Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today’s guest is David Cornwell, who is the information technology director at Southwest Church in the Palm Springs area of California. Great to have you on the show, David.
Pleasure to be on.
If we’ve got any tennis fans listening, the church is actually in Indian Wells, California, and the building backs right up to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which is pretty interesting. But tennis trivia aside, David, tell us a little about Southwest Church and how you came to your position there.
Oh, excellent. Absolutely. Just started in ministry back in early 2000, as technology started getting into the churches. Just worked with a church called Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, and was in the production book distribution center. And from there, they let me hold two different types of technology. I chose IT administration, and was a good fit and loved doing it, and working with people. After nine years of that, I’m here at Southwest Church.
So this is your first IT position at a church then.
No. After the distribution, I was the IT manager at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, and then did that for five years. So we were all was over the school, and the church, the main campus, and a couple other buildings.
Okay. So tell me exactly what falls under your responsibility there at Southwest.
At Southwest, our church is a two-story church with two thrift stores. So from everything from the VOIP, voiceover IP, to the HVAC which is the AC controllers, IT cameras, about 35-36 employees, with all the infrastructure, the support, the building and the users. I’ve got 26 servers, all virtualized, and a couple of cloud servers.
That’s a pretty big operation there. How many are on staff there at Southwest?
I think there’s around 35 to 40. We have part time, as well, and then as some of our thrift store employees.
The first store, I’m a little curious about, how did that start at the church?
Oh, that was here before I got here, but it’s done amazingly. They are a huge part of connecting to the community. It’s a place where people need just helping hand, needs some clothes or to get a job. They are there for that, as well. Last year, we had a family who lost their house from a fire. We were able to get furniture in there. The next day, when they got a new apartment, we were able to furnish it for them as they are walking in. So it’s a huge opportunity to minister to the community.
That’s really neat. So I’m curious right now, what is one current challenge that you’ve got going that you haven’t quite found a solution for?
I think this is gonna be one for all churches, is trying to find a church software database, the whole people, finance, everything in one. So you can manage your volunteers, you can manage your stage timing, and children’s check in. So we are in the midst of juggling two different companies. For those who would like to know, it’s Planning Center and FellowshipOne but it’s got some holes in it. So having churches and having have to balance with two to fill in the gap, but moving over to a one that’s progressive and always updating, and runs on iOS.
You can only answer for your church really, but from your perspective, what is the staff’s relationship with technology there at the church?
It’s funny because when you think about the church, you don’t think about technology. That’s not the first thing that comes from mind. But it’s actually, every staff uses it. And they might not even know how much technology they’re even using. From the phone systems to their computers, the software. The technology uses are helping them to reach a larger audience and keeping the congregants in touch and relevant to what they’re doing.
In implementing IT there at the church, I know some IT people talk about being in a position where they’re constantly trying to convince staff or those who make the money decisions that something is needed or not. Have you had to go through any processes like that where you are needing to sell the technology or convince for the need of it?
Yeah. There is. There is a misconception about, oh, at my house, we have this type of wireless, or it doesn’t cost that much to back up some of my equipment and its home product. So selling enterprise stuff is a hardest of all because there’s a huge price difference, sometimes, 3 times more. And I’m trying to always encourage to do enterprise because it’s less portfolio that you have to manage. If it’s an enterprise quality product, there’s a company behind it that’s gonna support it. And if something happens on a Sunday, you don’t wanna be roaming around fixing things. You want stuff that you know is not going to bring abruption or causing downtimes when it’s go time or Sunday service. So you wanna be able to be that, set up technology where it’s reliable and you’re able to fix. And if you’re not, you’re able to fix it with the support that you have. So I’m always a big supporter of enterprise products. But I am flexible with some different types of — in some applications, you can use those products, but ultimately, you really wanna use the enterprise.
That’s interesting. Do you have a team under you? Whether you have some staff underneath you or volunteers in the IT department. What does your team look like?
Actually, we just hired this year a people database administrator. Jim Gilbert, amazing guy. And we needed someone to be able to relate with people because you want him to bring in volunteers as we input the connect cards into the people database, to put that in, and then keeping that database extremely accurate as possible. So when you’re wanting to connect with, say, all the moms that have kids under 5 years old, we wanna do something, we wanna be able to touch these people quickly as possible. So we have a full time person that just manage people database. And besides that, it’s myself as the main IT infrastructure, the architect, the developer, and all that. So these just went out of me, that’s it. And I have some volunteers that help me out, but that’s about it.
