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?