Case Study: Managing pastoral care

About the author...

Paul, and his wife Fiona, used to lead a Vineyard church in Bournemouth, UK. Paul now heads up customer support and training at ChurchSuite. In this article he explores how ChurchSuite's features can be used to help manage aspects of pastoral care within churches.

Introduction

There are a number of features within ChurchSuite that can be used to help churches effectively organise their pastoral care teams and manage the booking process for pastoral appointments and subsequent follow up. Let's begin by looking at some of features you have available, most of which simply the Address Book module.

Creating a pastoral care team user group

It may be helpful to "group" all your pastoral care team Users together in a User Group. Access to certain features in ChurchSuite, such as Flows, Notes, and Tags (and Resources in the Bookings module - see later) can have their visibility restricted by user group if you wish; in other words, only those users of your admin-facing system who are in the appropriate user group(s) will be able to view, add or make changes to those features that have their visibility restricted. This can be particularly useful when elements of your pastoral care are sensitive or confidential, such as Notes from a pastoral appointment.

A further feature of User Groups is the option to assign a group email address to the group e.g. pastoralteam@yourchurch.com. In this way, when sending emails to contacts in the Address Book, your pastoral team Users can optionally send from the group email address, rather than from their individual user email address or their personal email address; ideal where a more professional or consistent communication is desired; but also where you have need to manage email replies.

It may therefore be helpful to set up a mailbox on your mail server for any shared email addresses, and even to add some email routing, so that replies sent back to the group email address are received into a managed inbox, or are re-directed on to one or more of your pastoral care team members.

Using flows to manage appointments and follow up

One of the main advantages of using Flows is they provide 'push notifications' when tasks become due, meaning that once you've set up your Flow, overseers can receive a regular weekly digest overview of all pastoral care tasks, but your pastoral team members each receive a reminder notification when their tasks/actions become due or are overdue. Flows therefore keep your team organised and ensure that nothing gets forgotten and no one slips through the cracks in a busy church. Team members will continue to receive daily reminders of overdue tasks until either the task is completed or the actions are postponed or delegated on to a different user.

One consideration when using Flows is that flow tasks can only be assigned to Users. That's because only Users can log in to access your Address Book module in the admin-facing system in order to complete their tasks and process people through to the next stage of a Flow. This means that Flows are not suitable if the pastoral care team are not set up with at least "use" permissions for the Address Book module. With "use" permissions a user is able to add Notes, add people to Flows, "process" people through Flows (including all flow actions), send emails and produce reports; but what "use" only permissions can't do is make changes to contacts within the Address Book, such as update a person's contact details, or add key dates, assign people to groups and tags outside of a flow - "manage" permissions are needed for these user functions. Flow, notes, key dates and tags are all features of your admin-facing system and are not accessible or updatable from the member-facing My ChurchSuite.

Rather than re-inventing the wheel and creating a "Pastoral Visits" Flow from scratch, you may find it helpful to install and experiment with one of the example flows available within the Flows section of the Address Book. There's a "Pastoral Visits" example that you can select.

By way of introduction to the terminology used in describing Flows, you'll see that a Flow is divided into "Stages" representing each step in your process, and that each stage can have one or more "Actions" that can be optionally processed against a contact before they are moved on to the next stage.

The example "Pastoral Visits" flow is simple two-stage flow comprising of one stage for 'scheduling a pastoral visit' and a second stage for the 'pastoral meeting' itself. You'll want to set your own preferred timings for when each stage becomes "Due" - simply click "Edit flow" and adjust the dates as desired. When a stage becomes due for a contact in your flow, any user assigned to that stage (or the overseer, if "any user" is assigned) will receive a reminder email notification (sent to their user email address). Due tasks can be optionally postponed, without processing the person on to the next stage of the flow. A user may also choose to delegate their assignment to another user, perhaps if they are committed elsewhere or are unavailable. Reminder notifications are sent on the due date and continue to be sent daily while the overdue assignment remains incomplete - i.e. until they are postponed, delegated or processed.

Adding people to a flow

The process of adding someone to you pastoral visits flow is really easy. From a contact's profile page in the Address Book simply select "Add to flow"...

