Keep Attendees Involved

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

As Dollar closes his sermon, he invites attendees to the altar to accept Jesus as their personal savior, rededicate their lives to Jesus, receive baptism with speaking in tongues or join the church as a member. He does it every week. "And I declare that their lives will never be the same again. Lord, paint 'em up with your power!"

A brief prayer, a quiet choir song, then the 30 or so men, women and children who answered the altar call are led to a conference room to receive one-on-one ministering. Basic information, such as name, address, e-mail address and phone number, is collected on paper—all with an eye to understanding the newcomer, meeting his or her needs, and keeping each one engaged between sermons.

The personal approach works. "I love this church; it's good for me," says Stanley Holmes, a computer consultant and a member for five years, along with his 3-year-old daughter, his sister and her kids. Holmes' involvement goes beyond the Sunday services. As an example, he subscribes to a daily e-mail blast with a Bible quote for meditation each day.

Within the church, volunteering is a key way to involve followers and allow the church to touch more people. Potential volunteers' interests, skills and employment information are stored in a Microsoft Access database, so that helpers can be recruited efficiently.

One Sunday soon after member Calvin Montgomery joined the church in 2002, he stopped by an information table for the EOD (Evangelical Outreach Department) in the lobby of the World Dome.

Representatives of EOD, a group of parishioners who go out into the community to persuade people to accept Jesus, took down Montgomery's name, number and details about his background, including that he personally had been ministered to in this fashion, though not by someone with World Changers, in earlier days when he was homeless in Brooklyn. When the EOD needed someone streetwise, they called Montgomery.

He is happy to give back. "This ministry increased me," he says, attributing his now drug-free life, security guard job, and recent acquisition of a gently used Buick to his relationship with God and World Changers.

And in a perfect CRM circle, Montgomery increases the ministry. He now volunteers with EOD to walk urban streets on Saturdays, spreading the world about Jesus Christ and the church.

On Mondays at World Changers' administrative offices next to the World Dome, a handful of volunteers and staff enter gathered information into the church management system.

There, it will be sorted and analyzed, monitored and cross-referenced so that the church can market itself ever more precisely. World Changers says it does not sell personal data and protects it with password authentication for sensitive applications, as well as network firewalls.

The software was custom built in 1994 around version 9 of UniVerse, a database management system inherited by IBM when it bought Informix in 2001. IBM markets UniVerse as an "extended" relational database, and version 10 can be programmed with many of the same SQL commands as other relational databases, such as Oracle or IBM's own DB2.

Where the relational model, a mathematically justified theory for the optimal structure of a database, divides data into columns and tables, UniVerse uses tables nested inside each other. The church's applications use programming commands unique to UniVerse, rather than those based on the now-dominant SQL standard.

The church management system has no graphical interface; there are no drop-down menus or buttons to click. Fields are text-based. The one paean to pretty is the screen background of bright blue rather than the green typical of legacy applications.

World Changers' UniVerse-based system doesn't mesh easily with popular report writers, such as Crystal Reports, or other software built for relational standards. Instead, to extract data for trend spotting, for example, marketing staffers have to ask Goodison's technology department to do it. Or they have to know TCL (Tool Command Language), or "tickle," procedures, which demand precise syntax, with no errant spaces, punctuation or letters.

"It's not hard," Goodison says. "You just have to know TCL." Which means making peace with typing commands like lsearch -all -inline name Jones to search the elements of the "name" list for all matches of "Jones."

Still, for World Changers, it works.

Next page: Quick Member Integration

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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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