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 churches manage aspects of pastoral care.

Introduction

There are a number features within ChurchSuite that can help churches organise and manage a pastoral care ministry more effectively; from managing a team, managing appointment bookings, to subsequent follow up, and the confidentiality needed when pastoral care is provided. Let's begin by looking at some of the features available in ChurchSuite, most of which only require use of the Address Book module.

Creating a pastoral care team User Group

It may be helpful to "group" all your pastoral care team Users together as a User Group. Access to many features in ChurchSuite, such as Flows, Notes and Tags (and Resources in the Bookings module - see later) can optionally have their visibility restricted to your "Pastoral Team" User Group members. This will be especially helpful where elements of your pastoral care processes are sensitive - such as a Note added after a pastoral appointment - where you want to ensure that added note is private to just the pastoral care team members. 'User groups' ensure private content remains private.

A further feature of User Groups is being able to assign a shared User Group email address. So that when sending emails to people, your pastoral team user group members can optionally send their messages from the group's shared email address, rather than from their individual user email address or their personal email address; which is ideal where a more professional or consistent communication is desired, and where you wish to receive email replies back into to a 'restricted access' pastoral care mailbox.

With this in mind it may therefore be helpful to set up just such a designated pastoral care mailbox on your mail server, so that replies to the user group's shared email address are received back into that managed inbox. You might also wish to add some email "routing rules", so that replies are also forwarded on to your pastoral care team member email addresses.

Using Flows to manage appointments and follow up

Flows absolutely transformed my church's administration processes! If you're not already familiar, Flows enable you to break repetitive admin processes into Stages - representing each part of a process - with each stage having one or more Actions defined that can be optionally run for each person when their stage actions become due. For further information about Flows, see our related support article.

As we think about pastoral care - a great feature of Flows is the timely sending of reminder notifications when tasks become due. Ideal for helping your pastoral team keep organised, and ensuring things don't fall through the gaps of a busy church office or an overseer's busy 'to do' list. Designated pastoral Flow overseers can receive a weekly digest of the status of their Flow and the tasks that are due and overdue, while team members receive daily reminders of their specific due and overdue tasks. Importantly, the reminders continue until either the task is completed, the task is postponed, or the person is re-assigned to another user.

Flows are a feature of the Address Book module, so they can only be accessed by module Users. This means that those responsible for managing a pastoral care Flow, and those who will process people through the Flow when tasks become due will need to have at least "Use" permissions for the Address Book. With "use" permissions users are able to add Notes, add people to existing Flows, process people through Flows (including running all Flow actions), send emails, and produce reports. However, users will need at least "Write" permissions if their role also requires them to make changes to people's personal details in the Address Book.

Helpfully, rather than starting from scratch, ChurchSuite includes several example Flows, including a "Pastoral Visits" Flow that you can install to your church's Address Book module (available in the Flows section of the module). The example Flow is a simple two-stage process Flow comprising one stage for scheduling a pastoral visit, and a second stage for the pastoral meeting itself. You can of course further customise the Flow, perhaps to add extra stages/steps that represent your process. You'll also want to edit the Stage settings to reflect your preferred timings of when the two stages typically become due. It's this setting that determines the due date that's set for each person when they are first added to the Flow, and the due date applied for each subsequent stage. Due dates can be easily postponed without running the actions; and users can also delegate flow assignments to another user, perhaps if they are unavailable.

Adding people to a flow

Adding people to a pastoral visits Flow is really easy. From a person't profile page in the Address Book select Add to flow...

On the Add to flow pop-up, select thePastoral Visits Flow from the drop-down list - the first Stage of the Flow is selected by default - and click Add To Flow to complete the process.

The added person will remain Pending in the first Stage of the Flow until their Schedule VisitDue date.

Processing people through flows when tasks become due

When tasks become due, clicking Process opens the Process pop-up (see screenshot below), which has two tab Actions (the default) and Details. From the Actions tab you can optionally change the Due date - perhaps to postpone the actions - or change the Assigned user, if the task is being delegated to another user. Helpful user Instructions can provide some basic explanation about what needs to be done, and the Actions that can be run when the instructions have been completed.

The Details tab shows basic contact details and pastoral notes history. New notes can be added here too - perhaps notes of a telephone conversation or some follow up action needed. For confidentiality, Notes added here inherit the same visibility restrictions as the Flow itself, meaning that if the Flow is only visible to your pastoral care team user group, any notes added will also be restricted to the same group.

Pastoral care team communications

It's entirely possible to hide 'sent' emails, preventing them from showing in the Communication logs on people's profile pages, and from showing in the Communication report. This may be helpful where you wish to hide a potentially private or sensitive email that was sent from a Flow or elsewhere in the Address Book. Note the Hide email action in the Address Book module's Communication report. Hidden emails cannot be set visible again - all record of the sent email is hidden from your ChurchSuite account.

