Cedar Springs Church Data Management Case Study

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THE CHALLENGE

Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee was founded in 1796 and is the second oldest church in Tennessee. They currently have about 3,000 members and are experiencing substantial growth and attendance.

Prior to 2007, Cedar Springs had a church management software (ChMS) system that was handled by one person. Because of inconsistent processes and the product’s limitations, most of the ministry leaders took care of their own data through Excel. There was little communication, and information wasn’t being shared between ministries.

  • Bad Data Costs Time and Money

    Katie Smith, Ministry Software Coordinator at Cedar Springs for nearly five years, shared an example of the kind of problems this created: Johnny Jackson’s parents would tell the Sports Ministry Leader about an address change, and he would update his own system. The Jacksons believed that the church now had their new information. Later, the Youth Minister would send out camp information—or the main office would send out a contribution statement —to the address we had in our individual ministry spreadsheets.

    Not only would the Jacksons not receive the camp details or their contribution statement, but also we would have to pay 44¢ in return postage if the mail-out came back to us.

    Although this would alert the staff to contact the Jacksons to find out why their mail was being returned, Katie said it could also leave the impression that the church’s right hand doesn’t know what its left hand is doing.

  • Bad Data Causes Embarrassment

    "Even worse," she continued, "what if the church hosted a funeral for a long-time member and several months later, his widow received a letter from the church addressed to Mr. & Mrs. ...? That would be terrible!"

  • Bad Data Breaks Down Trust and Increases Ministry Inefficiency

    Cedar Springs learned what all churches need to know: Incorrect or incomplete data can cause a lack of confidence in the church’s level of efficiency, and even its sincerity regarding member care.

    Bad data also handicaps ministry leaders who need access to reliable information, and it adds to the church’s administrative expenses. Data integrity is the only solution to these problems.

THE SOLUTION

Cedar Springs began looking for a tool that was simple to use, easy to maintain, and capable of furthering the ministries and mission of the church. In 2007, they chose Fellowship One (F1). Since then, Katie says they have been able to tear down ministry silos and provide leaders with reliable information. They achieved exceptional data integrity through a combination of Fellowship One’s features, Best Practice recommendations, and the processes they have put in place, including power users, a data integrity team and a data strategy.

  • One Source for Data

    The F1 feature that enabled the elimination of ministry silos is the centralization of all data into a web-based database. Everything is in one place, and all other F1 features, such as online registration, children’s check-in and online giving are connected to the same database.

  • Power Users

    • "Unsubscribes" from their monthly newsletter: They want to make sure an "unsubscribe" is intentional and not just a desire to leave a ministry someone no longer needs (i.e. a child graduates and leaves the youth ministry).
    • Returned emails and visitors who no longer attend: The staff investigates and follows protocols to decide how this data should be classified.
  • Data Integrity Team

    Data questions or member concerns are input to a Google spreadsheet that everyone on staff can access throughout the month. The Data Integrity Team, made up of fifteen of the Power Users, addresses items on the spreadsheet and makes the necessary changes. Any time the group reviews database items, they don’t see it as discussing “data.” To them, every name represents a person, a child of God.

    Besides requested changes, the Data Integrity Team looks for:

    • Duplicates: These are carefully cross-referenced and deleted.
    • Status changes: Some status changes are necessary as a result of a move (i.e. Member to Non-resident member) or life changes (i.e. Single to Married, Married to Divorced, or Deceased).
    • "Inactive" attendees & members: This may be members who have moved or switched to another church. Sometimes, it has alerted the team to families who are “inactive” because they are in need of help.
    • "Unsubscribes" from their monthly newsletter: They want to make sure an "unsubscribe" is intentional and not just a desire to leave a ministry someone no longer needs (i.e. a child graduates and leaves the youth ministry).
    • Returned emails and visitors who no longer attend: The staff investigates and follows protocols to decide how this data should be classified.
  • A Data Strategy

    Katie created a series of weekly, monthly, biannual and annual checklists that she uses to make sure regular sweeps are made of the data (see page 3). Denominational and church-designated guidelines require Cedar Springs to have "many, many statuses," Katie says with a laugh. She suggests that keeping data clean is easier if you can hold the number of statuses to a minimum (i.e. "member," "attendee," and "visitor").

    Any time the group reviews database items, they don’t see it as discussing "data." To them, every name represents a person, a child of God."

    Cedar Springs annually initiates a data refresh campaign via email that contains a Google form. Individuals who don’t respond are flagged as "possibly incomplete." To safeguard against someone falling through the cracks, any removal from the database for any reason must meet several specific criteria and be approved by several levels of authority. The standards are generous; for example, being flagged "inactive" doesn’t occur until an individual has not been seen or heard from in twelve months, and has not responded to multiple contact attempts.

  • Getting Everyone On Board

    Keeping data updated requires that all ministry leaders and staff participate in the process. Katie attributes much of their success with buy-in to the Senior Pastor. A temporary implementation team held a staff kick-off breakfast when they rolled out their F1 plan. "We gave staff members a tote bag that said 'CSPC & Fellowship One: Taking Ministry to the Next Level, ' some candy and a Fellowship One manual I wrote," said Katie. The Senior Pastor stated that the church had invested time and money in their new system and asked everyone to embrace it.

    Ongoing staff and ministry leader participation is vital. Although Katie is what Fellowship One calls an F1 Champion, she prioritizes her relationship with leaders and staff over her connection to the database. This gives her a basis for educating them that their anytime-anywhere access to their data through F1 loses its value if the data is unreliable.

Success Story

Improved data has benefited Cedar Springs in numerous ways:

  • All the ministry groups at Cedar Springs are now actively utilizing F1 to establish excellent member care.
  • Information sharing among ministries is at an all-time high.
  • The church has seen a 57% reduction in returned mailing costs due to better data.
  • Specific data is easily retrieved for sharing with the congregation (such as how many families have children under the age of three).

Recommendations

Katie is convinced that many of their successes would not be possible with other software solutions. She suggests that new F1 users connect with a Regional User Group (RUG) in order to learn best internal processes and practices for using F1 according to different denominational guidelines.

She also recommends F1 Certification courses, RoadShows and the Dynamic Church Conference for learning how to use F1 to its fullest potential.


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