...and then select your flow from the drop-down list and click "Add To Flow". Additional contacts can also be searched and added on the "Add to flow" pop-up, perhaps to add a spouse or partner.

The person is added to the Flow and will remain there until the first stage's due date.

Processing people through flows when tasks become due

On the due date, clicking the "Process" button for a person in a Flow will open the "Process" window (see screenshot below). Here you can change/postpone the due date and/or change the user that the flow stage is assigned to. The "Process" window displays previous notes, and new notes can be easily added - perhaps notes of a telephone call. When adding a note the visibility can be restricted by user group, perhaps to just your pastoral care team. Finally, a list of actions appropriate to the flow stage are shown - actions that are ticked will be processed when the "Run Actions" button is clicked. In the example below, clicking "Run Actions" will move Stuart from the "Schedule Visit" stage to the "Visit" stage...

...This means that each stage of a flow must contain at least one "Move to stage" navigation action, otherwise people will remain at the same stage and you won't be able to move them on when you process them! In addition to navigation actions, you can also customise your flow with actions to add/remove tags, assign key dates, add people to other flows and send preset email or SMS messages. Further information about creating Flows can be found in our support article.

It's worth bearing in mind that it's not currently possible to restrict the visibility of key dates - all Address Book module users are able to view key dates. Therefore any key dates used for pastoral care should appropriately named e.g a Key Date called "Marriage Mediation Meeting" is probably not suitable, but a more generic "Pastoral Care Team Visit" is appropriate - the nature of the visit can still be included in a Note, with the visibility of the note restricted to the pastoral care team user group.

It is possible to hide 'sent' emails from the communication logs and from the recent activity of a contact's profile page. To do this, head in to the Address Book module reports and select the Communication report. Locate the sent email you wish to hide and select "Hide email" from the action cog on the right hand side of the page. Note that hidden emails cannot be set visible again - all record is hidden.

Good notes and bad notes!

It goes without saying that we should always aim to speak of others with be the same love, privacy, dignity and respect that we would each expect to receive. This should also be true when writing notes that are added against people's contact profiles in the Address Book. "Factual" notes from a meeting, things to remember, action points for follow up - these are all useful notes in a busy church, and useful for collaborative working in teams. Things are less likely to be forgotten with a helpful note.

Where personal information has been shared with us, perhaps from a pastoral conversation, we should consider whether that information is just for us, or whether that person would be happy for us to share a note of that information with a wider audience e.g. other pastoral care team members, or other users. In my experience most notes we add about people are fairly harmless - "Met John for coffee. He's asked for information about small groups" - a note like this could either be set as visible to "Just me", as a personal reminder for follow up, or perhaps to my "small group ministry" user group, so that it can be actioned by one of the team. However, notes with confidential content should only be recorded with the person's consent, and only with visibility set to the appropriate audience.

Notes expressing "opinions" should generally be avoided. Whether the opinion is factually true is not relevant. A note like, "I notice John was looking a little scruffy on Sunday - perhaps he's not taking care of himself since his wife passed away". While this may indeed be true, a note expressing opinion is probably not appropriate and could cause unintended hurt is misconstrued. However, "Saw John on Sunday - must drop him a line to check that he's doing OK since his wife passed away" is considerably more sensitive and appropriate.

Finally, remember that under the Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act (including the new GDPR coming into effect in May 2018), people are entitled to request a copy of all personal data held about them, which will include notes that users have made about that individual in ChurchSuite.

A final thought - perhaps you'll periodically want to remove old notes that are no longer relevant - people change, people move on pastorally and spiritually - what was relevant five years ago is probably not relevant today. Maybe certain older notes don't need to be retained for any purpose. Using the Notes report in the Address Book module reports, you can filter notes by date, author/user and visibility, and then easily delete them.

Creating your own pastoral care flow

Before creating your own pastoral care flow, you may find it useful to map out your current processes on paper first - What order to do things happen? Who does what? Within what timeframe do we ideally expect things to happen at each stage of the process? Are there elements to our processes that might need to broken down into more detail, or combined in fewer stages? Are there bottlenecks or gaps in our current processes that need to be addressed in order for the flow to work more effectively?

