Using Technology to Minister

By Kim S. Nash  |  Posted 2005-12-07 Print this article Print

Megachurches like the 25,000-member World Changers of Atlanta can teach corporations the true meaning of customer relationship management. How? They can look at their data and identify members, determine who could be volunteering more, contribute how much

During Dollar's rousing sermon, Ricardo Goodison follows Scripture references on a Hewlett-Packard iPaq handheld computer loaded with the King James Version of the Bible. Goodison is not just a tech-savvy churchgoer; he is also the church's chief information technology officer.

At 36, Goodison brings a dozen years of corporate know-how to the church, including application integration experience at United Air Lines, and network operations and architecture work for three technology services firms.

As he hired on in 2001, the church hit 19,100 members—a 9 percent growth spurt from membership of 17,500 the year before. He relished the chance to build a serious technology department for World Changers.

Goodison has expanded his staff from four to 12, including network administrators, Web developers and other technicians. The lean infrastructure mixes a homegrown church management system with packaged software like Peachtree Accounting from Sage Software, all sitting on 11 networked Dell and HP ProLiant servers.

"Most churches don't recognize technology as a spiritual tool," he says. "The view I've brought into the organization is that technology can be used to minister."

One recent manifestation is the February launch of live Webcasts of World Changers' Sunday services. At the July service, pastor Bolton advises the Internet audience on which buttons to click at the site to control the feed, contact the church and donate online.

The stream, plus other Web site features such as archived video of previous sermons, online prayer requests, Bible study notes and product sales, "let us reach people who can't drive to see us," says marketing chief Hosey.

The Web site also produces valuable marketing data. People who request prayers online, for example, must submit an electronic form with name, address, phone number and e-mail address. Donors who click the "sow a seed online" link also supply credit card, debit card or checking account information.

Web visitors can e-mail electronic Bible study schedules to friends. Those registering for some conventions answer questions on how they heard about the event, how long they've been following Dollar, whether they would volunteer during the event, and if so, in which areas.

Off the Web, the church spends $30 million per year to buy time to air Changing Your World, hosted by Creflo and Taffi Dollar, on 11 U.S. and 14 international TV stations.

Creflo books speaking engagements in cities where Hosey's marketing staff identifies an interest in World Changers. They'll look at areas, for example, where new, just-relocated members moved from, or where large numbers of product orders are being delivered. Dollar's "Change 2006" road show begins in Los Angeles in March.

Locally, the church buys advertising space on Atlanta-area mass transit. To help measure effectiveness, a bus and train ad, for example, would tell people to call a specific phone number to register for a children's church service. The number rings into the marketing department, where a worker tallies the call before routing it to the children's ministry office.

Hosey declined to talk about results from specific outreach efforts. But overall, World Changers membership has jumped 47 percent since 2000, to 25,000. By contrast, traditional Christian churches grew just 5 percent in the same period.

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Senior Writer
Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.

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