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Website + ChMS: a Perfect Union?

Website + ChMS: a Perfect Union?

Why you should consider integrating your church website and church management software.

What has your church website done for you lately?  Sure, you've checked the stats and know how many people, in what cities, have visited your site this year.  You even know how many people have watched each sermon.  However, does it enable your congregation to update their contact information?  Can it help connect new members to serving opportunities?  Can it leap a tall building in a single bound?  (Okay, so I threw that one in just for fun!). 

You have plenty on your to-do list already and updating a database probably wasn't what motivated you to work in ministry.  Who has time to update your church management software every time someone moves or changes their email address?  What if your church grows by 10% this year and now you have a 100 people to walk through an assimilation process (on paper forms, perhaps)? 

Thankfully, technology can definitely help us in this regard.  Your website and church management software, when linked together, can be a powerful tool to automate and delegate key functions. 

Here are a few examples of how connecting your website and ChMS can benefit your staff and congregation:

#1: Updating information when life changes

Let's say Susie recently got married, took on her husband's last name, and they bought a new house together.  If she's a member of your church, how would you change her last name, connection to her husband's record, and their new address into your database?  Does she call the church office to let you know?  Does she need to fill out a form or send you an email? 

Those methods all require someone on staff to log into your ChMS and update those records.  That's fine if it's a few people a week who have changes, but as your congregation grows that can become quite time-consuming.  What if, instead, Susie and her husband went to your church website, logged in, and then updated their information?  You didn't get a phone call, email, or paper form to process.  They just took care of it for you. 

#2: Registering for events

Like most churches, you probably host various types of events throughout the year.  Whether it's a marriage conference, parenting seminar, or junior high lock-in, you have some logistics to coordinate.  You need people to register for the event so you know how many books to order or how much food to purchase.  If you're charging for the event, you need an easy way for participants to pay the registration fee. 

When your website is connected to your ChMS, members who're interested in attending an event can go to your website, see the calendar of events, find the one they're looking for, login, and register.  They can pay online when they signup and, depending on your ChMS' functionality, even have a reminder sent to them a few days before the event.  Then you can log into your ChMS and quickly see how many people have registered and paid all without any paperwork or manual intervention. 

#3: Learning about and signing up for volunteer opportunities

Connecting your congregation to opportunities to serve isn't about making sure all ministry areas are covered on Sunday morning (although that's important too).  It's really about discipleship and "equipping the saints for ministry" as we see in Ephesians 4:12.  Technology can make it a bit easier to communicate where you need additional volunteers and what each role entails.  It can also make it easier for your members to sign up. 

John is new to your church and wants to get more involved.  He's heard about a few ways to volunteer, but needs more information.  He goes to your church website and logs in.  On his home page is an option to check out serving opportunities.  He reads through the list, selects one he's interested in, and the leader over that area gets an email notification.  The leader then follows up with John and if they both still think it's a good fit, John gets plugged in to start serving. 

Do you notice a common thread in these examples?  Each one illustrates two key points: First, that technology can streamline processes and reduce the workload of church staff.  Can I get an "amen!"?  Second, we see how technology is a tool that leads to establishing or deepening a relationship. Technology can streamline processes and reduce the workload of church staffand, it's a tool that leads to establishing or deepening a relationship. Whether that's signing up for an event or to serve, we're simply using technology to get the process started.  The real reason we do ministry is to serve God and love people.  Technology can actually help us in that endeavor. 

Those examples sound great and all, but you might be wondering what it really means for a ChMS tool to work with your church's website.
Here's the non-techy version:  Behind the scenes, most ChMS vendors should be able to connect to your website through what's called an API or Application Programming Interface.  This enables your website to pass information (such as user name and password) to your ChMS.  In other words, the API enables your website and ChMS tool to "talk to" each other.  The API connection can also facilitate displaying events you've added in your ChMS tool onto your church website (without having to enter the same event in both places). 

Once that's setup, you can include a login option on your website.  This is for church members to login so they can view their donation records, update their contact information, register for church events, signup for volunteer opportunities, connect with small groups, etc. 

When "Susie Member" enters her username and password, your church website passes that information to your ChMS software.  The software validates that Susie's username and password are correct, and then displays a home page of information from your ChMS that's specific to Susie.  Susie doesn't know that she's no longer on your church's website; that she's in the ChMS tool.  The look of the page should be consistent with your website design including your church's logo and colors.  As far as Susie is concerned, she logged into a members area of the church website. 

Now, you have a few things to consider before you move forward with this idea:
Does your ChMS vendor have API capabilities?  Most of the major vendors do, but you'll need to check with yours to be certain.

Who manages your church website?  Do you have someone on staff who updates and maintains it?  If so, you'll need to have that individual talk with your ChMS vendor to start this process.  If not, and if your website hasn't been really updated in a while, that may be the first step you need to take.  If you're looking for a new ChMS vendor, Chip Mento from Seraphim Software highly recommends asking potential vendors about their training and support programs.  Will they help you setup the API connection?  Will they train your team how to maintain that connection and/or continue to support it going forward?  He also recommends asking who the training is available to?  Is it limited to 2-3 staff members or can you have several key volunteer leaders receive training as well?  It doesn't make sense to setup this connection if no one on your team knows how to maintain it (or troubleshoot issues) and your ChMS vendor doesn't provide great support.

Will your congregation use this functionality?  You know the culture of your church better than anyone, so you're the only one who can answer this question.  If people have asked about registering for events online or how to view their donation records online, then those might be good indicators.

How will you roll this out to your congregation?  You'll need to communicate the new functionality including how to create a username and password, why they should use it, and what they can do when they log in.  

Connecting your church website and church management software can be a great way to reduce your team's workload while increasing your connection to your congregation.  If you don't already have this setup, it's certainly worth considering.  Let's leverage technology for ministry as we serve God and love people.

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