Case Study: Launching My ChurchSuite
Paul, and his wife Fiona, used to lead the Vineyard church in Bournemouth, UK, where they introduced ChurchSuite and My ChurchSuite to their church. Paul now heads up customer support and training at ChurchSuite, including helping other ChurchSuite churches looking to introduce the member-facing My ChurchSuite in their local church context.
In this article Paul shares how to plan for a successful My ChurchSuite launch drawing from his own ministry experience - and also how not to do it!
What is My ChurchSuite?
In case you didn’t already know, your ChurchSuite admin-facing system includes a great member-facing platform called My ChurchSuite. Accessible using any web browser and app, My ChurchSuite is a fantastic tool designed to increase the engagement of your church community in the life and activity of your church. Using My ChurchSuite, church members can, for example, manage their contact details and those of their children, view the church event calendar and sign-up for events, manage their serving rota commitments, sign-up for small groups, and much, much more! We’ve produced a detailed support article that explains what My ChurchSuite is in greater detail.
Why roll out My ChurchSuite?
You'll hear me talk more about this later on, but vision should always be the motivator for rolling out My ChurchSuite in your church. Don't just do it because everyone else is doing it - if you do, you'll likely struggle to maintain momentum and people will disconnect from using it.
On the other hand, if you can easily connect the use of My ChurchSuite to some of the felt needs experienced in your church - including your needs as leaders, the needs of your existing church family, and those who will come to your church in the future - then that knowledge will springboard you into your launch.
If you'll forgive the sermonette for a moment... Jesus gave us the vision to die (and live) for. While My ChurchSuite isn't quite in the same realms(!), linking your launch to different aspects of your church's vision will more likely engage people to follow and help them stick more.
In my church, much of our vision came from discontent around things that were not working well, but that we were passionate about overcoming. While I never for a moment believed technology was going to be the solution to all our woes, I was certain that broadening our use of technology had a vital role to play in certain areas of ministry so that we could focus on people. A key reason I chose ChurchSuite for our church was that the functionality was so people-focused, rather than just a database of statistics, charts and graphs. More than anything I wanted to see people move forwards in their journey with Jesus and the church, and that's where My ChurchSuite helped us so much. Like the travelator image above, even when people chose to stand still, My ChurchSuite helped us move them forward.
How not to roll out My ChurchSuite!
I still remember the Sunday morning I stood excitedly in front of my church and announced the good news that My ChurchSuite was live and everyone had been sent an email inviting them to log in. My enthusiasm was quickly quenched by the sea of shocked faces as some of my church family went into a meltdown before my eyes!
After the service, I was lynched with questions like, “What do you mean all my details are online?”, “Who else can see our details?” and, “What about my children, are their details safe?” In my enthusiasm, I’d neglected to anticipate people’s very reasonable privacy and data protection questions.
And so the very next Sunday I stood on the same stage and apologised humbly for my haste, and proceeded to explain how we would introduce My ChurchSuite at a slightly less enthusiastic pace! Fortunately, my church family were incredibly gracious and loved me despite my over-eagerness. Over the following weeks, I took our church on a short journey of introducing them to ChurchSuite and answering their questions along the way.
It was a big hit! And the uptake and results were more than we could ever have imagined. Giving increased! Small group engagement increased! Serving teams flourished! And people deepened in discipleship through the courses and events we were better able to communicate.
The moral of the story… leaders, set yourselves up for a win by carefully planning your implementation of My ChurchSuite. This doesn’t need to take months, which might risk losing momentum; but be prepared to take your congregation with you on the journey.
Here are a few thoughts that I learned along the way...
Setting up for a win
1. Answer people's questions before they ask them
Launching My ChurchSuite is an opportunity to talk about how much you value data protection and people's privacy. Compared to the privacy practices that many churches have (or often don’t have!), introducing a tool like My ChurchSuite is likely to be a significant step forward for your church. You'll likely want to start with a default setting for everyone's contact details as not visible to others, but then individuals can take responsibility for managing their privacy settings, choosing how much or how little of their contact details they wish to share with other My ChurchSuite users in their church. Remember, while individuals can see quite a lot of their details, the most they might see about others in the church is their name, address, telephone, email, and mobile details, all of which individuals can choose to set 'not visible' if they wish.
