Investment in technology is often an afterthought in many churches, where the approach may be “why fix it if it isn’t broken?” Outside of the churchosphere however, technology development and adoption has moved at rapid and incredible speed, sometimes leaving us floundering and wondering how we can catch up with only limited resources. There are various resources and technology and communications tools that we’ll take a look at in upcoming issues of the wardens newsletter, and in each case, examine how your diocesan staff can be of assistance to your parish.
Church membership systems are one of the cornerstones of a parish’s technology infrastructure. For decades, the main task of church databases has been to serve the information needs of the parish staff by residing on a (sometimes cranky) computer in the office, tracking parishioners’ contact and contribution information, producing pledge reports, labels, and reports. For many years, updated and affordable systems that match the customer service features that people often use outside of their church life have not been available due in no small part to lack of investment by church database vendors. Imagine if you couldn’t buy that favorite book off Amazon without mailing in a check in a special envelope with your Amazon ID number printed on the front?
The good news is that more recently, some substantial new systems have come online that have opened the door to small and medium sized churches from well established and familiar vendors. After a protracted review and comparison of available systems and vendors, in 2017 the Diocese of Washington negotiated an initiative with ACS Technologies (a company that has been in the church database business over 40 years with over 30,000 clients nationwide) to bring their online Realm membership system in the Diocese of Washington with premium features at reduced prices for our parishes. Realm turns the traditional model of the church database on its head, by making the technology drive the mission and ministry needs of the parish. It does this by delivering an impressive suite of technology features over the web to leaders, staff, parishioners.
Just a few of the Realm features that make it a compelling system to adopt include:
- Staff are able to administer, customize, and manage the fields, user roles, access, and workflow
- Parishioners can view and update their own contact information in the parish system online or using the mobile app
- Integrated events enable online registrations for members or visitors and collect any event payments or donations through the system into their record. Admins can set event leaders with access to manage the event.
- Members can participate in parish committees or groups either online or by using the mobile app. Admins can give group leaders permission to manage the group, sharing of resources, and communication among members
- Integrated online pledging and giving through the online portal or using the smartphone mobile app makes egiving by parishioners a breeze directly into the system. EDOW negotiated that all parishes should have the version of Realm that includes the mobile and giving features at reduced cost to enable modern technology tools to be fully available for all. In addition, pledge statements can be quickly emailed out through Realm, and members can check their full giving history online or using the mobile app whenever they like.
- An online directory adds extra value to the system so members and leaders may look up how to contact another individual or family in the parish. The directory is always up to date as it is live from the database rather than a printed version (although that is still an option!), and each individual or household may update their own privacy settings for what contact details they would like to be included in the directory.
- Finally, as Realm is a web based product, managed and hosted by ACS, the parish is only responsible for an affordable monthly subscription which includes updates, technical support and troubleshooting, backups, and security (which they take very, very seriously!)
In short, Realm is a great tool to support and empower much parish ministry, and makes staying connected with parishioners much easier for clergy and leaders, as well as volunteers and parishioners. It’s also a great tool to be able to offer to new parishioners and demonstrates that the parish community takes its technology seriously. Features of Realm can be easily linked and included on the parish website so you can showcase just some of what you have to offer visitors in terms of engagement using technology before they even step foot in the door!
In the first year of offering Realm to parishes with the EDOW plan, 25% of all our parishes have decided to adopt it to take advantage of the cost savings, features, and to make a worthwhile investment in technology for the present and the future. Join the growing community of EDOW Realm parishes!
For more details or with questions, please contact IT Director Peter Turner.