Good notes and bad notes!

It goes without saying that we should always speak of others with be the same love, dignity and respect that we ourselves would each expect to receive. This should be just as true when adding notes against a person's profile 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 harmless e.g. "Met John for coffee today. He's asked for information about small groups". I might set this note's visibility to "Just me", as a personal reminder for follow up, or perhaps to a "small group ministry" user group, so that it can be actioned by one of the team. However, before adding notes with confidential content, consideration should be given to the purpose and necessity, and only then recorded with the person's consent, and only with visibility restricted to the appropriate audience, perhaps the Pastoral Care Team user group we explored earlier.

Notes expressing "opinions" should typically be avoided. A note such as, "I thought John looked a little scruffy on Sunday - perhaps he's not taking care of himself since his wife passed away"; while these remarks might be a true personal opinion, I would argue it probably not appropriate, and would no doubt cause unintended hurt if ever read by John. 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. Do remember that under the Data Protection Act, data subjects are entitled to request a copy of all personal data held about them, which will include notes that all users have added about that individual in ChurchSuite.

One final thought on notes. I found it good practice to periodically remove old notes that were no longer relevant. People change, circumstances changes, and people move on pastorally and spiritually. What was relevant two years ago is probably not relevant today, and could even be misleading now. The Address Book module's Notes report makes it easy to filter notes by date range, author/user and user group visibility, and then easily delete them in one process.

Creating your own pastoral care Flow

Before creating your own pastoral care Flow, you may find it helpful to first map out your current admin and care processes on paper first. What order to do things happen? Who does what? Within what timeframe do you ideally expect or aim for things things to happen at each stage of the process? Are there elements of the process that might be further broken down into more detail, or combined in fewer stages? Are there any part of the process that can happen simultaneously, or is the process quite linear and conditional upon the previous part of the process? Are there bottlenecks or gaps in the current processes that first need to be addressed?

Answers to these types of 'process' questions - or at least an awareness of them - will better set you up for a win and a well-designed Flow. Just to say, from experience, I often found my "preferred" timeframes between each stage of a process were usually vastly underestimated - things always took longer than I expected; people can be busy or unavailable, I was busy, other things fell into the schedule - and so I found it helpful to build in margin and flexibility into each stage in a pastoral care Flow, rather than my Flow feeling like a "sausage machine" that needed to keep churning out sausages! I also found that sometimes people don't (or can't) follow a linear process from stage 1 to stage 2 to stage 3, and so on. Sometimes, Flow stages may need to contain more than one navigation action, so that your team members/users have a choice of where people are processed to in the Flow next - perhaps moving back a stage, or missing a stage entirely.

Avoid the monster Flow!

All of the above is to say, avoid the monster Flow! You'll know the one I mean - the one that attempts to do "everything" in a single 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. Break down more complex pastoral care workflows in to smaller, bite-sized chunks. For example, if the process leading up to a prayer ministry appointment involves completion of forms, booking appointments, sending confirmation emails, assigning ministry team members etc etc - could those processes be broken down into 3 or 4 separate Flows, each with 1 to 3 stages max., rather than one unwieldy Flow? There are advantages - by using multiple Flows, a person can be at different stages in more than one Flow at once - some things can happen simultaneously - rather than experiencing bottlenecks and delays in providing pastoral care through a single Flow process. A further advantage is that parts of the task can be delegated to others (Flow overseers); meaning Flow aren't dependent on one individual for smooth running.

Key Dates

I think Key Dates are often under-utilised, with many churches not appreciating their full potential. Typically they're used to note the date someone first joins or leaves a church, maybe the date they marry or get baptised, but not much else in between. Key Dates can be used for so much more!

Key Dates are essentially any significant discipleship milestones - anything bound by a date - the date someone joins/leaves a small group or ministry, the date they attend a significant event or course, like an Alpha Course, the date they complete some training, or attain some sort of relevant certification. When Key Dates are used in conjunction with Smart Tags, you suddenly have a very powerful way of asking questions of your data - for example, a smart tag that identifies 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!

In the context of pastoral visits, you might, for example, add a key date when the visit was first requested, another when a pastoral visit has taken place, and then a further key date for when further follow up needs to happen. If recording this level of detail - which is really easy to do - simple Smart Tags, or the Key Dates report, will quickly identify people who have not yet been followed up with.

For pastoral visits and meetings, Key Dates can also be useful for recording the date that a visit/meeting took place. And when adding a key date against a person, you can add an optional description as well as add the date - perhaps for noting the person who visited them.

