Does The Church Need A Church Directory?
Absolutely your church needs a church directory. If for no other reason it opens communication channels within the church. Churches should want to connect people with each other. Creating connections is hard when most families only spend an hour or two at church once a week. These personal connections more likely than not, will happen outside the church. For example, it could be one mom calling another to see if their children want a play date. Or two guys calling each other to meet over lunch. There are many options for church directory software that we will go over.
Another reason is to welcome newer members into the congregation. Having a picture directory it helps people recognize church members. Or if you are like me, you forgot their name 5 minutes after the conversation ended. Having a picture directory helps in these circumstances.
Side Note: The directory should be for people that have committed to the church. They have to become a church member. You shouldn’t hand out directories to people the first time they visit the church. Or give them online access to the directory.
Is Church Directory Software Necessary?
There are some workarounds that may help create a church directory. One example includes creating a church directory in Microsoft Word. As of this writing we found no dedicated directory software offering a free printed or online church directories. If you do find a church directory software that is free, please check them out thoroughly.
You also may want to review our blog about free church software pitfalls so you avoid them. To summarize that blog post — free software is not all its cracked up to be. When the free software pitfalls are too much to handle, then you may turn to your church management software to see what it can offer. While they are not a niche software exclusively made for church directories, most still offer it within their package.
Nowadays church management software packages offer a lot in the realm of church directories. Most church management software will have many styling variations for their church directory. They will have the ability to include or not include pictures. Other options like what contact information you want to show. Examples include mobile & home phone numbers, personal & work emails, and so on. Styling options may include two columns or a listing style directory. And the majority of them include an online directory.
Securing Your Data
As mentioned above you could use something like Microsoft Word to store the data. What happens if that computer crashes and the data is gone? We would be re-missed not to point out that the data which creates the church directory should be protected. What ever format you may have this data in — IE. database, Excel, Word, and so on, must have a daily backup and it sent off site. In other words there should be multiple copies of the data in separate locations.
Church management software creates directories and protects data
The church could have a fire and the computer(s) destroyed. Our IconCMO church software clients have had fires, tornadoes, and hurricanes. If their data was on site, it would have been destroyed — unrecoverable and lost forever. No amount of insurance money can restore collected data. You are stuck with starting over from scratch.
In the case of our clients, they were using IconCMO, thus their data was safe. These tragedies do happen and churches should plan the best they can for them. Church management software is a cheap option to ensure data is safe. You should have multiple daily copies of the church’s data stored. These copies should be in multiple locations. If you are not using a church management software, is your data stored safely in the same manner?
When using the right church management software and a tragedy hits, the data will be safe. In most instances all you have to do is find a working Internet connection at a Starbucks and have a laptop computer. Once your logged in you have all the contact information for church members and visitors. Better yet, during tragedies, you can start calling families to see if they were okay and offer assistance to them during. What better way to show that their church cares, than to be there in one of the worst times of a families’ life.
Analyzing ChMS For Directory Options
What if your church management software does not do a directory? Let’s be honest here. If your ChMS does not do a directory, you should look elsewhere for your software needs. Every decent package on the market has this feature. And most packages have multiple directory variations.
A different question to ponder. The church management software does create directories, but you don’t like the format. Or you don’t like the style, font, the layout of the family information and so on. If this is the case then a more thorough investigation is needed. How many other things, isn’t the ChMS doing for you? Are you generally happy with it and its the directory that you don’t like? If its the former where you aren’t happy with the ChMS, is it time to replace the ChMS. If its the latter, then you have two choices. You can accept the directory from the ChMS as is. Or find a niche church directory software that will do what you want it to do. We’ll dive into these two options next.
Option #1 Accept the as-is church directory on the ChMS
Some times change is hard and the church directory area is no exception. Churches might say something like ‘we have had this style directory for 60 years, and we want it in that format’. That may be true, but if no software puts it exactly the way you like, then you need to choose a software that will get you as close as possible.
However, let’s throw a wrench into the discussion. If the directory hasn’t been reviewed to ensure all the information is still needed, you should do that first. For example, 60 years ago, birthdays on the directory were common. But in today’s times, is that good information to include on a public directory? No it is not! Why?
Because of identity theft. Birthdays by themselves are not innocuous. But, birthdays combined with other pieces of data about you like address, phone numbers and emails, become damaging. All that information is on that directory. If you agree that birthdays should be removed, then ensure that your directory software can remove it. This is an example of a holdover church criteria. Ensure you adjust the selection criteria before analyzing directory software packages. In other words just because you have always done it one way, does not make it right today…
Directory decisions — how are they made in a ChMS?
A word on ChMS directory styling and other options. Most larger companies that provide church management software provide several variations of directories. More than likely, they have had hundreds of suggestions for their directories. Each suggestion varies from one to the other. In other words, none of them are the same just like no one church is the same.
So what should the software provider do? They could spend every waking moment and create hundreds of directory variations, which takes time away from developing other features on the system. Worst yet, it would make the system so hard to use the church users would look elsewhere for a less complicated system.
Typically, the church management software companies develop the most popular request that can satisfy the widest range of clients. Other less requested suggestions like adding baptism dates, ethnic origin, or gender to the directories are not developed. Why?
Because one or two clients want that on their directory thus not satisfying the mass amount of users. It comes down to a popularity contest, so to speak. The items requested the most like phone numbers and emails will make the cut as this satisfies more clients versus adding the ethnic origin where one church is asking for that.
