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Technology in Ministry

by Tim Isbell, revised 5/2014

Since I came from a technical background I have tended to keep pretty current, especially as it pertains to education and the efficient operation of a business. I began gathering this material to present at a breakout session at the Nazarene Northern California District Assembly in May 2012. Since then I continue adding to it. This web page that you are now on is a brief overview of the material. The complete material is available at Google doc version of Technology in Ministry. As an option, you can also access it as a web page.

This material is a good starting point, or refresher, for anyone dealing with any sort of technology around a church - or around any small or mid-sized business. As you read it you are likely to have comments, feedback or questions. When this happens just go to Feedback on Technology in Ministry. There you can also see the comments, feedback and questions from others.
Since technology constantly changes, you will want to revisit the complete document from time to time.

Over-riding Themes

The complete Google doc has about 10 pages of content. It's full of technical detail and links to good vendors for the various bits and pieces. But there are 3 themes that thread through my thinking about this field:

Develop an Integrated Framework

It is impossible to purchase all the technology tools we need to run a church or business from one vendor. So it is wise to find a vendor who can supply many of the tools. Then stick with this vendor as much as possible. The result is that the tools are more consistent with each other, the human interfaces are more familiar, the “Help” system is the same, and so on. If we just select the hottest individual software tool for each application we soon discover they do their own job nicely enough, but they don’t integrate very well with adjacent tools. In the long run, the best outcome is more about the integration of tools into a usable overall framework than collecting the hottest set of individual tools.

One example of a vendor that you can use for your basic framework is Google. And a side-benefit is that that their products are virtually free. All you need to get started is to sign up for a free gmail account and you immediately have access to a wide variety of tools (email, contacts, calendars, task managers, documents, photos, videos, collaboration groups, web site design tools, website hosting... ). Together these offer the potential to integrate a large number of work functions into one system. And as your needs grow, almost all of Google's products remain free, especially for non-profits!

Build-out your domain

Most churches purchase a domain name so that their website is easy for people to find and remember. A good website host offers many ways for you to build-out your domain, greatly improving your organization’s effectiveness. So look for a place to host your domain that offers a toolbox of applications. For example, hosting your domain at Google Apps (free) makes it easy to create additional websites (also free) as sub-domains. And having your own domain enables you to create consistent and easy-to-remember email addresses for your staff and ministry leaders. You can develop a very efficient church calendar system, collaborate on ministry projects easier, and much more.

Move to Cloud Computing

As churches grow and use more and more software, simply maintaining backups and their own computing environment takes ever increasing time and skill. Moving data and applications to the cloud greatly simplifies the need for your own IT person/department. Cloud computing inherently offers built-in backup. All you need is a browser to access your tools and your data - whether you are working in the office, at a local coffee shop, at home, or are operating from somewhere on the road - even out of the country. You can use any computer's browser to enter into your entire computing environment. Cloud computing also offers rich ways to collaborate with team members, even if they're a thousand miles apart. And I don’t mean just by sending emails, I mean really collaborate where multiple people are developing, editing, and leaving comments for each other all within the same document at the same time! Cloud computing is easy, cheap, and will make you more productive than the PC-centric model. 

Since August 2012 my own files are completely in the cloud. I use Google Drive for everything except my personal financial files (which I upload every 2 weeks to Quicken Cloud backup). Google's 15Gb of free storage is enough for all my data, including all my pictures (including scanned 35mm slides from the 1950's). Right now I'm using about 14G of storage, so I just upgraded to 100Gb for $1.99/month! What a deal.

So... I invite you to have a look at my Technology in Ministry document, and let me know what you think. If a few people are willing to try a Google+ Hangout we can have a video discussion about this topic with up to 9 people present. I'd love to give this a try if there's interest.


Tim, 12/2012

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