...which then shows in the person's Key Dates history.

As mentioned earlier in this article, you can optionally restrict the visibility of Key Dates, so that only authorised users can see certain key dates.

Custom Fields

ChurchSuite provides most of the commonly-used fields that churches need, but where you wish to maintain personal information - including pastoral care-related data - that doesn't fit neatly into a standard or optional field, you can easily add your own custom fields.& For each custom field added you can specify the format of the data to be stored in that field, so they really are versatile. Importantly, custom fields are fully searchable and reportable, which makes them ideal for many pastoral case use cases. For example, you might divide your Address Book contacts into distinct pastoral care groupings, with each person assigned to a 'pastorate' for the purposes of delivering primary pastoral care and oversight.

Once a custom fields has been added, field values can be easily be assigned - either by editing a person's profile, or as an 'edit custom field' action within Flows.

Using Tags to group together contacts for pastoral care

Tags enable you to create you own custom groupings of people - perhaps where the purpose for grouping doesn't fit neatly into the Small Groups module. So, for example, you might tag your staff team, or your members, or your electoral roll. Tags can also be useful for pastoral care, perhaps as a way grouping those in need of, currently receiving, or having received pastoral care, or perhaps as a means of maintaining a pastoral or safeguarding status.

Once tagged you can quickly drill down to lists of all people in certain tags. In fact Tags have a number of distinct advantages that will be helpful in the management and delivery of pastoral care: -

  • You can restrict the visibility of Tags, perhaps to your pastoral care team User Group (see earlier in this case study)
  • Tags can be used as filters in reports - ideal for filtering a particular report by just those in a pastoral care tag
  • Tags enable targeted communication - to just those in certain tags
  • Tags can be used as conditions within Smart Tags, enabling you to drill down into your Address Book people based on just those in pastoral care tags
  • Tags are only visible in your admin-facing ChurchSuite modules, and are not surfaced in the member-facing My ChurchSuite
  • People can be added to, or removed from Tags from within Flows, making them easy to apply (when something is pertinent) and easy to remove (when the need passes)
  • Many processes in ChurchSuite can be bulk-processed by tag - for example, you can invite multiple tagged people to an event in one process, rather than inviting people individually
  • Tags can be colour-coded, perhaps to visually distinguish your 'pastoral care' related tags so that they stand out on people's profile pages

Using the Bookings module for pastoral care

While the Bookings module is typically used for resources such as rooms and equipment, people can also be resources too. For example, pastors, clergy, keys pastoral staff members can be set up as 'resources' within the Bookings modules, which can then be easily assigned against bookings for pastoral care appointments, but also for life events such as weddings, marriage preparation, funerals, bereavement follow up, confirmation, baptism and prayer ministry appointments.

A great feature of the Bookings module is that you can assign 'overseers' to resources (and booking Types). So in the example above, Pastor Lindsey is not only a resource that can be assigned to bookings, but Pastor Lindsey is set as resource overseer, so she'll receive optional notifications when she is added (as a resource) or removed from a pastoral booking, or when a pastoral booking is edited.

You could even create a "Pastoral Appointments" booking Type, with custom booking-related questions for gathering all the important information you need when booking an appointment. You could even factor in travel time (time either side of the booking time) if you really wanted to be creative! And the "Send booking" email could be sent as an "appointment booking confirmation". Helpfully, notes can be added against bookings, and perhaps most importantly, you'll get clash warnings if you try to double-book a pastoral team member.

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

  • Access to the Bookings module can be restricted
  • 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 if needed
  • 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 people on appointments
  • Visibility of resources can be restricted by User Group, meaning that only pastoral care team user group members can view those appointments/bookings, keeping them confidential from your other bookings

Add a link to your 'Getting help' form to the My ChurchSuite menu

In addition to the standard menu items in the member-facing My ChurchSuite, you can add your own custom menu items. You may already have a "Contact us" form on your website, or perhaps you've created a customised "Contact us" Form in ChurchSuite and added that form to your website. Either way, why not add a link to your form as a custom menu item in My ChurchSuite, so that your members can easily get in touch if they need help or support with something? Custom menu items for external links are quick and easy to add in the Address Book module's settings - click on the My ChurchSuite Options tab and scroll down to the External Links section. Simply give your link a suitable name - e.g. "Need help?" - and type or paste the URL link to your 'contact us' form.

How are you using ChurchSuite?

The above suggestions are by no means an exhaustive list. These are just some the ways that I've used, or seen others use the features within ChurchSuite to help with managing and delivering pastoral care. How are you using ChurchSuite to help organise and manage pastoral teams - we'd love to hear from you and add them to this case study, so that others can benefit from your experiences 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!

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