Guest author Nick Utber of Open Box Technology is convinced the latest technology will create Robo-Pastors.
In Part 1 of our series on the Robo-Pastor I discussed what it looks like to include technology in the life of the ministry staff. It is evident that technology is advancing at a rate that significantly changes workplaces and what is expected from employees. Tasks can be automated or eliminated, reducing the required output from staff. This can lead us to fear for our jobs. This fear is not valid, however, particularly when it comes to clergy. Technologically assisted ministry staff (or Robo-Pastors) have more time to invest in people and the life of the church.
How does this happen? What kind of tools are available for the Robo-Pastor?
To start with, I want to point out 3 things.
Firstly, in evaluating tools, it is helpful to think of the big picture rather than just looking at features. Ask how the tools work with each other to increase the value of the others. Ask how they will increase the efficiency of the tasks you need to do. Ask if the burden of changing processes is higher than the value created by getting on board with a particular tool. If you only use Facebook as a social media, getting on board with Hootsuite may be too steep a learning curve to gain a couple of benefits you may not use anyway. There is no point in getting on board even though the feature set does in theory add value.
Secondly, pointing out the obvious, there is no one size fits all solution. Different teams and staff members will need different tools in order to achieve Robo-Pastor status. A small pastoral team that communicates really well in a small office, and does very little work on the go (via mobile for instance), may not need to get on board with Slack or Asana.
Lastly, using technology is only the start of being more productive. It is essential to work hard at changing workflows and attitudes in order to achieve amazing results. This discussion goes beyond the scope of this article, but a great place to start thinking about this is Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next. A key idea from this book is that of maximising effectiveness not just efficiency. Focusing on being more effective in ministry is the at the heart of being a Robo-Pastor.
So, what tools are we looking at? What is available? Here is a list of some ideas I have, many of which I use or have helped other churches get on board with. This list is not exhaustive, and I would love to hear other ideas and contributions. Please comment below or email me with suggestions.
Church Member Databases
A Church Member Database is a system that helps you collect, maintain and analyse information about the people in your church. Typical features include collating personal details, organising people into groups, tracking attendance information and creating rosters. Adopting a church member database allows admin tasks and communications to be streamlined, resulting in less time spent on admin tasks and more effective and accurate communication within the church.
One platform I highly recommend is Elvanto. I believe it creates the most value, is relatively easy to use and has a vast feature set that allows you to streamline tasks in many different areas.
Other options include Easy Jethro and Church Community Builder. Planning Centre Online is a great tool for service planning and rostering, without the membership database side of things.
Using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be incredibly effective at communicating well with members of your church and wider community. However they can be quite difficult and time consuming to use well and keep track of. Hootsuite allows you to have one place to see all your social media platforms and channels. Type a post once and you can post it to all your channels at the same time with a click of a button. It allows you to schedule posts for a time in the future, meaning you can schedule the morning’s post the night before. All of your feeds and comments are available, and you can reply to comments from within hootsuite. If you are a heavy social media user, this will save you lots of time managing all your channels.
Project/Task Management and Collaboration
Project and Task management apps are incredibly popular and there are a huge amount of them. I both use and love Asana, which also allows you to collaborate with colleagues. Each task can be commented on by anyone, and you can attach files relevant to the task. Other good options are Do, Omnifocus, and Wunderlist.
Slack allows teams to chat and share information in an easy to read and transparent way. Discussions are separated into channels relevant to particular projects or tasks. Importantly, the history is recorded and is completely searchable, so you can quickly and easily recall an important discussion you had months ago.
I use both Slack and Asana with my team at Open Box Technology. As a result we have significantly reduced the amount of email we send each other, reduced the amount of unnecessary communication, as well as created a much more open and transparent workplace where the whole team has awareness and visibility of what is going on. This not only saves time and creates greater efficiency, but motivates the team and allows for much greater effectiveness in their roles.
