As a small new church in a rural community, we have a unique perspective on technology. We know that it can help us and we know it is important, but we have to make sure that we spend wisely in making our technology purchases. We don’t have an unlimited budget, so price does play an important factor in our choices. So with that in mind, I want to share what equipment and software we are using. First let’s talk about software.
Worship Presentation Software – Easyworship
We have used easyworship for over two years now. It has been true to it’s name. It is incredibly easy to use. I typically setup the songs and backgrounds and Bible verses in a schedule for Sunday morning, and then have one of our teenagers actually run it. You can literally train someone to use the program in under 10 minutes. Many times, we just put Bible verses up on the fly as they are mentioned by whoever is preaching. Whatever you do, DON’T USE POWERPOINT. When we have software like this available, it really enhances the worship experience on Sunday morning. It has all our worship songs built in, and it has multiple Bible versions so we can quickly put up on the screen the verses being talked about. It is worth every penny of the $399 cost. The only drawback to easyworship is that you can’t create slides, but they do allow you to import powerpoint sermon notes. By doing that, you can seamlessly switch between sermon notes, song lyrics, video sermon illustrations, dvd clips, and Bible verses. I have also used Mediashout before, but it has a steeper learning curve and we needed something that could be used my multiple different people. I am also intrigued by propresenter on the mac, and I am watching it pretty closely for the future.
Kids Check-In Software - Kidzpro
We just started a check-in for our children’s ministry about 4 weeks ago. We got to the point where the teachers didn’t know all the kids and they didn’t know which parents went with each child. We needed a system to provide better security, but we also needed a better system in case of emergency. Now we gather allergy information and special instructions. We can also notify the parent if they are needed by displaying their security code on our video screen. We can now track attendance and capture the name and address of our visitors with children. We went with a simple system, one that does not require internet access since we don’t have that where we are meeting. We also went with a system that does not require a touchscreen. We can run it on any computer(although it won’t run on older OS’s like ME or 98) and we can add more licenses as we go. We print out name tags on a Dymo label printer and it also prints a security label for the parents that matches the child’s. Kidzpro is much cheaper than most other check-in systems out there. I recommend using a computerized check-in system once you have more than 50 children in your children’s ministry. If you want to do it manually, then check out this company. They provide customizable labels with security numbers. This is also a good way to handle all your visitors until you get them in your computer system.
Kids’s Curriculum – Elevate
We have been using this for only the last four weeks, but so far it has been great. It is a dvd based curriculum that has worked well for us. The kids meet in a large group for worship and their lesson, and then they split up into small age-appropriate groups to go more in-depth to learn about the lesson for the day. Since the kids all meet together for the main session, you can get by with a cheap projector, screen, and dvd player. All which total under $1500. A small investment when it comes to our children (you can see where my priorities are)
Graphic Design – Adobe Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements
This is where you have to sacrifice a little as a small church. I would love to have Adobe’s Creative Suite, but the pricetag (over $1000) is a little to steep to justify. Adobe Photoshop Elements does 90% of what the full-blown version does at a cost of less than $100. It doesn’t support CMYK color modes which is a little of a pain when dealing with commercial print companies, and it doesn’t support paths, but it does everything else. I use photoshop for all our sermon graphics, special web graphics, signs and banners, and custom logos/images. Premiere Elements can be used for video editing. It is powerful and will do almost anything you need. Again, the elements versions are slightly stripped down, but they are affordable. Until you have a full-time graphics person, you can get by with these packages.
Podcast Creation – iTunes and Garageband
We make CD’s of all our services on Sunday morning. I take a copy home and rip it to my computer using iTunes. Then I import it into Garageband on my macbook pro and clean it up and add podcast artwork and info and a opening introduction. I then export it back to iTunes as a mp3 file and upload it to the free service Sermoncloud. From there, we link to it on our website and make it available through iTunes. For more info see my post on creating a sermon podcast.
Blogging Platform – Google Blogger
We wanted to start a blog for our church leadership. I managed to create a custom template in Google Blogger that matched the style and color of the rest of our website. I also redirected it to it’s own subdomain so it looks like you are still on our site. It turned out much better than I expected, and did I mention that it was completely free.
Church Management Software – Church Windows
I’m not that familiar with this software. I know we track our attenders and giving and payroll through this program. It works fine now, but if we continue growing I would like to see us move to something web-based like Fellowship One so multiple people can access and use the information we have. Also with a web-based application you can tie in children’s checkin, online giving, and small group involvement.
Service Planning – Google Docs & Spreadsheets
We have an online spreadsheet that anybody on our teaching team or creative team can access to see our upcoming sermons and topics. Our praise team also uses this to list what they are playing each week. It’s not fancy, but it’s free.
Online Giving – eGive
This is the newest part of our technology strategy. We are currently working on integrating online giving on our church website. I’m excited about offering a new way to give to our church. For people like me who take advantage of online banking and debit cards, online giving is a big convenience. I can never find a checkbook and I’m not the only one that doesn’t write checks anymore. You can setup weekly, bimonthly, monthly, or one-time giving. And the thing I like about eGive is that it is not expensive. It costs $25 per month + $0.15 per transaction for smaller churches. They also do not accept credit cards which I think is great. We don’t want people going in debt to give to the church, that’s not good stewardship. I also like it because it fits in well with the way we take offering at our church. We have never “passed the plate”. Instead we have an offering box at the back and we trust that people will give joyfully and generously, and they have. Online giving is just another way for them to do that.
Church Website Content Management System - Soholaunch
Again, I’m not that familiar with this one since I’m not the person that updates our website. Paula does a great job and keeping it going. Once you have a good template, then the work is in keeping new content on the site. If you have a site, you MUST keep it updated.
Calendar Software – Google Calendar
This is more personal than church related, but I do use Google calendar to list all my activities, meetings, and events. I can allow other people to access it or add information. I would love to see our entire leadership team use this as we move forward.
Overall these are just some of the software and web applications that we are using in our church. The emphasis so far has been on doing much with little. I think we have accomplished that. Just think how the big money you spend on software and hardware can be used to help the poor. Are we really being good stewards when we buy the best and most expensive?