Friday, March 27, 2009

ChMS - Where are we, where do we want to be?

Today I did a bit of an assessment on where we are with Arena. While it's a powerful tool for us already, it is a little bit depressing to see how much we aren't using yet. I created three categories: In use, In use but under utilized, and Unused. My next step is to refine the list (add missing elements, like using the check scanners for contribution entry) and assign a time value to each of the "under utilized" or "unused" areas with an estimate of how long it will take to bring those items online. Finally, I want to take that list to the staff and get a sense of their priorities in relation to Arena.

As I looked at this list I was amazed at just how much functionality we have in front of us, and how much work we still have to do. Little things can translate into huge time problems. For example, I have a particular data need that relates to at least 950 individuals in our database. They live in an area that only delivers mail to PO boxes. Thus, I need to use their PO box as a mailing address, but their physical address for geocoding. What at first sounds trivial gets complex when you realize that the database uses "primary" and alternates, but does everything with the primary. So if I can send people mail, they don't show up on our area maps for things like the small group locator. If I use their physical address, all my mailing addresses are wrong for them.

That shouldn't be hard to fix, except that I don't actually have most of their physical addresses, only mailing addresses. So now I have not only a database problem, but I have a data problem as well. Assuming we are able to accommodate the physical & mailing address and have them used properly, I now have a data gathering task that is huge to get everyone's physical addresses. That will take far more time than the database fix...

This process also got me thinking about what I want to see that I don't yet have on my list. At the top of the "wish list" is developing a meaningful members portal that people want to login to. Web 2.0 and social networking is all the rage, but it is of little use if it doesn't integrate with our database and, by extension, facebook. Our people are already on facebook, and more importantly, so are their unsaved friends. I don't want to create an isolated place, I want to figure out how to integrate the church into the social networks they already have. I want the church to be a natural part of what they do, not some secret life they live off to the side.

In the past I've done web forums and things, but something of that nature is very difficult to make work unless there are a large group of people with a common reason for being there. "I go to this church" is not a good enough reason. The web forums that really work are the ones that unite around a common interest that has a lot of reason for discussion. Some examples of web forums that really work: avsforum.com, 2old2play.com, nikonians.com. Some that don't: leonardsweet.com, mclean bible church (mcleanbible.org). There are a lot more that I could put on that second list, but you can probably think of a group off the top of your head. My point is that there has to be a compelling reason for people to come to your site, and it has to be beyond just because you are their church. I'd love to know of some churches that are doing this really well, and what they are doing to make their sites compelling.

What do you think? Who is doing this right? What else should a ChMS offer?

Joel

1 comment:

Tom said...

Saw the SQL announcement in the Church Program a couple weeks ago. George Beardsley pointed me to your blog to see what you guys have going on.

I have a suggestion to how you get more traffic to your site where people actually log in, I would suggest crowd sourcing the content that goes on your site. Have people create upcoming events, create the news, create new ministries on the site, etc... Obviously the site would have to be moderated, but you can setup an access control group for people that are trusted (i.e. small group leaders, ministry leaders, trusted people...) so those posts skip moderation and cut back on moderation overhead. By crowd sourcing the content on the site, you may actually find people that otherwise wouldn't have come forward to volunteer their efforts.

One way to get people talking about the site, in my opinion, is to make it feel like their own. If the community is creating the content for the site, there is pride of ownership in the site and the result may be that they end up telling their friends to check out an event they just posted on the church site, or an article they just posted about last weeks sermon.

You are absolutely correct about Facebook. Facebook is a huge opportunity to reach people, saved or unsaved. Like you said, everyone is already on Facebook, and so is their Oikos, so why not leverage the Facebook API and integrate it into the church site. With Facebook Connect you can integrate the social aspects of Facebook right on your own site.