Other Cloud Services
Google Apps for Business is a suite of tools from email hosting to cloud file storage and calendars. The suite of tools comes quite cheap for the versatility and compatibility Google has designed. Although a number of features will require some level of technical ability to setup and configure properly (for instance getting their email hosting up and running with your domain name), once you are onboard you have a very stable system that will serve you well. Of particular note is Google Drive, the file sharing and cloud storage platform. It’s a breeze to use and syncs incredibly well. When talking cloud storage though, it’s hard to talk about Google Drive without mentioning Dropbox with their popular cloud storage platform as well.
I would recommend Google if you are looking all the features it offers (email hosting, calendars, file storage), but have a look at Dropbox if you are looking for just a simple storage solution. Microsoft One Note and Microsoft’s new online suite of tools such as Office 365 is also of note, with a bit more of an enterprise lean in the system. This has the added advantage of being the new version of old and much loved tools such as Microsoft Word and Excel.
The benefits of having these tools at your disposal are quite large. Having access to your files on any computer connected to the internet is a gamechanger; no longer do you have to search for that USB stick in the bottom of your bag. The ability to have multiple people editing the same document, even at the same time, means that you no longer have to worry about whether you are looking at the latest version of a document.
Keeping track of notes, photos, websites and articles is a difficult task. Evernote makes this task easy as it efficiently collates all your notes. Tags and categories are easy ways to find that website or article you saved but can’t quite remember the name of. Evernote ‘notes’ can also be shared amongst your team for all to see and make changes. Skitch links in with evernote and allows for really easy notations on photos/images and screenshots, allowing you to quickly create help guides or suggest changes. Penultimate is an iPad app that also syncs with evernote and allows you to take handwritten notes in meetings or on the go, with the notes then available and searchable within Evernote.
Having a great calendar program that syncs across all your devices is incredibly handy in keeping you on task and reminding you when you have meetings. Google Apps (mentioned above) has a great calendar application, as does Apple (iCal). However, what happens if you have lots of different calendar platforms and want to see them all at once? Sunrise was developed to do just that, and works particularly well on mobile devices. It even integrates with heaps of other applications such as Facebook. Accept or decline Facebook event invitations without leaving your calendar application! Handy indeed.
If you are anything like me you attract email subscriptions like the plague. Waking up in the morning to dozens of useless emails from websites that you no longer have any use for staring at you from your inbox is really disheartening. Thankfully, unroll.me allows you to quickly see all of those email subscriptions and unsubscribe from them in a very quick and easy manner. Furthermore, you can elect to, instead of unsubscribing from the email, receive the email in a digest email once a day. Instead of having lots of possibly useful emails in your inbox, have just one.
If you send out emails to lots of people all at once, it is very handy to use a service such as Mailchimp. Newsletters, updates and notices can be easily created and sent to many people all at once.
If you draw mind maps, flowcharts, infographics or any such kind of chart, LucidChart is an incredibly easy tool to use. Save hours trying to get pesky objects to align correctly in word.
For those staff tasked with bookkeeping and finances, talk to your accountant about using Xero. Being able to do the accounts from any location, with a platform that is both intuitive and powerful will save a lot of time and enable much better transparency and visibility of finances.
Websites and Design
Every church should have a website. WordPress is a free platform available from most hosting providers that is easy to use. With proper configuration and design, easily keeping the website up to date and even managing event registrations and payments is possible.
Websites, social media and print-outs such as fliers and bulletins require great photos and images that are often difficult to produce. Expensive software like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are usually beyond the budgets of churches. Canva allows for designs to be quickly and easily created, whereas Pixlr can be used for photo and image editing. These tools allow for much better results with the minimum of difficulty and time spent.
An oft hated and very time consuming task is the collating of powerpoint slides to form the song words and presentations for Services. Pro Presenter is a great option that allows libraries of songs and presentations to be easily recalled and collated into playlists, drastically reducing the time taken in preparation of the presentation. It also easily handles video and image playback for those churches that use these mediums regularly.
** Open Box Technology will receive a small commission if you sign up to some of the services mentioned in this article.