Customer Spotlight: Midland Evangelical Free Church

03-21-2018

This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Heather Haremski, the Database Administrator at Midland Evangelical Free in Midland, Michigan. Heather joined the staff at Midland Free in 2015 and right off the bat, was given the monumental task of overhauling the church’s outdated Church Management System. 

Her attention to detail and insatiable curiosity (Heather’s trademarks) earned her the title of 2017’s SPoC of the Year at MPUG (MinistryPlatform’s User Group event), an award which was well-deserved.


 

How were you introduced to MinistryPlatform?

I was hired into my position as Database Administrator at Midland Evangelical Free and given the goal to either fix the ChMS system we were using or do some research and find a new ChMS system. After a few months of trudging through our current ChMS system, I determined that it wasn’t working for us. I did a lot of research online on Capterra's Website which gave a good overview of what software was available out there.

I also reached out to a couple of churches, Perimeter in particular, is a church we have connected with through some ministry aspects in the past. Nicole Godbey said Perimeter used MinistryPlatform and loved it. She gave you guys an awesome recommendation.

 

What finally convinced you?

All the other ChMS systems we were looking at were so “boxed in.” I don’t know how to describe it. They gave you their database tables and you just had to live with them. There was very little customization, you had to deal with the fields they gave you. But our church didn’t necessarily fit into their database model.

It was super-easy to see MinistryPlatform was built for flexibility. They gave us a ton to start with right out of the box. I felt confident knowing that if we found something wasn’t the way we needed it later on, we would be able to extend the platform to cover it, whether that be on our own or for a fee with Professional Services. Having that security with MinistryPlatform just couldn’t compare with other systems.

 

Midland Free has been a MinistryPlatform church since 2016, what have you liked about using the system?

Editing access in our previous ChMS was incredibly limited, some aspects were limited literally to just one person. Staff lacked access to pull reports, and the reports that were generated were inconsistent. It was just very unreliable. Since access to edit data was so limited the data itself was not very accurate because we didn’t have our entire staff going in there to update information. It was very inefficient.

Now, the entire staff has access to MinistryPlatform so they can update the information and can take ownership of it. It has been a bit of a paradigm shift, I think. As the Database Administrator, I get a lot of requests from staff saying “This person’s information changed, can you update it?” I can now bounce these back to them and say “You can do that now!” It is super exciting, because I can now focus my role as Database Administrator beyond simple data maintenance. I can spend time to develop the Platform and make it more user-friendly for the staff as well as make sure our congregation can access to the information they need. We can do a whole lot more now, instead of just me updating information and sending reports all the time.

 

What did Midland Free customize?

I have been able to do a ton of customization for Midland Free just on our end, even as a Shared Cloud Hosted set up, by simply filtering pages, filtering sub-pages, and modifying views. So, I’m not actually changing the structure of the platform or the database itself, but we can make it very customized to each user who needs to access the data to get the information they need. It’s been lovely! Professional Services is available to help for a fee, but we are not completely reliant on them for all our customizations, it’s a great balance.

One of the biggest things that we jumped right into was coming up with a Movement Routine. We developed movement rules for figuring out who should be assigned what participant type- essentially we wanted to see every individual’s level of engagement at Midland Free. That was one of the biggest things that our leadership wanted to get out of the new database; they wanted to know who is really in the seats on Sunday mornings. Our regular attendees range from roughly 800 to 1,000 on any given Sunday, but our database had over 20,000 records in it!

 

WHAT?!? TWENTY THOUSAND RECORDS!

Twenty thousand! We would go in there and ask, “Okay, who is Midland Free?” and our database was not reflecting reality. We were sending communications to people who did not attend our church. There was no good way to know who “Midland Free” really was. Our staff puts a high importance on shepherding the congregation and in order to effectively do this we needed a better understanding of who is truly part of the church; whether they are involved, falling away, or in need of someone reaching out to them.

So, the Movement Routine was one of the first things that we started working with Professional Services to create. The Professional Services Team was so kind and patient as I was learning the database itself and also trying to figure out how we would label our people. We were able to remove thousands and thousands of people, and see who is truly connecting at Midland Free. Now we know who makes up our core congregation. We have a much more realistic number. We know the members who are engaging, who are attending, serving, and giving.  Now, if someone is no longer engaging, we can now follow up with them and come alongside them if needed.

 

Were the extra entries duplicates, or people who popped by the church once and never returned?

Surprisingly no, very few were duplicates! We only had a couple hundred duplicates that we found. The majority were people who entered into our database for one reason or another, and then they never came back or stopped attending. We had no way of knowing! For a decade or two, we were working off of the data that was entered in there, and then never updated or removed.

 

Do you think the congregation has noticed a change?

