges. On one hand, people are either finding their way back to church looking for help, guidance and answers or they are looking to the local church for the first time in their lives. And on the other hand, because faithful members are also impacted by layoffs and downsizing, churches are being forced to rethink how they can meet the increased needs with decreased giving.
What all of these people need is what the local church is best at: caring for, nurturing, growing and replicating fruitful believers. As believers, we are in the people business! Yet we are all limited by the finite amount of time to meet as many needs as possible from people who are looking to us for guidance.
The Personal Touch
A friend of mine, Pastor Mark Waltz, is known for highlighting the fact that first impressions are lasting impressions. In other words, the way a church cares for its people, from beginning to end, has a direct impact on the level of interaction it will develop with those God sends its way. This is where the combination of people, process and technology can truly underwrite the efforts of the church to effectively care for those in need.
Before technology begins to play a role, the personal touch starts by warmly welcoming all visitors as though they already belong in the church family. Many churches address this via a Hospitality or Guest Services ministry, specifically designed to meet and greet the newcomers. Naturally, those serving in this role are critical to the overall success of the ministry and adding technology to aid this process can enhance the experience of both those serving as well as those being served. With technology, problems concerning the best procedure for choosing volunteers, matching giftedness with their roles, and making sure all of this information is integrated with the main church database can be easily solved. What if you had the ability to integrate a giftedness program with the volunteer jobs, both in this area, as well as across the entire church? Technology and an integrated church management system can facilitate all of this and more.
Another technology that compliments the personal touch is a children’s security system. As a parent of three, few things warm my heart more when visiting a church than when I observe the investment the church has made in caring for my children while my wife and I attend service. A children’s security system, often referred to as children’s check-in, is one of the most effective ways to quickly build trust and confidence amongst parents, whether they are members of the congregation or first-time visitors. Not only does it assure a visitor that their children will be safe, but it also sends a message that the church is efficiently organized and willing to invest in something we all innately desire: security.
Since the personal touch opportunities don’t end when the congregation departs from the campus on Sunday, churches are constantly looking for ways to care for their people outside of regular worship times. In fact, I would argue that what happens after the fact is equally as important as the physical experience the congregation had while on the church campus. This is where the follow-up process for a first-time visitor becomes critical. Tracking the needs of both first-time visitors as well as members requires a follow-up strategy. Tying this information into the church database should be a priority for church staff, as keeping up-to-date records, along with a way to ensure follow-up, is at the core of personal ministry. The manner in which this is addressed is yet another way to reinforce the church’s message that caring for people is an unwavering core value.
Communication and Connection
By pouring time and energy into people, churches have the greatest possible joy: seeing unbelievers become followers of Jesus Christ! The next step is to provide places for these people to connect deeply and serve faithfully. Here again, churches need to be intentional in managing the myriad of different groups, volunteers and events that are all part of the process of plugging people into the life of the local church.
Well-organized systems, processes and ministry teams result in effective communication and connections with those the church is serving. I often refer to this as taking a “rifle approach” to ministry versus a “shotgun.” In other words, using an integrated communications tool gives church staff and key volunteers the best chance at effectively ministering to those in need. By taking a more educated, proactive approach to meet people’s needs, we raise the level of accountability amongst the entire congregation.
In an attempt to leverage the popular quote, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” I would modify that slightly by adding, “but, you sure can care more by knowing more.” Regardless of the ministry opportunity, activity or event, the church’s ability to personalize its communication effort greatly enhances the likelihood of a solid connection. This manifests itself in the way volunteers are assigned and managed, activities are architected and delivered, special events are promoted and resourced, and so on. The main point here is that technology can and should play a role in bringing maximum clarity to the church’s ministry effort, thereby generating the highest possible return.
Most would agree that improving by way of measuring is a sound approach to ministry. After all, the available resources to execute the vision and mission are not infinitely at our disposal. Given this, how does the church best understand how to allocate funds to support those ministry areas that are being most effective? And, on the flip side, how do you identify those areas that are draining valued resources while delivering moderate results? This is where having the people, process and technology in place to understand true impact comes into play.
Investing in Stewardship
As your church continually transitions church visitors into actively involved followers of Christ, ensure that the vision is continually reinforced. People will not give their time, talent and treasure to a need for very long; they will invest heavily in that which is visionary and purposeful.
During this transition, it is a self-evident truth that increased involvement often results in increased giving; therefore, we need to see that while we are currently doing more with less resources, the investment into the effective care of people and the more efficient management of our resources will enable real growth. And, along the way, giving will increase, reducing the delta between the resources you need and what you have available in order to do ministry.
Just as pilots need an instrument panel to understand where the airplane is actually going, church leadership needs its own set of tools to make the best possible stewardship decisions. Information systems like accounting, human resources and church management software are the foundation upon which successful ministry operations are built and maintained. It is this investment that pays ongoing dividends as the ever-changing dynamics of the church and its associated ministry efforts unfold. Through this technology a church can determine its course.
The successful use of the internet is one means in which churches continue to deliver high quality ministry impact to the congregation. This holds true for all churches, regardless if they exist in a single location, a temporary location or even a multi-site environment. The internet is a proven delivery mechanism that allows people to conduct congregational business, during and outside the office hours of the church. Functions like online giving, event registration, small group management and submitting prayer requests are just a few examples of some self-service components that further galvanize the relationship between the church and the congregation. Best of all, this is made possible without the strain of additional staff or volunteer resources.
Now is the Time
Don’t allow the economy to dictate how you execute the church’s vision and mission. As you feel the effects of increased numbers with decreased resources, realize that now is the time to look for ways to leverage technology as a means of doing ministry more effectively and efficiently. Successful stewardship of your people and your resources will always be an ongoing concern, as it should be. That is why leveraging technology is a key part of a church’s strategy.
Instead of feeling the burden of “doing more with less,” you can invest in the future of the church and its people and embrace the opportunity to meet and exceed their expectations.