Getting started with ChurchSuite

Welcome to ChurchSuite! You may be wondering where to begin or what to do next. While there isn't a "hard and fast" right way, the following guidance and suggestions may be useful to you and your team. Just to say that very little set up is actually required to get started. This article is intended to be a helpful checklist (not in any particular order) that can be worked through step-by-step over a period of time at a pace that suits you. Throughout this article are several short "getting started" videos that may also be useful - here's the first one...

Introduction to ChurchSuite's terminology

Whether you're transitioning from another system, or brand new to a church management system like ChurchSuite, it may be helpful for you to understand some of the key terminology that's used throughout the platform. This same terminology is also used in our support articles and will be used by the ChurchSuite team in response to support tickets and questions. It will therefore help us better understand an issue you're describing if you too are able to use similar terminology.

The ChurchSuite Ecosystem...

ChurchSuite is your admin-facing system (database), the blue-bannered system with your modules across the top of the page. Your ChurchSuite system is only accessible to users who have been granted permissions to log in and manage and maintain your database. Typically this will be your staff/pastoral/ops/admin team and key volunteers who have responsibilities within your church. Users log in with their username and password.

My ChurchSuite is the online member-facing side of ChurchSuite accessible by your church members. Within this system, church members can log in securely (by invitation) and manage their personal details, view and manage rotas, engage with your events and small groups and manage their children's details. The functionality available is dependent on the modules you have on your account, and your module settings. Access is to members, not users, and they log in with their email address and password.

Connect refers to ChurchSuite's Sunday service-facing functionality. Within the Connect platform are several Sunday-facing applications that you can optionally run at your weekend services. Connect includes the Child Check-in system, and also several applications that can be run from your Information Desk on a tablet or laptop, like the "My Details" form - a newcomer form for visiting families and individuals to submit their details directly into your ChurchSuite database, that automatically triggers notifications to key ministry leaders based on the areas of interest expressed. Connect also includes Information Desk applications to enable people to view, and optionally, sign up for your events, small groups, or make an online donation.

Embed refers to those features with ChurchSuite that can be optionally embedded in to your church's website. You can easily embed you church's events calendar, a 'featured events' feed, small group lists and maps, and a newcomer connect form. Once embedded, the content of these features remain up to date with your underlying ChurchSuite database, saving you the need to create information in two places.

Donate is ChurchSuite's online donations platform, which can be easily deployed in your website, at your information desk, embedded as links within your communications and accessed through the member-facing My ChurchSuite.

Apps Your ChurchSuite system can be used within any web browser and also in our iOS or Android 'apps', which are available free from the respective apps stores. Apps are fully-functional (not scaled down versions of the browser-based system). Our apps allow users to have both their admin-facing and member-facing accounts in the one app, making it really easy to switch between the two accounts. A separate 'app' for Connect is under development.

API is freely available to churches who wish to use our web developer access to build their own front-end applications using the underlying ChurchSuite data. API is available to "full suite" customers who have all ChurchSuite modules.

Events management is a key feature of the Calendar module, with functionality available for everything from event invitations, ticketing (including secure payment handling), sign-up and event check-in. Whether your event has an internal-only or public-facing audience, the events platform manages all your event-related processes.

Other terms you'll come across...

Contact refers to an adult person in your Address Book module.

Child refers to an under 18 child or young person in your Children module.

Giver refers to a donor that has a giving profile in the Giving module. Givers can be linked through to their underlying Address Book contact profile (meaning you only need to record contact details in the Address Book), or you can maintain them as unlinked givers (perhaps those donors who are outside your church, or those just visiting) and optionally record their contact details against the unlinked giver's profile. In this way, giver profiles can be kept distinct and confidential by restricting access to the Giving module.

User refers to a person who has been granted access to your admin-facing system and has 'use' or 'manage' or 'administrator' permission to access the various modules. The system also includes the ability to group users to together into User Groups. One use of this feature is the ability to restrict the visibility of certain features to just those users who are members of that particular user group.

Members refer to those who belong to or are part of your church, your congregation, those you are touching and tracking, those who are engaged with your church and have submitted some of their contact details for you to hold on your system. And members can of course also include, but not limited to, any official membership your church maintains.

Small groups typically refers to your church's mid-week discipleship groups, and they are managed in the Small Groups module (all ChurchSuite modules can be renamed to suit your internal terminology). You might call them life groups, connect/community groups, hubs, pastorates, cell/growth groups, house/home groups. These groups will likely meet with various frequencies on various dates and in various venues. The group focus may be everything from discipleship to outreach to fun focus. You may (or may not) record attendance for these groups. There may be small group members who have particular roles, such as "group leader". Both adult contacts and children can be assigned to these groups.

Children groups refer to the children and youth groups that your church run, typically at your weekend services, but may also include your mid-week children and youth groups, and groups like mums and toddler groups. These groups exist in the Children module (not the Small Groups module). You can record attendance for children groups (either by producing printed registers for manual check-in/out, or using the module's Child Check-in system). Children are usually assigned to these groups based on their age and will normally be processed through your different children groups as they get older or in line with a change of school year. Children groups in the children module also provide a means for managing your regular children and visiting families/children using the check-in system.