Complete invisibility is not helpful in a Christian community. Without at least their name visible people won't show up on rotas or in small groups within My ChurchSuite. However, with a little vision casting, encourage people to have at least one means of communication visible so that others can contact them if they need to share a prayer request or send a rota swap request. Explain the nature of information your church holds about people in the church and how that information is used/useful, and who has access to that information.
So what questions do people often ask?
Who can see my or my children's contact details in My ChurchSuite?
Importantly access to My ChurchSuite is by an email invitation initiated from within ChurchSuite. Leaders can manage which Address Book contacts are granted login access and can choose at what point it's appropriate for newcomers to be given a login. Importantly, children's contact details are safeguarded; so while primary parents/carers can manage their own children's details, their contact details can remain hidden.
Most of the content of My ChurchSuite does not involve people being able to view one another's contact details; instead, the content is personal to the individual who is logged in, showing information as it relates to them. There are three exceptions to this - "My Rotas", "My Groups" and "Search for others". If you serve on a rota or are in a small group, your fellow team/group members will only be able to see the contact details that you choose to set visible - your address, telephone, mobile and email address. It's helpful for at least one means of communication to be visible to others, for example, when you need to be contacted for things like rota swap requests.
The "Search for others" feature is a searchable contact directory. Churches can optionally restrict access to this feature to just those in particular tags, perhaps a member's tag or a leader's tag. It's also possible to restrict the list of people in the search results to tags too; so for example you might only include those in your regular member's tag, rather than your entire Address Book. In this way you can prevent newcomers from showing in the search results, perhaps until they've had an opportunity to be invited to My ChurchSuite and can manage their privacy settings. Only Address Book contacts can show in the search results; children's names are never shown and are not searchable.
The Address Book module options are the place to set the default privacy settings for new contacts that are added to the Address Book (what we call Communication Options). For existing contacts already in your database, the Communication Options report in the Address Book reports can be used to make bulk changes to the privacy settings for some or all of your Address Book. I found it helpful to start from "ground zero" i.e. only 'name' visible, and no contact details visible unless I had explicit consent.
What if I don't have an email address?
Log in to My ChurchSuite requires an email address and a password that is set when the church member first receives the invitation to log in. Those without an email address will not be able to use My ChurchSuite. It's worth remembering that we must always continue to cater for those who don't or can't "do" technology. My ChurchSuite is designed to be an engagement tool to supplement what you already do; it's not meant to be a replacement.
For example, in your weekend service notices you'll of course encourage people to sign up for events using My ChurchSuite in the first instance; but for those who may not have access, don't forget to also direct people to your information desk or website to sign up too.
What if we only have a shared email address?
Families who share an email address can still use My ChurchSuite. Each family member is sent a My ChurchSuite email invitation from their contact profile page in the usual way. The email is personalised, so each family member can identify their invite. Each invite has a unique login link so that each family member can set their password, which must be different to that of other family members. In this way, My ChurchSuite can correctly identify which family member is logging in.
What about compliance with Data Protection?
This is covered more fully later in this case study - see section 8 about policies.
Is there an instruction manual for users?
From experience, most people find My ChurchSuite intuitive and easy to use - there's nothing that they can break and people quickly learn to navigate and use the features they need. However, for churches who do wish to provide a little help to their church members, the following user guide has been put together. The guide covers every aspect of My ChurchSuite so it may not be helpful to distribute it in its full form; however, you are free to copy and paste content from the guide and create your own 'in-house' produced use guide - which will be much more inspiring to your people, especially if you use it to take the opportunity to cast vision about why you want people to use My ChurchSuite.
2. Who should be given access to My ChurchSuite?
This will vary from church to church. Some churches want to know people for a season before they invite them to log in and participate in My ChurchSuite. In this scenario, churches might use the Flows functionality within ChurchSuite as a means of managing newcomers through to the point where a decision is made about extending an invitation once they have been known for long enough.
In my church, I was somewhat liberal. If a newcomer had been coming for more than a couple of weeks I was keen for them to receive an invitation to log in as soon as possible. I'd already restricted the "search for others" feature to our more established church members, so there was no risk of newcomers seeing anything we didn't want them to. Getting newcomers logged in was an important part of our welcome and integration journey at the Vineyard; so for us, My ChurchSuite was a strategic decision to engage newcomers much sooner in their journey with the church. I wanted them to access the upcoming events calendar to see and sign up for events and courses. I wanted them to view the available small groups, read each group's bio and sign up for the group that was right for them. I also wanted them to get right into the discipleship of serving and giving as soon as they wanted. My ChurchSuite became an invaluable tool for helping newcomers get to know others and become known themselves.