Yes! Between The Portal, Check-In, online registrations and automated emails (birthday emails included!) they have definitely noticed a change. As with any change we have certainly experienced some “growing pains” while we make intentional moves to help us understand our congregation. With any great change opposition is sure to follow, but we are able to confidently respond to that opposition since we are comfortable with the system we are using. We understand the “why” (shepherding) and its importance so we can address the “what” when opposition arises. This year we also introduced electronic contribution statements. That was exciting! We were able to securely email over 500 statements instead of mailing them. So far, our congregation has been receptive to that aspect.

 

Do you think any of the automations saved your staff time?

Absolutely, more than we may even realize! Faith Path Foundations is a curriculum we use for our families. For every age of a child, there are specific practices and milestones that the child’s parent can focus on during the year. For each child’s birthday we send the parents an email with Birthday wishes and links to resources that they can use for spiritual development. It’s very cool, but with our old ChMS system it was a very time-consuming process because there was no “make a selection and send an email,” like there is with MinistryPlatform.

First, you had to make sure that you could find the child in the database, and then you had to somehow get that child’s parent’s contact information, and then you had to somehow send the email… it was awful. We spent HOURS every week doing that.  So, we hired Professional Services and we came up with a page where we could put in the child’s age, add the birthday message that was attached to that age, and now it runs on a nightly routine. We don’t even touch it! We literally spend zero hours sending out these emails now, but it is being done every single day. Over 2000 emails have been automatically sent out since this process was put in place, it is absolutely amazing.

 

Seriously, how many hours do you think that automation saved you?

Hundreds. That’s not a joke!

 

What else has Midland Free done with MinistryPlatform?

One big thing that we just worked through was getting our volunteer application process going through MinistryPlatform. I absolutely love the Custom Form feature. It’s so simple to create a custom form without help from Professional Services. It allows you to collect absolutely any piece of information that you want.

We have four different parts to our Volunteer Application and now it is all electronic. We don’t have to worry about keeping everything confidential on paper, making sure the right staff member has seen the right data, and keeping up with updating information on an annual basis. It’s all just data that is pulled directly from MinistryPlatform. That has been huge!

And I love the task feature!

 As soon as an application is submitted, the Ministry Liaison gets an automatic notification that they have a new application. It’s like, “Here you go! Here’s your volunteer!” So, the quick notifications that MinistryPlatform can send out in real-time have been huge. That alone, has simplified so much.

 

You went to MPUG last year, how did that go?

Oh, I loved it. It felt like a family reunion with family members I had never even met! It was awesome!

I really loved getting to meet the staff at MinistryPlatform. I had emailed with Traci and Kevin so often, that meeting them and getting to see how their personalities match up with their writing style was a blast. I loved getting to see that.

The sessions were incredibly useful, too. I’m still putting to use in our own database some of what I learned. I got great ideas for customizing and making sure we’re doing things efficiently. And I also loved getting to meet all the churches. You just sit down next to someone and you get to hear all about what they’re doing and what kinds of things they found helpful - whether it be navigating the Platform or bigger customizations. I was able to share all the customizations we did early on to create the Faith Path Foundations birthday automations, and that was really cool.

 

MPUG is just around the corner and you won last year’s SPoC Award. Did you expect that?

I had no idea I was getting the SPoC Award until they called my name – it was such an honor and a surprise! The MinistryPlatform team said I was given the award based on my desire to learn, my systematic and detailed approach, and because I asked “really good questions”. This was a relief since I often feared I put them on question overload! I tend to look into details all the time and try to anticipate issues before they happen, so even in the sales phase, I had lists and lists of questions for everyone. If I can say only one thing about MinistryPlatform it is that they are always accepting, gracious, and happy to answer any question that comes their way! I wanted to check on every detail before we moved forward to make sure we were making an informed decision, and they graciously guided me every step of the way.

Once we got to the implementation phase, I was always asking our Project Manager tons of questions trying to understand everything, and even the concepts behind her answers. I wanted to be sure that I was fulfilling my duty as a SPoC (Single Point of Contact). Sometimes I was kind of hesitant-  wondering if I was sending them too many questions or too many requests. But, I’ve learned no question is unreasonable!

It was very humbling and shocking to earn the award- I’m just trying to do my job! I love my Database Administrator position and the staff at Midland Free’s passion for shepherding our congregation. I want to make sure they can do that efficiently and have true confidence in the data they are using. Everybody in Support, Professional Services, and the Implementation Team were incredibly patient as they answered all of my questions. MinistryPlatform, as a company, is truly focused on people over technology, but they have created an invaluable tool for shepherding Christ’s flock. We love MinistryPlatform!


Heather was awarded 2017's SPoC of the Year award at MPUG. Click HERE for more information about MPUG and to register for this year's event at Harvest Church in Orange County, California.