From experience I have often found that my "preferred" timeframes between stages for actions to be processed were vastly underestimated - things took longer than I expected; people are busy or unavailable, other things fall into the daily schedule; and so what I discovered is that I needed to build in sufficient space and flexibility to allow people to properly processed, rather than my flow feeling like a "sausage machine" that needed to keep churning out sausages! I also realised that sometimes people don't (or can't) follow our preferred linear processes from stage 1 to stage 2 to stage 3 and so on. Consequently, some flows may need to contain multiple navigation actions so that you can move people backwards to earlier stages, or leap forwards to later stages, and even "Add to flow" actions to be able to process people into other flows you might have for follow up care.

Avoid the monster flow!

You'll know the one I mean - the one that attempts to do "everything" all in one flow, with dozens of stages and actions. It's a recipe for frustration! Honestly, less if more. Flows will serve you and your users better if they are shorter and simpler. Take a little more time to break down more complex pastoral care workflows in to smaller chunks. For example, if your processes leading up to a prayer ministry appointment involve completion of forms, booking appointments, sending confirmation emails, assigning ministry team members etc etc - can those processes be broken down into smaller batches of actions and more than one flow? There are advantages - by using multiple flows, a person can be at different stages in more than one flow, meaning reduced risk of bottlenecks and delays in providing pastoral care. Also, with multiple flows, you can delegate ministry oversight beyond just yourself, to others who could take responsibility for tasks relevant to their particular area of expertise or role.

Key dates

Key dates are often a bit of an unsung hero in ChurchSuite, with many churches not using them to their full potential. Typically they're used to note the date someone first joins a church or the date they leave, but not much else in between, but they can be used for some much more. Key dates are essentially those significant discipleship milestones - the date people join/leave a small group or ministry, the date they attend a significant event, like an Alpha Course. When used in conjunction with Smart Tags, you can then begin to ask questions of your data very easily - for example, a smart tag that matches people who have a key date of 'joined in the last 6 months' but doesn't have a key date of 'attended newcomer event'. Now you have an invitation list for your next newcomer supper!

For pastoral visits and meetings, key dates can also be useful for recording the date that a visit/meeting took place. When adding a key date against a contact, you can add an optional description as well as add the date. This could be useful for noting the person who visited.

...which then shows against the contact's Key Date history.

As mentioned earlier in this article, it's worth remembering that you can't restrict the visibility of key dates, so they should be given a generic key date name and not include any sensitive information in the name or description. They are, however, incredibly useful when you want to produce custom reports of historic pastoral visits, and as conditions within Smart Tags. Key dates can be manually assigned against contacts on their profile page, or automatically with a Flow (see previous section).

For example, you might assign a key date when the pastoral visit was first requested, another when a pastoral visit has taken place, and a further key date for any follow up meeting. In this way you can easily use smart tags or the Key Dates report to identify people who have not yet been followed up with.

Custom Fields

While ChurchSuite have tried to provide the most common fields that churches would wish to record data against contacts, there will inevitably be fields that are unique to your church's context. You can easily create custom fields for these eventualities. For each custom field you can specify the format of the date being stored. Custom fields have the advantage of being fully searchable and reportable. For example, you might divide your Address Book into pastoral care 'pastorates', with each person assigned to a pastorate who will serve as the primary contact for pastoral care.

Note that it's not possible to restrict the visibility of custom fields - custom field names and field values are visible to all users who have 'use' or 'manage' permissions for the Address Book module. A further consideration is that custom fields can only be assigned or edited one contact at a time - it's not currently possible to bulk assign a custom field value to multiple contacts, perhaps those in a tag, or to assign a custom field value from within a flow.

Once custom fields have been created in the Address Book module settings, they can easily be assigned to contact in the Address Book - just select "Edit contact" and scroll down to the "Custom Fields" section to assign a value for each custom field.

Using Tags to group together contacts for pastoral care

Fixed Tags allow churches to create custom grouping of contacts that don't fit neatly into the groups functionality already available in the Small Groups, Rotas and Children modules. Examples of fixed tags might be your staff team, or your electoral roll or member list. Tags can also be useful for pastoral care, perhaps for grouping those in need of, currently receiving or having received pastoral care, or perhaps as a pastoral or safeguarding alert (use with caution, so as not to misrepresent people to other users!).