We had visitors and newcomers all the time, so there were lots of ways people could request to join our My ChurchSuite. We had a newcomer contact form embedded on our website and at our information desk on Sundays where people could submit their contact details and select areas of interest for us to follow up with. One area of interest was "I'd like to receive a My ChurchSuite invitation", which was linked to a Flow so that we could get that organised.
Three times a year, once a term, we had what I affectionally called "ChurchSuite Sunday"! Every term we took an opportunity in our service notices to remind everyone about My ChurchSuite and to let newcomers know that it was available. I'd get a couple of newer people to the church to come up to the front and share their short stories of how they were welcomed at the Vineyard and how My ChurchSuite helped them in their early days of getting integrated into the church family. The stories were often funny - usually at my expense!
3. Connect your launch of My ChurchSuite to your vision
Every church experiences trends and fads which come and go. Getting people engaged with My ChurchSuite is all about vision. In my experience, if people can easily connect your plans to use My ChurchSuite with different elements of your church's vision they're much more likely to onboard and use it. To get you thinking, here are a few of the areas of my church's vision that we identified My ChurchSuite would help us with (not in any particular order): -
- to reduce the unnecessary admin burdens on our church office by providing a means for people to keep their own family's details up to date.
- to help move people on in their discipleship journey by showing them their next steps with Jesus - courses, events, groups, giving, serving, podcasts etc.
- to provide a platform for soliciting missing or new information, so that we as leaders could make better informed, data-driven decisions.
- to provide a platform that helped enable our community to do relationships more easily, including a means for sharing one another's contact details appropriately and safely, while always respecting individuals' privacy if they wished.
- to help newcomers to connect to the life of the church much more quickly.
- to help us work more collaboratively in areas of serving and volunteering so that rota planning became more streamlined and those serving knew their upcoming serving commitments.
- to provide a simple way for small group leaders to manage their groups; record group attendance and then have a reliable basis for pastoral care in their groups i.e. so that they could more easily identify those who had been absent for more than a couple of weeks, and to offer a means of circulating prayer requests and important group information.
- to use the contact image upload feature as a way of helping us identify one another and put faces to names.
- to help us communicate better so that our messages were targeted more effectively, rather than filling people's inboxes with irrelevant emails.
- to help our leaders of under-18s have the most up-to-date safeguarding information about the children in their care, including accurate allergies, medical notes and additional needs.
- to provide a platform that would help us maintain privacy in a way that showed we valued data protection, always using people's details responsibly and by their consent.
- to implement a scaleable platform that would grow with us; a system that would provide the necessary systems and structures to support the future growth we expected.
- to be wise stewards of tithes and offerings by using a platform that was inexpensive, intuitive and easy to deploy and use.
4. Demonstrate My ChurchSuite as part of your launch
As I've travelled around different churches with ChurchSuite I've seen some creative promotional videos that different churches have put together to get people excited about My ChurchSuite.
In my church context, it was helpful to periodically take an opportunity to show My ChurchSuite from the front, so that people knew what it was and what it could do. It doesn't need to be a 30-minute sermon replacement, just a few minutes in the notices, perhaps once a term was sufficient.
5. Communicate your timeframes for going live
Be specific about when the email invitations will be sent out to those in your church. Some churches like to identify early adopters, perhaps beginning with staff or small group leaders or ministry overseers. Those early adopters are vital and will be your ambassadors for My ChurchSuite as you launch to the wider church.
6. Content is king
Bill Gates is right! Having sufficient, relevant and up-to-date information available in My ChurchSuite is key to maintaining momentum. If the only feature you'll enable is the contact details update functionality, people may log in once, update their details and never bother logging back in again.
On the other hand, if My ChurchSuite is "the" place to find out what's happening in your church, then people will come back time and time again. The features that you offer will be largely dependent on the ChurchSuite modules that you have. If you only have the Address Book module then you will have considerably less scope for content compared to a church that has multiple or all ChurchSuite's modules.
