Covid-19 Coronavirus - ChurchSuite can help...

About the author...

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 and is passionate about helping customers maximise their use of ChurchSuite in the local church and charity context.

No doubt, like me, your inbox and "to do" list has exploded as a result of the current Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic. All the ChurchSuite team want you to know that we're here to help. We're already remote working from our homes, with developers and customer support unaffected by the new social distancing advisory. We're grateful for the many online tools that enable us to continue to function effectively, even though we're no longer in the same room.

Given the fast-pace changes many churches and charities are facing due to cancelled gatherings and events, the way we all do 'community' for the foreseeable future is clearly changing. We believe your ChurchSuite account includes lots of great functionality to help keep your community members engaged and supporting one another - but also to help you better serve your wider communities that need your help and support. To that end, this article contains a list of top tips and suggestions that will help in your context.

Number 1 - Maximise your use of My ChurchSuite

If you're not yet using the member-facing My ChurchSuite, now is a great time to reconsider - especially if your church or organisation is moving to meeting as an online community for a season. These support articles will help get you started...

As you invite people to access My ChurchSuite, encourage them to review their personal details and supply any missing information that will help you help them better. For example, missing dates of birth (to identify those in a vulnerable age group), missing contact details, and a review of communication options and privacy settings so that you and fellow community members can stay in touch. My ChurchSuite is accessible through any web browser or with a Smart Phone or tablet using our iOS or Android apps.

Number 2 - Custom menu links in My ChurchSuite

If you're live streaming weekend services, why not share the streaming link as a custom menu option in My ChurchSuite? For each custom menu option you add you'll specify an external URL link - perhaps to the live streaming page or to some small group leader resources you've produced. You can even restrict the visibility of custom menu options based on Tags, enabling you to give a highly-personalised My ChurchSuite user experience.

Number 3 - Rotas and rota reminders

Rather than rush for "delete rota" button to remove all your existing rotas, it may be more helpful to simply 'bulk disable' rota reminders and optionally clear down affected rota dates. Ministry members with My ChurchSuite access will then be able to continue to use the Rota Group Email functionality to stay in touch with one another.

Number 4 - Online giving

The Giving module has everything you need to manage your givers and their donations (by any giving method). UK customers can even process Gift Aid claims and submit them to HMRC Online in just the click of a button.

While you may not be able to pass the collection plate around at weekend services for this next season, you can still make it easy for people to continue to support your organisation's ministry and mission.

The Giving module is home to ChurchSuite's online giving platform "Donate", designed to enable givers to make one off and recurring donations to your various funds, either by card or direct debit.

In addition to funds for regular tithes and offerings, you can easily create funds to collect online donations for specific missional and community relief causes.

Donate is accessible from within My ChurchSuite and it can easily be added to your website - either directly embedded on a 'giving' page or linked to via a 'Donate now' button that you might add to your home page. You can even embed a link to Donate into your email communications, or enable online givers to give by SMS from their smart phone.

Number 5 - Identifying those in your Address Book who are vulnerable

While the Address Book is unlikely to contain people's medical information - something we would generally discourage - there are some useful things you can do with the data that you might already have.

A simple Smart Tag will quickly show you who is in a vulnerable age group (where you have dates of birth)...

...or what about using Custom Fields to provide people a place to register their offers for help or their support needs. Helpfully, custom fields can optionally be set 'editable in My ChurchSuite', so people can keep their personal details up to date.

And with these types of custom fields in place - like the examples above - it's then easy to 'query' your Address Book using Smart Tags to see who matches certain criteria. For example, this smart tag identifies people that have offered to help practically with shopping - ideal for generating a list of people to populate ministry teams in the Rotas module for a weekly shopping rota.

A number of churches, including my own, are now using ChurchSuite's event sign up functionality in new and creative ways to help people register offers of help and requests for support, or to participate in online events designed to maintain engagement and discipleship. In addition to soliciting some basic contact details, you can add your own custom questions to the sign up form and receive notifications when people submit their sign up.

