Thursday, October 29, 2009

I love October

I love October

The weather starts to cool.

It's a time for apple cider & pumpkin pie.

Formula1 reaches it's fever pitch and crowns a world champion.

The Dodgers are playing baseball. (ok, they were when I wrote this...)

The Yankees are playing baseball.

The Ducks are playing Hockey.

USC is playing football.

And my birthday caps the whole month off.

I love October.


Friday, October 16, 2009

MPG - A must-have iPhone App

I don't talk about iPhone apps much, but today I realized how much I love one particular app: MPG.

I started using MPG in June or so. Well, let me qualify that: I started using MPG for the iPhone in June or so. Previously, I had this program for my Newton. Yes, it's been around that long. The developer has a 14 year head start on everyone else building apps like this for the iPhone, and it shows. The developer also does a really good job of supporting his software, and that has continued into the iPhone era.

MPG tracks mileage, maintenance & trips. Sounds mundane, but it's not. It's awesome. Not only do I know what kind of mileage I am getting on all of my cars, I can tell you that we fill the van up every 3.5 days, and we spend an average of $13.21 per day driving that car. On top of that, we average 79.1 miles per day on it. Whoa! Our average fuel cost? $3.097 per gallon. Average MPG? 19.3 (ouch!). Longest distance between fill-ups? 484 miles.

But it isn't just about stats. I use MPG to keep track of business miles. The result? I don't forget them. Not forgetting them means that I can turn them in for reimbursement. That's paid for this software many times over.

But it isn't just about reimbursement. It also keeps track of maintenance, maintenance costs etc. So when it's time to change my oil? MPG tells me. Time to rotate the tires? MPG tells me that too. Then it uses those figures to calculate the cost per day of the vehicle.

I love this app, and if you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch, it's totally worth the $4 or so to pick it up. Get it.


Update: Unfortunately the author of this app passed away in 2013. As of February 2014 MPG has still not been updated for ios7, and it's time for me to move on.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

50 Years Ago Today

We got a phone call in our office today. It was Faye Powell. She wanted us to know that it was 50 years ago today, at 7:00 PM that she and John hosted the very first service of High Desert Church in their living room. It was called "High Desert Baptist Church" back then. John and Faye are both at home today, recovering from surgeries. It has been a rough year for them.

It's amazing to see what God has done with this church in the last fifty years. Literally thousands of people have come to faith in Christ because of John and Faye's willingness to seek God's will and start a church. I'm sure it wasn't the easiest path, and there have been many challenges for them along the way, but God was clearly with them and HDC has flourished.

In the early 1960's they began a search for land. They had a choice between a three acre parcel and a ten acre parcel, and after much debate decided to go on faith and purchase the larger piece of land. We are still located on that same 10 acre parcel they purchased all those years ago, although we have purchased another 46 acres surrounding it to allow us room to grow. We are using some of that land for parking, but a lot of it is still vacant.

It took great faith to start this church, and I'm very grateful they did. My children have both grown up at HDC and the ministry of this church has had a significant impact in their faith in Christ. It took faith to stretch and buy the larger piece of land, but because they did we have been able to be in the same location for all these years. It took faith to turn the reigns over to the pastoral staff and stop being closely involved in the leadership of the church, but John and Faye both point to that moment as what was necessary for this church to really take off.

There are many lessons to be learned here:

Don't sit idle when things aren't right, do something! The Powells have told me that the pastor of the American Baptist Church up here had done some unethical things, and the church wasn't willing to let him go so they founded HDC because they wanted a church that honored God.

Seek God's will, and if the path isn't the easy one, do it anyway. It would have been easier to wait out the pastor at the other church, or to simply find another church that was "good enough" but that wasn't what God had in mind. Instead, John and Faye stepped up to the plate to start this church.

Dream big. 3 acres would have been plenty for the small little church in a small little town, but 10 acres gave them room to grow. The best part is that there was vacant land around, so even with 10 acres we weren't stuck. They didn't dream so big that the dreams outpaced the reality either. There were bigger plots available, but 10 acres was within reach.

Trust God. Through good economy and bad, God has provided for this church. When George Air Force Base closed, many people though Victorville was doomed. Instead, it has grown, and so has HDC. God has continued to lead, and we do our best to follow.

It truly is a blessing to be on this staff and a part of HDC's fifty year history.

Happy Birthday HDC!


God has blessed this church for 50 years.

Friday, October 9, 2009

ChMS - What do the big guys use?

The worst possible way to choose a church management system is simply to look at another church and say "They use X, so we should too!" ChMS is a complex product and is absolutely not a one-size-fits-all solution. What is important to HDC might not at all be what you want out of a ChMS for your church. With that said, one factor that should be on everyone's mind is scalability. Scalability is the ability for a software product to grow with your church up to any size. One of the products I looked at in our survey had popup windows throughout the database that were populated with the entire database. In the case of HDC that means to choose a person we would have to scroll through a 25000 person list every single time. This is a perfect example of poor scalability.

It was with this in mind that I decided to do a little research into what the top ten largest churches in America use. Outreach Magazine publishes a list of the top 100 largest churches in America. As with any survey of this type it isn't perfect, but it gave me a place to start.

I then looked at what information was publicly available to see what these churches use as their ChMS solution. If I couldn't figure it out from their website I found it in interviews or other information. In the case of the Arena churches I know them all personally so that part was easy. If all that failed I emailed their IT guys and asked...