Fortunately, the process of keeping your content relevant and up-to-date is really easy. Much of the information already in your ChurchSuite database will automatically populate content in My ChurchSuite. For example, public-facing events, small groups, and rotas can all be set to pull through from ChurchSuite to My ChurchSuite. Also, if you've got an existing sermon podcast on something like iTunes or Soundcloud, that too can easily be enabled within My ChurchSuite with no additional ongoing maintenance; new sermons will appear in My ChurchSuite as your podcast feed is updated.
Taking a little time to source good quality, royalty-free graphics and write well-written descriptions for events, groups and ministries will all reap rewards by raising the profile of what your church offers and increasing engagement.
Also, consider how some of ChurchSuite's optional features can help maintain momentum, while also helping pastors and leaders at the same time! For example, the following features all make for useful functionality for church members and ministry overseers and are great reasons to keep logging back in.
- rota swaps
- rota accept/decline
- rota unavailability
- small group sign-up
- small group attendance recording
- rota management for volunteers and ministry overseers
- online giving
- subscribing to rota iCal feeds so that serving volunteers can see their upcoming rota commitments in their preferred calendar/diary application
An often overlooked feature in My ChurchSuite is external links. Beyond the system content on the My ChurchSuite menu, you can also add custom external links. These are added in the Address Book module settings. For each custom external link that you create, you can also assign one or more Tags. In this way, you can deliver custom menu items based on a tag or tags that people in your church might have. For example, your newcomers' tag - imagine providing custom content through external links to just newcomers, such as a link to a survey or questionnaire (see the customisable Forms feature), or a link to the next featured newcomer event your church is running. Or what about tagging all your leaders and then providing external links to leadership resources or small group resources in a Dropbox account? In this way, when external links are restricted to certain fixed or smart tags, custom content is shown in My ChurchSuite to only those people who are in those tag groupings.
7. Check under the hood before going live
Ahead of inviting the first people to use My ChurchSuite, take time to go through each module's settings and check that everything is set up as you would expect. The Address Book, Children, Calendar, Small Groups, Rotas and Giving modules all have My ChurchSuite module settings so that you can customise the user experience of My ChurchSuite. Using the styling and logo options in the Administrator > Profile area, you can style My ChurchSuite to look just like your website, giving users a familiar experience when they log in.
I then found it useful to log into My ChurchSuite myself to see the content just as it would be for those in my church.
One of the My ChurchSuite settings in the Children's module settings merits consideration - the setting for who can add new children.
Sadly, for many couples, starting a family is not plain sailing. However, it's possible to demonstrate sensitivity by hiding the "My Children" menu from individuals without any children, so that only existing parents will see that menu option.
8. Review your policies
Launching My ChurchSuite is a perfect opportunity to review and update your church's Data Protection Policy. Yes, I saw you roll your eyes when you read that last sentence! I know, we have enough policies and procedures to think about in churches. In my church, we especially lapsed in this regard for a long time. However, it doesn't need to be as complex as many think it should be or try to make it.
While Data Protection law covers more than just your database (i.e. it covers email systems, files on computers, phones, tablets, paper documents etc), your policy must reflect the extent of the data that you hold about individuals and the purpose for which that data is used. Your policy will also outline an overview of who has access to people's data and how that data is maintained and should include mention of your use of ChurchSuite and My ChurchSuite.
If you need help with your policy, you could try reaching out to others, e.g.
- The ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) website. They also have a GDPR section, that has comprehensive coverage of GDPR with regular updates as each consultation takes place
- Your local UCAN Administrator's network
- The Evangelical Alliance
- Legal/professional advice from a Data Protection and/or charity expert - you may have people in your church who can help, or you may need to instruct someone professionally to advise your church. There are some great charity/governance consultants out there that will guide trustees and church teams
- Overseers or the governing body for your church's affiliation, denomination or stream
- Other churches in your local area or network
If you haven't already done so, there are a couple of helpful ChurchSuite support articles that are a must-read - see the related support articles at end of this article. I've also included a link to a related article that contains some launch resources that might help get you started.
I hope and pray the above commentary is helpful as you explore or prepare to launch My ChurchSuite in your local church context. If you have any questions, do get in touch with the support team at ChurchSuite; we'd be delighted to help - you may even get through to me! Email firstname.lastname@example.org