Option #2 Find a niche church software directory company
Disclaimer: Finding a software that does everything you need is impossible. In reality there is not a software that fits everyone’s needs or how they like it to work.
However you may find one that does 99.99% of what you need. When this happens, it’s a blessing. So now you have to figure out the cost of this software to the perceived benefits. If you have a ChMS then you might want to compare the directory software to the ChMS directory options and see what the return on investment (ROI) is. Is that extra $200.00 a year worth the investment for the church directory software or not?
Let’s use an example. You are using a ChMS that does create directories. However, the directory options available doesn’t list the children in age order for example. Otherwise everything else would work. You search and find a church directory software that does sort the kids by age. The software cost an additional $200.00 a year for you to use. It is what we call a niche software. It does one thing very well and in this case church directories. First question is how “firm” are you on this “age sort” feature in the directory? If you are firm and want this feature on the directory, then the church would spend $200.00 a year for it. If this sort order of children is not a big deal, then you can get by using the ChMS software. It would save money, time, training, and so on using no new software.
Using Your Church Management Software For Your Directory
Using your church management software for your church directory offers many benefits. You have all the membership information in one place. Thus when updating data you are not going to multiple spreadsheets, word documents or other places to update the same piece of information. With a church management database, this issue is resolved because you update it in one place and it reverberates throughout the entire system.
Next these systems create the directories for you. Why pay extra money or take a lot of time creating Microsoft documents by hand, when these systems can create the directory with a couple clicks?
Unless you are planning to stay as a small church, eventually you will need a church management system. Why wait till you get so big and play catch up? It is best to figure out your work flows now when you are smaller, than when you are larger and it takes a lot more work. It is better to be an early adopter of technology versus a late adopter.
Having the information in a ChMS system allows so much more functionality. It allows you to record member and donation information. Also it allows exporting of data, creating reports and directories. Without a ChMS you would have to create all these by hand and hope they are right every time.
Private vs Public Information On Directories
Directories should have the ability to not print certain data on the directories. This is the case whether you use a ChMS or a niche directory program to create your directories. Phone numbers, emails, and addresses are examples of excluded data. A family could have a parent that works as a judge, police officer, or a politician. It’s the church’s responsibility to ensure their information is not shared, when requested. In a ChMS, there’s an “include in directory” or something similar. You would set this for each household. A good ChMS includes an unlisted option for emails and cell phones that can be set.
Online Directories Should Require Church Membership
Why require church membership to view or get a copy of the church directory? Becoming a church member, they would have gone through some church membership classes. These are becoming popular because they are always updated. Paper directories are outdated the moment you print them. All it takes is one phone number or email change and its outdated.
Side Note: If you don’t hold membership classes as a church you should. In these classes they learn about the church and its beliefs. And the church leaders get to know the family or individual(s). It is a time to ensure both side agree with the beliefs. Also you get a gut feeling of who they are. Giving someone a directory that is full of information and you hardly know anything about them wouldn’t be wise. Once they become members than they can get online access to the directory.
Should We Include Children’s Information
Children’s phone numbers, names, and addresses should be protected. Each church should discuss what children information should be on the directory. Let’s use two diverse examples.
There’s a church in rural America that has a weekly attendance of 100 – 120 people. Everyone knows everyone else in the small town, and all the kids run around together in town. On the flip side a church in a suburban area that has 150 – 170 in weekly attendance, but the families do not know everyone. In fact some kids go to one school while others go to a different school. Notice the church size is not that much different, but the dynamics is very different. You have one church where all the kids and families know each other well. And you have another church where church members may know 40% – 50% of the families.
The first church may make the decision to distribute directories with children’s information. Why? The whole town is close knit. Everyone knows everyone else. This is the kinda town where they invite everyone to birthday parties and graduation ceremonies. The second church should be more cautious and not publish that information. It comes down to the church knowing their congregation.
Professional Photographer Or An In House DIY
With today’s technology you would think you could take every family’s picture using a cell phone. While cell phones are great, this is the worst thing to do. Pictures need a few elements that are consistent to work the best for any directory. The images need to be all the same size. They also need the same lighting from one family to another. You shouldn’t start taking pictures in the morning next to the window where there is some light and as the day goes on the lighting changes. You will have some family background look darker while others will be lighter.
What should you do? The best option is to have a photographer from within the congregation that can help do this. An amateur part time photographer is better than a person that knows very little about photography or using a cell phone. Worst case you may need to hire a professional photographer, and schedule the families one after another. They will ensure the lighting, color, and image size are correct. Some photographers do this picture taking for free. However, watch out for the high stress sales tactic as they try to up sell you on products to pay for their time.
Church Directory Summary
After reading about the options for church directories we know there are a lot of choices. We also know that they are a must for any church organization. There was a lot of questions answered in this blog post. Questions about what families to include or should children’s information be published. Other questions like should the church hire a professional photographer. Or why should church membership be required before giving access to online directories.
Choosing the right software comes down to the church’s needs for the directory. And if they can get those needs met with their current church management system or do they need a niche directory software. Securing your data is an important consideration as well. As we mentioned security isn’t part of the directory features. However, if all you have is a Microsoft Word document of your church members, and a computer crashes, you lose the data. This blog post should give you some ideas on what to look at, why certain things matter, and help you save money.