Web-based program gives relief to ministers

Friday, August 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

You're a minister and you've just learned one of your church members has died.

Or a scheduled meeting of the church's finance committee has to be canceled because the chairman has a family emergency.

The church's weekly newsletter has just been mailed. So how do you inform others in the congregation about the member's death, the canceled meeting or any other newsworthy item?

Most churches resort to word-of-mouth or a chain of telephone calls. But such calls take time and are not always feasible. John Funk says he can help.

Mr. Funk, a member at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Madison, Ala., has designed an Internet-based program for churches – ChristNet.net.

"As far as we can determine, we have the first Web-based church management program in the world," said Mr. Funk. "Most of the other church management programs are on software, which are all different. With a Web-based program, everyone would have the same program, and you wouldn't have to teach a new system to staff members or volunteers every time someone leaves and a new person is hired."

It allows church staffers to continually update their Web site. It also provides church members 24-hour-a-day access to information they previously could get only during regular office hours.

Possibly the best part is the cost – $7 per month per church for the base program, and only a few dollars more for upgraded programs.

"People keep asking how can we do it for such a small fee, but actually there is little overhead for us now that we've started the program," said Mr. Funk, who is using his own church as the guinea pig. "If you get enough churches paying $7 a month, it will more than pay for itself. It's much less expensive than the software programs."

A church needs only a Web browser and an Internet account – some of which are now available free of charge – to get started.

Mr. Funk said the program designed by the company he manages – Computer Personnel Unlimited – is primarily geared for medium and small churches, but can accommodate larger churches as well. He hopes to eventually eliminate the cost to churches altogether, through advertisements or selling church-related items online.

Mr. Funk says the system is user-friendly. He made a quick believer out of his pastor at Good Shepherd, the Rev. David Tubbs.

"I'm not computer-literate, but I had been looking at some software for the church, and it was fairly expensive," said Mr. Tubbs. "It is also hard to maintain. If you need something generated that is not in the software, you can't do it. The software that is out there is based on 'traditional' church stuff, most of which doesn't fit our congregation. When John came in with his program, I knew it was definitely the way to go."

Mr. Tubbs said the biggest benefit for his congregation is not having to gather at the church "for a five-minute meeting. We have a very technological-literate congregation, so if we need an answer to a question, we just e-mail someone."

Tubbs also said his congregation has a number of stay-at-home moms who can work as church volunteers from home without having to get a baby sitter.

The program will offer upgrades, data backup and basic enhancements free of charge. For specific church requests, a small fee will be charged. Data on the site will be password-protected with various security levels to allow several categories of users from any Internet connection. Whether members are at home, at work or at the church, they can log into the program, said Mr. Funk.

"This just primarily takes the administrative workload off the staff members, and especially the minister," he said, adding that in some ways storing information at ChristNet.net is more secure than in the church's own computer.

"If your PC is stolen, then you've lost everything," said Mr. Funk. "We can back up information on our database, and we can even change over information on church members if they move from one church to another which are both on our system."

Although Mr. Funk is confident that his program will be successful for Computer Personnel Unlimited, he also hopes it will be beneficial for churches and their ministries.

"I do look at this as a ministry because we want to ease the burden on churches and ministers from so much administrative work," he said. "We want them to be free to do what a church is supposed to do – ministering to people."