Using Tags for pastoral care workflows has a number of distinct advantages: -

  • Firstly, you can restrict the visibility of Tags, perhaps to your pastoral care team User Group (see earlier in this case study).
  • Tags can easily be used as filters in reports.
  • You can easily communicate to all contacts within a Tag.
  • Tags can be used as conditions with Smart Tags, allowing you to ask complex questions of your Address Book data in a very intuitive way.
  • Tags are only visible in your admin-facing system.
  • People can be added to or removed from Tags from within Flows.
  • Tags can be used for a number of bulk actions throughout the system e.g. to bulk-add multiple 'tagged' contacts to a flow or to assign them a key date.
  • Tags can be colour-coded - perhaps to more easily visually distinguish 'pastoral' tags when viewing contact profile pages in the Address Book.
  • Contacts remain assigned to Fixed tags until a User removes them from the tag.

Using the Bookings module for pastoral care

Often churches think that only rooms and equipment are resources, but people can be resources too. In this way, pastors and pastoral staff members can be set up as 'resources' that can be assigned against a pastoral care appointment. This approach would suit marriage preparation visits, funeral visits, bereavement follow up, visits for baptism and confirmation, prayer ministry appointments and much, much more.


One of the many great features of this workflow is that you can assign 'overseers' to resources (and booking Types). So in this example, Pastor Alison is not only a resource that can be assigned to pastoral bookings, but Pastor Alison has been set as an overseer and will therefore receive email notifications when she is added (as a resource) or removed from a pastoral booking, or when a booking is edited.

Similarly, you can easily create a "Pastoral Appointment" booking Type, with custom booking questions for all the important information you need when booking an appointment. Travel time can be accommodated too using the "Set up" and "Set down" times. The "Send booking" option can then be used as a form of "appointment booking confirmation" that can be emailed out to the person having the appointment. Notes can be added against the booking, and of course you'll get clash warnings if you try to double-book the pastoral team member.

There are several advantages to using the Bookings module for aspects pastoral care: -

  • Access to the Bookings module can be restricted.
  • The appointment bookings can be shared collaboratively - with team members seeing one another's bookings if desired.
  • Pastoral care team members can receive email notifications of new, changed or cancelled appointments.
  • "Out and about" team members can securely access their bookings planner in the ChurchSuite app or browser on their mobile device.
  • All the important pre-appointment information can be collected ahead of the meeting.
  • Multiple pastoral care team members (resources) can be assigned to one booking.
  • Appointment confirmations can be sent.
  • The bookings module Planner can be filtered by booking type or resources, so you can easily filter all pastoral appointments or all appointments for a particular team member.
  • Pastoral care team members can subscribe to an iCal feed of the "Pastoral Appointments" booking Type and view appointments in their preferred calendar application on their desktop or portable device.
  • Clash notifications - avoid double booking
  • Visibility of resources can be restricted to User Groups, meaning that only members of the user group can view that resource's appointments/bookings, keeping them confidential from other bookings.

Using External Links to My ChurchSuite

In addition to the standard menu items in the member-facing My ChurchSuite, you can also add custom menus with external links. Perhaps you already have a simple 'contact us' form on your website. In which case, why not add a custom menu external link to that page to My ChurchSuite so that church members can easily get in touch if they need help or support with something. You can easily add external links in the Address Book module settings. Click on the My ChurchSuite tab and scroll down to the "External Link" section. Give your external link a name e.g. "Need help?" and add the URL link to your 'contact us' page on your website.

How are you using ChurchSuite?

The above suggestions are by no means an exhaustive list. These are just a sample of the different ways that I've used features in ChurchSuite to help with managing and delivering pastoral care in my own church, and also some features I've seen used well in other churches. We'd love to hear how you're using ChurchSuite to help you organise and manage your pastoral teams and the care they deliver. If you send us your suggestions we'll happily add them into this case study so that others can benefit from your ideas too.

What next?

I really hope the above pastoral care suggestions are helpful to your church. If you have any questions, do get in touch with the support team at ChurchSuite, we'd be delighted to help. Email support@churchsuite.com

All the best!

Still need help? Contact ChurchSuite Contact ChurchSuite