Victory Family Group Finder

08-08-2016
Chris Kehayias

Victory Family Church didn’t always have small groups. But, a few years ago, during a time of major structure changes to the way the congregation connects to one another, small groups were introduced. Like any new phase in a large church, this change didn’t come without questions, hesitations, and a mess of logistical problems needing to be solved. Some of the immediate questions that came to the staff at Victory were things like:  What’s the best way to get people signed up for groups? How can we make this transition as easy as possible for everyone involved? What do we do with groups that might have a fee attached?

To start, the staff used the tool they had most readily available—the MinistryPlatform group finder. They found ways to get the answers they needed from group members through custom forms, and with a little code tinkering of the portal to eliminate unneeded options like campus selection, this seemed to do to the trick at the start.

Yet, as small groups took off, new challenges were presented. Many groups included more than one leader, and the person signing up for the group could only search by the main leader listed. Taking payments was an increasing struggle. Some groups had materials that would need to get to the members, some had an event attached, and in a few cases, when the payment was taken changed depending on the group. Categorizing was limited and presented a challenge. Where do you put a LIFE group that’s for young adult ladies—with LIFE groups, young adults, or women? The solutions seemed to be limited at best, and left the staff always looking for workarounds. 

After struggling to make things work for several semesters, the staff at Victory decided it was time for a major change. The brainstorming and the dreaming began. If the group finder was going to be completely redesigned, then it needed to do everything they could think of, and then some. 

The main goal in this redesign—make finding a group and signing up as easy and quick as possible.

They turned to frequent MinistryPlatform coders, Black Pulp, and began the design phase. After months of meetings in which all struggles, opinions, and ideas were considered, the Victory staff landed on an initial design that seemed to fit all the needs required.

Some of the specific problems solved with the new finder:

  • Make searching for groups both as widely inclusive and as narrowly exclusive as possible. This means that groups would now have multiple categories and an added tag of life stage. That LIFE group for young adult women? Instead of struggling to decide which category to put in it, the group now went in all three, plus the life stage “College 18-24.” If you have no idea what you’re looking for, you can find everything available, but if you want an activity-based group for families only that meets every Saturday morning, your search can be limited to find only those groups.

  • The ability to search by group leader or co-leader. Since Victory encourages its leaders to personally invite people to their group, searching by either name was critically important. This made it easier to find the specific group you were invited to.

  • Create a beautiful map view to show location of groups. This makes it easier to find a group close to home or work or wherever, and gives instant access to a map to provide directions.

  • Make signing up as easy as possible. Church membership or attendance isn’t required to join a small group, yet entering each person’s information into MP is still necessary for tracking and communication purposes. So, they needed people to be able to sign up without creating an account, but needed also to have the account automatically created while matching as little information as possible. While this does create some duplicates in the system, making it easy for the congregation is the primary focus. 
  • Make groups able to automatically close at a certain number. Some groups have limitations, due to either space or the desire for the intimacy of a smaller number of people. Groups now will close and no longer be visible on the finder once the member count hits the specified number. 
  • In order to promote paperless signups, the finder needed to work exceptionally well on all devices. This would allow the use of iPads during small group signup times to aid those who don’t have online access, and to make signups immediate, rather than having to send someone home to their personal computer to join a group. Signups can be done from a phone or any device, and the finder is as easy to use and as clean looking as it is on a bigger screen.

This wasn’t the first time the staff at Victory worked with Black Pulp, but it was the biggest project to date. They started out by bringing a list of goals, including both must-haves, and wants. The team at Black Pulp worked to make everything a reality and found ways around those things that might not seem immediately possible. The finder went through a few changes and some serious testing, but in the end, it became the piece of software that did everything the Victory staff wanted and needed, with room to group in the future as the church and groups continue to grow and change.

After internal testing, the new finder was launched to the congregation. Since usability was such a primary goal of the project, the rollout was very smooth, with almost no pushback from those who were on the technology-resistant side. All around, the congregation found the finder easy to use, and the staff received great feedback.

For the future, more changes may be added to make accepting payments easier and more widely possible. While many options remain for changes and additions, the finder was designed with growth in mind. This finder should fulfill the small groups needs of Victory currently, and through whatever unforeseen changes may come.