Number 6 - Create small groups and turn on group sign up

This season is a really appropriate time to encourage people to be part of a small group. Social distancing may preclude groups meeting in person, but there are lots of video-conferencing solutions that customers are beginning to use effectively to enable people to meet from the comfort and safety of their own homes. My own small group now meets online using Zoom - it's lots of fun and arguably somewhat easier to access - no more child care considerations, no having to drive in the rain, no having to tidy the house before people arrive!

The Small Groups module is packed with features to enable easy access to a group via online group sign up or through My ChurchSuite.

Arguably, attendance recording is equally vital so that leaders can stay abreast of possible pastoral care needs to make sure no one is slipping through the cracks. And why not make use of the small group reports designed to help you identify those not currently in a group and make group suggestions.

Number 7 - Newcomer integration - really?

Before gatherings and events were cancelled, you had newcomers that still need your care and attention at this time - they may not know many people yet and may already be feeling isolated. Help signpost them to your small group communities and continue extending a welcome.

It's entirely likely that we'll see many in our communities reaching out to their local church for support, pastoral care and answers to life's important questions. Maybe it's time to review your current use of the web-embeddable Address Book form that was purpose-built for newcomer integration. Those connecting can submit some basic contact details and areas of interest; and with some creative thinking it can be easily customised to enable those not yet part of your church or community to connect online with you for the first time - your building doors may be closed, but your online doors and friendly, supportive welcome can be as open as ever.

Number 8 - Managing pastoral care with Flows

Many churches and charitable organisations are already using Flows to manage pastoral care and admin workflows. If you didn't already know, Flows enable you to move people from stage to stage through your processes (like pastoral care processes), with helpful reminder notifications keeping everyone in the loop as tasks become due.

Number 9 - Podcasting

Regardless of whether you're moving towards streaming events and services, you'll still want to make your messages are easily accessible to those who may have missed out. If you already upload your messages to iTunes or SoundCloud then you can easily link to them and surface your podcast in My ChurchSuite using the Podcast integration. The integration supports both audio and video podcast episodes.

Number 10 - Stay in touch with everyone

Your messages will likely be the calming voice of reassurance and hope that people want to hear right now. Having a well thought through and effective communication strategy is vital. Who will communicate? What will be communicated? How often will you communicate? How will replies be handled?

Communication is at the heart of ChurchSuite, making it really easy for you to communicate your messages with just the right individuals or groupings of people, or even your entire Address Book. We've produced an article that goes into lots of helpful detail about how to communicate by email and SMS to individuals and groups - maybe there's some communication opportunities you've not previously considered or needed to use.

Here's a short video to remind you just how easy it is to send emails and SMS messages...

Do remember that an email address is not a guarantee that your message is being received or read, so be sure to monitor the open rate tracking for emails to see what you can learn to help you communicate more effectively.

One suggestion is to set up a shared email address that your team can all communicate from in ChurchSuite so that replies are handled centrally, rather than sitting in the inbox of a co-worker that's self-isolating and not responding to messages.

Now might also be a good time to see who isn't receiving your messages - either to try and obtain missing email addresses or phone numbers - or to resolve those pesky email errors that you've never previously got around to dealing with.

And finally, while your privacy policy may ordinarily require you to respect people's communication options - sending only to those opted in to receive your general emails and SMS - do remember that your privacy policy may allow you to override people's communications options where you have another lawful basis, such as legitimate interest or vital interest. While we're not legal experts offering advice, the EU GDPR provides data controllers with six lawful bases for processing data (including communications), and 'opted in consent' is only one of them. Check that your team know when you're allowed to override communication options so that you maximise your message delivery, even if some in your Address Book are opted out - who knows, they may even decide to opt back in!

And finally...

Stay up-to-date with all the latest enhancements and new features that we're continually developing by monitoring Updates feed on the Summary landing page in ChurchSuite.

Every blessing at this time,

Paul and the ChurchSuite team.

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