Everyone stays connected with these high-tech products.
by Pam Sheppard
Your Church, May/June 2005
As a courtesy to others, church attendees are usually asked to turn off cell phones, pagers, and any other electronic devices they may be carrying during the weekly worship service. As disruptive as these forms of communication can be at the wrong times, more people—including pastors and church staff— are becoming dependent on these technologies for staying informed.
Today, churches have diverse needs for communicating to its staff, its members, and its guests—both during and after church services. It's a never-ending job and a vital part of the church's ministry. Here are some of the latest products that offer state-of-the-art communication solutions to churches around the country.
One of the most important communication needs during a church service, at least to parents of small children, is to reach a parent quickly when a child needs them. For churches with growing families, making sure that parents have a direct line of communication to the children's ministry is critical.
One of the quickest and most discreet ways to reach a parent during a church service is through a silent or visual pager. This technology ensures that church service interruptions are kept to a minimum. Microframe Corporation offers the MultiPage system—a wireless paging system designed to reach parents, church staff, and volunteers. Its single transmitter has a ½-mile range.
Most churchgoers are familiar with the electronic light-emitting diode (LED) boards used for paging parents, staff, or additional nursery workers during services. When a number flashes on the board, parents start digging in their pockets or purses to see if they hold the matching number, a sign that the parent is needed in the children's ministry area. Visual pagers can also be used to communicate to staff that additional workers are needed in the children's area.
Microframe's hand-held vibrating pagers also provide silent communication and discreet notification for parents. Some churches use the pagers as an added security measure by restricting the checkout of a child to parents who have a pager.
Providing a secure and appealing environment for their children's ministry is a tremendous priority for pastors and administrators, says Gwen McCullough, advertising executive for Microframe Corporation. "It's also an excellent way to assure visiting parents and guests that you are concerned for their children, which ultimately leads to an increased attendance and membership," she says. "This gives parents peace of mind so they can relax and enjoy the service."
Today, more than 9,000 churches use Microframe nursery paging systems to stay connected to parents. Over 35,000 LED systems have been sold in nearly 20 years.
Keep Staff and Volunteers Informed
The MultiPage system also offers a communication device called the Informant to help workers in the children's ministry area. Similar to a traffic stoplight, the Informant keeps children's workers informed of the status of the church service. For example, a green light means the service is in progress, a yellow light means the service is coming to a close, and a red light means the congregation has been dismissed.
"The Informant is beneficial for managing time," says McCullough. "Children's workers can start and complete certain activities when they know how much time they have left until the service is dismissed. It also allows them to prepare the children for their parents to pick them up quickly and efficiently without standing in long lines while the class is being wrapped up."
"I only wish we had the Informant ten years ago," says Richard Maus of Cornerstone Church in Toledo, Ohio. "With nearly 700 kids in 11 classes running simultaneously, it is something our workers rely on greatly. It's so easy to install and even easier to operate."
For the pastor who records sermons, communicating with the sound booth operator is extremely important. Microframe offers digital clocks and timers in wired and wireless models. This is especially important if videotaping or recording the service. The timer enables the pastor and sound booth operator to stay in sync without confusion or disruption.
Coordinate Schedules and Resources
With all the activities going on in churches today, it seems as though the church never sleeps—it's always open. Communication between the church and congregation is key. All these activities bring the need for constant juggling of room and resource schedules, finding volunteers, adding the event to a schedule, possibly selling tickets, promoting events, and more.
ServiceU Corporation provides churches the cure for "schedulitis" with their popular web-based scheduling system, EventU. According to company figures, more than 30 percent of the fastest growing churches in the country are using EventU. To get started with EventU, all you need is an Internet connection, an Internet e-mail address, and a web browser. Products offered through ServiceU automate all the processes for managing events, and give everyone a single place to find the most up-to-date information about events.
Tim Whitehorn, founder and president of ServiceU Corporation, says their primary goal is to help churches get people involved. ServiceU's website offers free tips on getting more people involved with your church. "The less time staff spends on administrative tasks, the more time they have for ministry," says Whitehorn.
ServiceU offers three versions of their online scheduling and event management software: EventU, EventU Basic, and TransactU. EventU includes complete scheduling software for events, resources, rooms, volunteers, and more. Its features include tracking of resources and facilities, routing of requests for approval, real-time request status, volunteer management, online event registrations, and e-mail newsletters.
The EventU Basic product includes online calendar software without the advanced features, and TransactU allows churches to accept payments of online registrations and online donations.
Messages to the Masses
Effective and timely communication is a key element for growing a congregation, engaging church members, and avoiding breakdowns. Since 1989, tens of thousands of churches have found PhoneTree to be a valuable communication tool.
By combining telephone, e-mail, text messaging, and other technologies, PhoneTree is a powerful, automated message delivery system and more. PhoneTree can import phone lists from many different church management software programs so there's no need to re-enter all the information. It conveniently combines phone calls with e-mails in one tool, and allows remote access from any phone in the event you need to record emergency outbound messages. Reports can be automatically e-mailed, faxed, or printed.
PhoneTree is useful for volunteer recruiting, emergency notification, sending out appointment reminders, planning events, answering frequently asked questions, communicating with shut-ins, and much more.