Here's what I found:

3 Churches use FellowshipOne (Lakewood Church,, and Fellowship Church)
3 Churches use Arena (Willow Creek, North Point Community Church, and Southeast Christian Church)
1 Church uses iMIS from Advanced Solutions International (Second Baptist Houston)
1 Church uses ACS (Woodlands Church)
1 Church wrote their own database. (Saddleback)
1 Church still uses Shelby V5 with a lot of custom code on top, but is evaluating other solutions (Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale)

So what can we learn from this?

First off, Arena and Fellowship One have clearly shown their ability to handle the largest congregations in America. An important comment though: This is not a customer satisfaction survey. Keep that in mind. We know this is what they use, not how well it works for them. For that you will probably have to ask them yourself. But it is still valuable to know that these two solutions are being used by these churches as you consider them.

Secondly, it's clear that Arena and F1 are not the only options if you are a big church. There are four other solutions represented here. Shelby and ACS are two of them, and they are two of the oldest providers in church software.

Third, it is fantastic news that only one of the churches on this list is using a home grown church management solution (well, two if you count Fellowship Church that created FellowshipOne before spinning it off to a separate company). The point here is that you should think twice before writing your own system, no matter how much better you think it will be. The work involved and the money that you will spend is huge, and only one of the ten largest churches in america uses this approach.

Finally, just because it isn't represented on this list doesn't mean it is not something you should use. There are a lot of very good solutions that are out there in the marketplace, and you should work to find the best one for your church. Scalability is only one factor, and only important if God decides to make your church large enough to create a problem with your database... Also, things change. F1 and Arena didn't even exist ten years ago. By the time you need scalability (if are thinking 5 years down the road, for example) the options may be completely different.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

ChMS - Why?

What is the purpose of a ChMS? Why do we go to all of this effort and spend the money?

That was the question that kept resonating with me on the drive home from RefreshCache 2009. Jon Edmiston talked a bit about what he called "Deep Metrics" from Arena in the final session, and it was the perfect way to end. On the drive home Daniel and I talked a great deal about what we could do with this kind of information.

If you go all the way back to the first time I talked about church management software (which in turn dramatically shifted the focus of this blog, sorry to those of you that groan with each ChMS post) it included this statement in the opening paragraphs:

"We need to move forward, way forward, to something that will help us minister to our people more effectively as opposed to simply facilitating mailings and contribution tracking."

Does Arena fit the bill? Did we accomplish what we started out to do or did we get sidetracked by other cool features?

In short, I believe we have made great strides towards our goal.

Relationships are one area where Arena has pushed us towards this goal. It provides ways for us to track non-obvious connections between our people and this enables us to interact with our people better. Peers, although we don't have it refined yet to where we want it to be, also provides a way to see who someone might be connected to in our database. These tools help us involve our members more in the task of ministering to people.

Children's Check-In has removed a huge impediment to people coming to HDC, and has allowed them to spend more time engaged with the ministry and less time standing in line. It has also provided us with highly accurate attendance data of what families with children are attending our church and how often.

The small group leader's toolbox has provided a way for us to gather attendance data from small groups, and given small group leaders quick access to up-to-date contact information for the members of their group. Likewise, it has enabled them to keep us up to date on life changes that are happening with their people. It has also given us a central place for leaders to go for training, to download leader notes and commentaries etc.

The geocoding features of arena have given us a way to identify where people live, where they are not, and helped connect people with small groups that are local to where they live.

The shepherding notes give pastors the ability to record contact with church members which makes us more effective when we talk with our people again at a later date. There is room here for improvement, but this is huge.

Volunteer Tracking has assisted us in following up much better on people that volunteer to serve in our ministries. The last time we did a service emphasis we made an attempt to contact every person who signed up (e.g. sent an email, made a phone call, sent a second email). This is a far cry from where we were a year ago when many people signed up and never heard from the church.

I think we have definitely accomplished our goal, but we are far from done. What Jon showed us at RefreshCache were ways to look at the Arena data to see who the plugged in people in the church really are, and more importantly, who appears to be dropping out of that group. He also showed how we can see what kind of visitor retention rate we have.

This ability gives us, at last, a way to look at our people and see where are coming up short as a church. It allows us to begin to take steps to solve the problem of visitor retention, and then see if those solutions are actually helping. It allows us to see who is leaving our church, and hopefully learn from why they are leaving.

Arena gives us the ability to minister to our people more effectively, and that's exactly what we set out to accomplish a little over a year ago. I can't wait to see what the next year brings!


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Starbucks VIA

Starbucks is running commercials with people saying they can't tell the difference between Starbucks and their VIA instant coffee.

Is it just me or is Starbucks finally admitting that their coffee is so bad you can't tell it from instant?



Monday, October 5, 2009

ChMS - RefreshCache Day 1

Today we are at RefreshCache 2009. This is a gathering of Arena developer churches that is the brain child of Nick Airdo at CCCEV. There are a good number of churches here and we are talking about the technical details of developing for Arena. We started the day with Nick giving us a challenge to lead and think about the community as a whole, and then have been delving into some very technical topics. We've talked about Jquery, Semantic Web, XSLT and other such topics.

We showed off the family registration and check-in management, as well as the iphone app. Now we are looking at the excellent check-in monitoring modules developed by Southeast Christian.

On the whole I love the idea of this gathering. Arena churches that are actively developing getting together to work collaboratively on projects and share expertise with one another.

Lots more to come for the day. Good times!