Tags are a simple way to create custom groupings of people in your database that don't naturally fit into the designated "group" functionality found elsewhere in the Small Groups and Children modules, as described above. For example, you could create a Tag to custom-group together all your "membership" contacts, or all your givers who gave to the last stewardship campaign, or all the children who went to summer camp. Once tagged, you can easily bulk-communicate to those tagged groupings of people, or use the Tag to filter ChurchSuite reports and see the results for just a particular subset of your database. Within ChurchSuite there are two types of tags - fixed tags and smart tags.

Key Dates are a feature of the Address Book and Children module for easily recording significant date-related milestones, anniversaries and events against people. These key dates might typically represent people's journey and engagement with your church activities e.g. the date someone first connects with your church, the date they attend a significant event or course, the date they completed some training or become qualified at something significant. ChurchSuite also automatically records certain Key Dates, such as when a person joins or leaves a ministry or small group. By using Key Dates, it's then very easy to report on how engaged (or disengaged) people are within the life and activity of your community.

Flows are a function of the Address Book module and enable churches to easily track and manage people through recurring admin tasks, for example, newcomer integration. Using Flows allows you to keep track of who is at what stage of your processes, what tasks are due/overdue, and what needs to happen with them next. Through the process your users will receive reminder notifications when things become due, making it really easy to care for people consistently, without people falling through the cracks of your processes. Flows can be used for all manner of processes and workflows, e.g. DBS/safeguarding checks, managing discipleship applications, helping people get into small groups, to name but a few.

Ministries exist within the Rotas module and refer to your various areas of serving and volunteering in your church, including Sunday ministries and mid-week ministries. Within each ministry you can assign overseers, add members to the ministry and optionally organise the ministry into teams and roles to suit the serving patterns of that ministry. For each ministry you'll then publish a rota that displays which people/teams are set to serve on which dates and in which roles. You can of course add non-ministry members to rotas on an ad hoc basis if you wish.

Getting started...

  1. Set each module's settings:
    Beginning with the Address Book, and working through each module your church has subscribed to, go into the module settings (the cog wheels in the top right-hand corner) and begin to customise ChurchSuite to suit your church's needs.
  2. Import your data:
    If you were working with test data during your trial, you may want to clear down that data an import clean data. This support article explains how to import your data. And this support article explains how to delete existing contacts. You may also want to set up your church's custom fields prior to import. Remember to import adult and children data separately and into the respective Address Book and Children modules.
  3. Data cleansing, linking couples and children:
    Data cleansing and linking potential couples. Linking children to parents.
  4. Set-up your church's profile settings:
    Upload your church's branding and artwork e.g. logos, colour schemes etc. See support article.
  5. Create users:
    Add users to your account giving appropriate permissions to each. See support article.
    Set up any User Groups and add users to those groups. See support article.
  6. Complete any optional third-party ChurchSuite integrations:
    E.g. Stripe (for receiving card payments for event ticket payments and donations), GoCardless (for direct debit donations), Podcast, SMS integrations and permissions (e.g. TextLocal, Twilio, BulkSMS).
  7. Rename your modules to suit your church's terminology:
    You can change the default "module names" to use language that is familiar to your church. So if you call small groups "Cell Groups", here's how.
  8. Set up your children's groups:
    Set -up your group structure, including any check-in related settings for Gatherings, Groups and SessionsAdd children to groups.
  9. Set up your small groups:
    Including roles, clusters, visibility in My ChurchSuite and Embed, inc group sign-up settings. Add people to your small groups.
  10. Set up your Attendance module: attendance module categories:
  11. Set up your Calendar module:  calendar event categories:
    You can then begin to add events to your calendar.
  12. Set up your Rotas module: Set up your ministries and publish serving team rotas
    Assign people to ministries, create teams, add people to teams, publish rotas
  13. Check your Billing information: Check your billing contact details are correct and set up your church's recurring payment to ChurchSuite.
  14. Set up Preset communications: emails or SMSs.
  15. Explore Tags and Key Dates: Set up any Fixed tags, Smart tags, Flows, and Key Dates your church may want to begin with.
  16. Set up your member-facing My ChurchSuite: Set up My ChurchSuite
  17. Set up the Giving module:
    Funds, online giving (optional), giver profiles, Gift Aid settings (UK only), Gift Aid declarations (UK only), pledges.

Note: For each support article referenced above, we also draw your attention to the related articles shown at the bottom of each article - these provide further detail about related functionality and similar related topics.

Data Protection

Finally, we do encourage churches to revisit their Data Protection policies and procedures in the light of the features and functionality they'll use within ChurchSuite. Question you might consider include:

  • Do people know what data is being stored by the church and the purpose for which it is used?
  • Do people understand that only appropriate users have access to data, the security protections in place and their permissions?
  • Does our data retention policy need updating?
  • Do we need to refresh our training, confidentiality and data access provisions for staff and other users?
  • Are default privacy settings appropriate and in line with those expected by church members?
  • Do the church's data capture processes (e.g. visitor cards, web embedded forms etc) have sufficient data protection disclaimers?
  • Does our safeguarding policy need updating to reflect how data will be handled in respect of children and vulnerable adults?

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