While PhoneTree offers five different models, the model 2500 is the most popular with churches because of its many features, cost, timesaving benefits, and ease of use, according to Michael Euliss, vice president of marketing at PhoneTree. Euliss says over the years, church leaders have learned that PhoneTree does much more than communicate with church members.
"Used often, it can help churches engage their congregation—that is, getting more than the standard 20 percent involved and creating excitement and ownership for the church and its members," says Euliss.
The PhoneTree 2500 includes a volunteer management feature that tackles the age-old problem of churches engaging only 20 percent of the people to do 80 percent of work. This feature ensures everyone is getting asked to volunteer—not just the top 20 percent who usually say yes.
For example, the PhoneTree 2500 calls your list of volunteers automatically and then stops calling when it receives the requested number of positive responses. It can then move those who said "yes" to the bottom of the list. The next time you use PhoneTree to place outbound calls looking for volunteers, the system starts contacting from the top of the list, ensuring that everyone gets asked in turn.
What about busy signals, answering machines, and kids who hang up the phone when they hear a recording? The PhoneTree system empowers users to handle these kinds of situations. For instance, PhoneTree can help you avoid the hang-up response by requiring recipients to press "9" to hear a message. PhoneTree can also offer specific information to those called. And when answering machines pick up calls, PhoneTree can play a different message.
Updating call lists is easy with the help of PhoneTree reports. After a job is complete, PhoneTree reports whether calls were answered by a human voice, an answering machine, or never answered. It also reports phone numbers that are out of service so you can keep your phone list up-to-date.
"Churches who communicate effectively with their members have proven that they retain and grow their membership base," says Ralph Conley, CEO of eGOware. But with so many choices of communication technologies—e-mail, voicemail, pager, cell phone, and fax—how do you know the best way to communicate with each member of your congregation?
In the case of eGOware's Desktop Ministries, your members tell you how they want to receive information. Through its patented messaging and alert system, Desktop Ministries allows churches to instantly reach a church member or member group through their home phone, cell phone, pager, pda, or desktop computer.
Conley says churches love the multi-functionality of Desktop Ministries. "Whether canceling church due to inclement weather or sending the pastor's sermon in video format to the member's computer desktop, churches now have a unique way of getting the word out," he says.
With its base product, the Private Communication Channel, Desktop Ministries allows churches to create communication channels for groups such as new members, young adults, couples, children, seniors, and the unchurched community. It's also a great way to distribute prayer requests.
The channels are private and secure, and enable churches to communicate with their members without the hassles associated with e-mail. Desktop Ministries also provides your church members with a central location that will organize all your information, allowing it to be viewed online or offline.
Desktop Ministries uses a private Internet communication channel instead of e-mail to deliver messages and data files to the recipient's computer desktops. This proprietary Internet channel uses patented "push-pull" technology to create a church member channel.
Unlike e-mail, Desktop Ministries guarantees 100-percent delivery of all messages, even when users change e-mail addresses or Internet providers. And there is no firewall or spam filter to contend with. Desktop Ministries communications can be sent or received without an investment in information technology skill or hardware (other than personal computers). A church can electronically publish, update, and measure the results of its communications by simply typing into a personal computer.
Desktop Ministries offers these additional features: desktop branding that includes a church's logo that gets installed on members desktops, targeted direct messages, interactive billboards, multiple web and e-mail links, offline access to document files and messages, automatic desktop alert of new information, and real-time view of user statistics.
Some messages need to go out immediately, such as when a church closes due to threatening weather. Helping churches get the word out quickly is OneCall Now, which provides an Internet-based phone tree service that allows churches to contact their members by delivering messages within minutes.
According to Steve Fields, director of business development for religious markets, OneCall Now is the first company to offer an affordable calling plan that allows the church to make unlimited calls throughout the month for a low flat fee. He says one of their product's top features is the ability to record and deliver a message by calling a toll-free number from anywhere in the world.
Other features include the ability to display the church's telephone number when calls are placed (great for people who use caller id to screen calls); the ability for members to call a toll-free number to listen to the message; the ability to break main calling rosters into smaller subgroups like prayer chains, elders, deacons, committees, and more.
With OneCall Now, churches can quickly announce church holiday programs, send a devotional to the congregation, send a request for volunteers for an upcoming event, and share prayer requests. "It's often difficult to measure some benefits, but the power of prayer is not one of them," says Fields. "When everyone on the prayer chain receives the concern and begins to pray for that person, anything can happen."
OneCall Now has been in business for over two years and has designed calling plans for churches from 50 members to 10,000 members. Churches can either enter their calling list information online, or they can send a data file with the information to OneCall Now. Reports are viewed online.
PhoneTree's OnDemand™ service, launched in 2004, also addresses the need for making many calls quickly. OnDemand is now built into every PhoneTree USB Church System, and it offers the option of Internet-based broadcasting to make a lot of calls fast. Rather than letting the church office PhoneTree system place all the calls, the message is sent to a website where a phone system sends many calls simultaneously. You can choose either the standard PhoneTree method or OnDemand for each message.
Synergistics Voice Broadcasting is another web-based communication product that allows up to 99 different distribution lists, each with no size limit.
Thanks to these advanced communication products, you can multiply your ministry by saving time and money. Now you can go from just preaching to the choir to reaching the masses—all in a matter of a click and a dial.