I.T. Solutions For Really Small Churches

I have not taken to opportunity to write about technology for some time. There are so many people writing on the subject, I guess I really didn’t think that I had anything to offer that would add value to the already overwhelming flow of information out there on the subject. Nevertheless, over the past several years I have had the opportunity to work with very small churches and other organizations who have very little or no budget and expertise to leverage I.T. resources to support their initiatives. These churches may have a desktop computer for the office and the paster may have a notebook. However, they don’t have money to hire consultants and they don’t know where else to turn. In these cases I do my best to volunteer some time to get them started up in such a way that their need for any additional I.T. expertise is minimal. The good news is, with a little initiative and a willingness to learn some basic consumer computer skills, there are some great options out there for even the smallest organizations to gain access to technology services that, in the past, have only been available to larger companies. This post offers an overview of some of solutions that I have used successfully over the years.

The Big Disclaimer…

I mention various brand name service providers in this post for the purposes of providing examples. However, please do not consider any of these examples to be an official recommendations for these brands. While I have had a measure of success with the services I have used, I just want to be clear that I attempting to sell these services in this post.

Prerequisites

This post presumes the following:

  • You already have at least one computer.
    It doesn’t matter if it is PC or Mac. There are pro and cons to both platforms. The Mac offers my personal favorite set of features that balances out great, easy to use, tools for communicating, administrating and leading organizations. The downside of Mac in my opinion is that it is expensive. You’ll be hard pressed to find a Macbook for under $1000.00.  You can get a great deal of value on the PC side. I recently purchase a really nice little Asus notebook for a church in Chicago with a full multi-year “accidental damage” warranty for quite a bit less than 1000.00. Whichever direction you go, you will need at least one computer, preferably a notebook, as opposed to desktop to get anything out of this post.
  • Wireless Network Interface Controller (WNIC) – Commonly called a WiFi adapter – When you go to purchase your computer. You will want to make sure it has a WNIC or WiFi adapter. You don’t need to know all the details about how it works at this point. However, the wireless adapter is the little device that connects your computer to the world. Most newer computers have them these days. You just want to be sure yours has one. In my opinion, 90% of the value offered through your computer with be because of this connection.
  • A note about tablets and other…
    There is a blinding amount of options when it comes to personal computing options in this day and age. I do believe that more and more real business and productivity solutions are moving into packages that fit in the palm of your hand. Mobile, cloud connected technology is the future, and for many, that future is now. However, if you are just starting out today, you will get the most value from a notebook computer with a display that is not smaller than 13 inches. You’ll be using this thing for everything from managing church expenses to writing sermons to posting a video message to Vimeo to updating your churches Facebook page. You need something that offers mobility, versatility, computing power and the option of installing some traditional applications. A notebook is still the best option for this; especially if, as the pastor of your church, you are the only official staff member.

Technology Options

OK…now that we have all the disclaimers and prerequisites out of the way let’s dive into some technology options for that really small church who doesn’t have access to a lot of technology resources.

 

# 1-  Starbucks

Here’s the scenario. You are just getting started. You may have internet at home and you may not. You need to place that doesn’t have the distractions of home, yet you can’t afford an office space…enter Starbucks. Most Starbucks offer free WiFi. I know it is not for everyone. However, even though I have access to a tremendous amount of computer resources, I still prefer to work at Starbucks from time to time. Get yourself a nice cup of coffee, or tea, a snack,  find a comfortable place to sit and there you have it; a nice little work space complete with an internet connection.  Now you can access your email, share information, do research for sermons, etc.

 #2 – Internet Connection

Depending on where you live you can acquire internet service for your church for somewhere between $15 and $100 dollars a month. I realize that even $15.00 a month can be a great deal of money when your church is very small or when you are just starting out, however, out of all the technology choices available today, I rank an internet connection among the highest priorities of any organization’s expenses. The internet is the Roman’s Road of the 21st century. Through this connection to the world, you have countless resources at your disposal. Since this global network is also interactive, you have the opportunity to interact with broader circles of people than ever before in history. Furthermore, the internet is not some fluffy white “cloud.” It can be quite dark and stormy in places, even dangerous; full of things that are good, bad and very ugly. Like any other dark place in our world, This cloud, as it is referred to, needs our presence. I can only imagine how Paul might have used the internet to distribute his epistles to churches in his day if he was not limited to the relatively closed 55,000 mile network of Roman Roads and Shipping routes.

#3 – Internet Hosting & Cloud Services

Not long ago, internet hosting was really something people only thought of to host websites on the internet. Today with a relatively small monthly fee hosting providers offer a great deal more value for the money. The buzz word for all of this is “Cloud Services.” This can include a wide range of services from email and file storage to even complex networking and software services like domain name services, church management services, database platforms and even application development platforms. In Short, small churches can gain access to many of the complex network infrastructure services that larger organizations use to operate their organizations. The difference is, where larger organizations pay hundreds, thousands and more to operate services locally, your costs can start at between $5 and $15 a month. The fees for these “cloud” services are becoming so cost effective that even large companies have started to migrate toward them. As an example, I have used 1and1.com to provide services to small and large organizations for several years now. For around $10/month I get access to unlimited webspace, unlimited monthly web traffic, email service, 1000 email addresses, a registered domain name, website hosting tools, unlimited files storage, one free SSL certificate to secure a website and much more. I even get secure access to create up to 50 databases along with access to several standard open source developer platforms. It is like having access to an entire technology infrastructure at the click of a mouse.

#4 Google Apps

If I was writing this a year ago, I would probably be more enthusiastic about sharing information about free products like Google Apps. I have had a good measure of success rolling this product out to small churches and other organizations. Let’s face it, exchange is expensive and complicated to roll out. However, it does have a really nice offering to non-profits; even if they are faith based. Nevertheless, Google’s offering of 10 free named users is hard to beat. Especially if have little or no local network storage to speak of, or little or to office space to work in. Google Apps gives you a nice set of productivity tools to edit and share documents, calendars, contacts and more. In my opinion, it is easy enough to set up

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