I was speaking with someone also about this, the challenge of the positions people are used to volunteering at in church kind of fall into the same basic categories, childcare or so kind of like a musical gift, or teaching. How do you find those people who are gifted in IT?
I’m not the IT guy that sticks in station and closes it. I love people. So I’m always out there greeting people, and touching base with people that I know of. I found some volunteers in that way, in just kind of connecting. There’s one time where we have at a church one of those open houses where if you want a volunteer for guests and stuff like that. I have a little place, hey, if you know technology, please come over here. But they get that confused with — they wanna do lights for the video cameras. So it’s a little explaining to do. But people in the IT field, they’re extremely busy, so it’s hard to find someone good at a specific thing in technology. Right before I got hired, they’re looking for a volunteer to exchange, but anybody who does exchange, it’s a full-time job, not something you wanna just hand out because it’s also handling really sensitive information. So it’s difficult because you want someone who really will take ownership and responsible, and it has that just experience. You know, you do the best you can. I have a couple of volunteers we use in the best we can and appreciate them like crazy.
So most of the people listening are executive pastors or some pastoral leadership position. So as an IT person, if it doesn’t scare you too much to speak on behalf of all the IT people, but what would you like to say to those who are in those kinds of pastoral leadership positions from the IT perspective?
I really talk to myself about what my boss has done for me and that he show me appreciation and stuff like that. And I’m gonna say he picked up a book about learning about how church and IT works. And so she was more familiar with what I do. In our meetings, he’s able to ask questions that were really relevant and drilled down to what he needed. And he also saw the value. A lot of pastors don’t know all things we have to touch in order for everything to work well. So I felt appreciated that he picked up a book, read it, and got to know what my job is a little bit more, because a lot of people just don’t know because we’re tapping on computers all day long. It was a really nice touch for me to know that he cares and wants to know more.
Yeah. Absolutely. And do you, by any chance, happen to remember what that book was? If not, will make sure to figure it out and put a link in that.
I actually was just gonna get it, but I’ll put in some notes as I leave off.
Yeah. That would be great because it’s a common thing that I hear is a lot of executive pastors. One of their biggest struggles is almost always just understanding the technology side of it. So if there’s a good book recommendation, that I’m sure they would jump on that quickly.
It will. It was written by a Christian guy. It is written back in early 2000, but it’s still relevant because my boss, then, bought it for me. So here, this is what I’m reading. It has the general focus of how churches stay pertinent and relevant in the technology world. Because you don’t want to purchase a bunch of stuff and then never upgrade it because it’s gonna cost you a ton of money on the long run, or make yourself vulnerable. Unfortunately, in the world, churches are getting hacked just like businesses.
Yeah. Absolutely. And it’s pretty easy to get pulled in and spend quite a bit of money on things that you won’t be using a year later.
Oh, absolutely. Your IT guy did your research, and research, and research. It is so important. Also for him to be just as in as much plan resources from other churches. I visit manors to just grab some great ideas like, hey, what have you done? Because all ITs know, hey, we’ve gone down away or shoot. That was a lot more than I really wanted, or there’s gotta be a better way. Because for the churches, you don’t want to waste any money. So I definitely use all my resources from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and Manors. It’s a big churches that I say, hey, have you guys done this? What have you done? Why? So trying to figure out how to ask all the questions and what am I missing to be able to then come back to our church that, this is the best fit.
That’s great. There’s also the part of not reinventing the wheel. If you’ve got a bunch of churches around you who’ve already investigated it, and tried it.
Yeah. Totally. Save yourself some time, and stress, and there’s a lot of churches have already done it. No reason to feel like you have to go out and make your own up.
So, David, I wanna end with this question, which is, you spoke already to executive pastors, but what kind of encouragement would you give to other IT directors?
Communication, I guess. All those guys out there, we talk a little differently because we work in something so different. I just encourage all of you, like I’m encouraging myself, learn to communicate to everyone in the ministry, to connect with them, make sure their needs are met, make sure hey, how can make your job easier. So communication. Just get really good at communicating. Get out behind your computer and get involved. I’m always lending my hand in the kids’ ministry and check in. I put myself everywhere to make sure everyone got the right tool.
That’s really great. David, thanks so much for being in the podcast today.
Absolutely. Thank you for having me.