There is nothing more discouraging for a young couple that has spent the last hour getting the family ready for church than to walk into the children’s area and see people lined up to use the computer kiosk to check-in their kids. Even if you have planned for limited bottlenecks on normal weeks, what about weeks like Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day?
A couple of years ago, Churchteams added the option for mobile check-in. This helped tremendously. Churches set up a kiosk or just a laptop with USB or Wi-Fi attached label printer as a “printer station.” Then they use another browser on the same computer and/or any other devices with Internet access (cellular service is fine) to capture check-in. This allows greeters and even parking lot attendants to check families in as they are entering the facility. By the time they get to the printer station, their name tags are already printed and ready for them. Most churches have a host(ess) stationed at the printer collecting tags as they come out and handing them to people as they walk by with little more than a greeting. Other churches prefer a bank of iPads or other tablets located right by a single label printer. This increases the capacity of this often bottle-necked space and provides a cutting edge solution for many churches. But, just this month, we pushed the technology for check-in even further.
Several years ago, companies from across the globe saw the U.S. market as ripe for the use of texting in church like it had been for years in their countries. They combined texting with online giving to provide a new product which allowed people to give simply by texting a sum or keyword to either a short code or a long code number depending on the design of the product. These companies then approached the church management companies to create APIs back and forth between systems. As we watched this and researched the technology involved, we remained convinced that it might take a little more time, but the best solution for a church was to have all their data consolidated into one place. So we built the same functionality as an additional feature right into our ChMS. We released a new online giving platform in January 2017 and shortly afterward our state-of-the-art text-to-give feature.
As we built text-to-give, it became obvious that we can leverage the fact that we are a full Church Management and Event Registration Software to offer a fully integrated, easy to use, text-to-register feature. With text-to-give you simply associate a keyword to a fund and people can text an amount and that keyword to give to that fund. Or, just an amount if they want to give to the general fund. Similarly, by adding a keyword to event registration, people can text that keyword to register. If they are setup in the system already, it recognizes them and registers them for that event. If other information or a payment is needed, the system texts back a link that takes them to the registration form with data already in Churchteams auto-filled into the form. The registrant simply has to respond to unique questions for the event and they are registered. If payment is required, the system takes them to the same online giving portal for payment. If they have a saved credit card or bank account number, the system knows that so that all they need to do is click OK. Text-to-attend was the next feature asset we added. This feature uses our group-centric software design to identify worship groups. Keywords for this type of group, when texted, automatically mark the person as attended for that day. It can be customized to capture information typical for an information or connection card. This feature came out in June 2017. The lynchpin that distinguishes our “texting suite” from any others is that we just released an option to text CHECK, CHECKIN, or CHECK-IN using the same text number. The system will send back a link to the family check-in page. Here they choose which family members are attending and which classes. If everyone is going to their regular classes, services, or volunteer team; those items are prechecked so that all the person has to do is click the Check-in button. A text is sent back to them with their randomly generated security code for the day. This number matches the number on the security tags. When they arrive to their printer station, all the name tags for the family are printed and ready to go.
If the family we started this essay with regularly attends, then as they pull into the church parking lot, they will text “check” and respond to the form. By the time they open the car door, their name and security tags are being printed. They no longer have to worry about a crowded hallway or frustrating line. They are able to stay focused on the kids, grab their security tags as they walk by the printer station while greeting the hostess that welcomed them and handed them their tags. A new level of hospitality has been achieved.
It is our feeling that having a fully functional texting suite will serve families and churches like never before. It will increase stewardship, because of simplicity and familiarity of giving. It will make registering for anything much easier, even taking attendance. And, finally, as the only company out there offering text-to-check-in, we feel we are pushing the boundaries on the use of technology in churches. And with that advancement, opening up whole new ways to conceptualize the use of space and communication.