Right down the road from my church, St. John Baptist Church in Columbia, Maryland, is another great church, Bridgeway Community Church. When I was hired about eight years ago, to run the music program, my senior pastor told me to go to Bridgeway to talk to their dynamic worship leader, Mrs. Nikki Lerner.
"Get Planning Center Online. Right now. Today. Change Your Life."
Nikki has been at Bridgeway for a long time, serving a large congregation similar in size to that at St. John Baptist, and my pastor had no doubt I could glean information from her. I emailed her, made an appointment, and headed to Bridgeway to start what would become a great professional relationship, one that continues to this day.
At the start of that first meeting, Nikki took me into her office and told me two things I never forgot.
"First thing you need to get," she said, "is a MacBook Pro." Being a PC guy, I was skeptical, but I eventually got one, and I never looked back, as I'm typing this piece on it at this moment.
I moved to the dark side of Apple, and never looked back.
The other thing she said was this: "Get Planning Center Online. Right now. Today. Change Your Life."
You know someone is serious when they are perfectly articulate with the English language yet they intentionally leave out the it will' and go right to change your life'. She even went so far as to add in that eye roll, neck roll thing some women master after too many Scandal episodes.
She seemed deadly serious.
Who was I to question that?
With that, I got Planning Center Online.
While I didn't get it "right (then)" or that exact day I did get it that week.
And since then, I have been a happy customer using that church management software.
Therefore, I would like to humbly offer some Planning Center Online tips that you can use to make your experience with the software even more fruitful. To be transparent, I don't make any money for endorsing them; I'm just telling all of you what Nikki told me almost 10 years ago.
Tip #1: Buy the Shoe in Your Shoe Size
PCO has many different options, that will allow one to do a variety of different tasks. That doesn't mean you have to use all of them.
Decide where you'll start and start there. I needed to totally retool and reboot our praise team, the way we do business, the way we praise, the way we did everything. Even so, we started with just putting music on the plan, along with singers and musicians.
We have a church of almost 2,000 members but we only started there. Only bite off what you can chew.
Tip #2: Use It. For Real
Praise team singers would come up to me all the time at the beginning and ask what songs we were singing next week.
My answer? "It’s on Planning Center."
I'd also be asked when a person was serving, which week, which service. And the answer was the same: "It's on Planning Center."
That answer is important, because you are putting the responsibility of being informed on the team member, not you.
Eight years later, that has progressed to where I recently had a training for the Audio/Video team, and the handout I gave them said, "Do not ask me when am I on the schedule I will not answer that question."
I took time to make sure everyone knew how to access their schedule on Planning Center Online.
Which brings me to the next important tip:
Tip #3: Make It Necessary
At my church on any team I manage, if you cannot successful navigate PCO, you do not stay on the team. If I send out consistent requests and you consistently fail to respond, we have a conversation, one about you no longer participating on the team.
Don't sabotage your own leadership and ministry tool. If you are the person they go to for information, the ministry's success rests completely on you getting the information out. If they use PCO for ministry information, they learn to self-educate. That frees you up as a leader to do other things.
Tip #4: Advance Planning
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyways: I plan two months in advance.
By May 1, I want to have a sense of who's doing what when, on the first Sunday in July. This gives me plenty of time to send out reminders, plan for holidays that land on worship events, ask questions and more.
Advance planning can be the key to success.
Tip #5: App Access
Make sure your leadership team has the free Planning Center Online app. Show them the advantage in accessing information from the phone in their pockets. Some time ago, I took this for granted, until I had a new member join the team and I never told them about the free app. They didn't know and I failed to tell them. Don't assume your team knows what you know; teach them by telling them what you know.