Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church Podcast. Jason Crawford is joining us today from Eastern Hills Community Church in Aurora, Colorado. Jason, great to have you.
Thanks for having me, appreciate it.
Jason, tell us a bit about how you came to be the director of it there at eastern house.
Yeah, well, it’s kind of a long story, but the shorter version of it is that the lead pastor here was actually my high school pastor when I lived in Seattle, Washington. And so, when I got involved in the high school group there, I asked him to just mentor me and pour into my development. And so, from there, one thing led to another, I graduated high school, got my IT degree and was looking for a job. And he actually found me and asked me now, his lead pastor here, asked me to take over and help with some IT and AV stuff around the church.
Interesting. So, how long ago was this that he reached back out to you? How long have you been there?
I’ve been here a little bit more than a year now, since last August.
Okay. So, this is your first job then out after getting your degree?
No, actually I had a job, a very similar job, at another church in Seattle where actually the same pastor worked as the XP before he became lead pastor here. So, this is my second job out of college.
So, he must really like you then if he’s pulling you along to wherever he’s going?
I guess so, seems like it. A lot of our lives just kind of seemed to line up. I was looking at schools down here potentially for a master’s program, and then when he got the job and said, “Hey, do you wanna work while you’re doing school?” I said, “100 percent.”
Oh, that’s really neat. So, you’re still doing your program then while you’re working?
Yeah, so I finished my undergrad and now I’m working on my master’s degree.
Okay. Do you work full time there at the church then?
Pretty much it depends on the week, some weeks are a lot more than that.
That’s understandable. Tell us a little bit more about your IT department. Do you have volunteers under you, do have other staff under you? What are your main areas of responsibility?
So, I’m responsible for the pool view of IT here at Eastern Hills, everything that falls under information tech, as opposed to like audio and visual. We have another technical director who does all of that, and then under me are volunteers. And so, I kind of manage that, and I also manage our relationship with a third part IT department that does contract work for us. And so, I will do everything high level, budget wise, all of that, and then some low level if some computer broke I’ll just run over there and fix it for them, do all the purchasing, everything like that. And then for anything in between this, maybe a project base we’ll just determine whether it’s something that we need to pull like a professional team, or whether it’s something we can set up as a project that i manager with my volunteers.
Now, having an IT degree, obviously, you’ve been taught the IT side, but then there’s also that other side of managing volunteers, like you said. So, how have you acquired the skills to do that? What are some things you’ve, I guess, learned along the way about managing a volunteer base?
Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s been a little bit learning as I go, a lot of actually learning as I go. The biggest thing for me that has been really helpful is that there’s just a ton of staff here who are so good with managing and building volunteer teams. So, if I have a question, I’ll just sit down with one of them. Some of them have given me some of their volunteers to help me, especially the technical director. He has giving me a couple of his volunteers to help with IT projects. And just those relationships, both between the other staff members and their volunteers, and me and the other staff members have just made things so much easier than if I had to make it up completely.
Yeah. Now, what do you prefer for a third party to do or for you as a director to do? And what areas do you find are the best areas for there to be volunteers?
Yeah. So, that’s a great question. There’s a lot of things that, at least in my IT world, that we do that are pretty well, it’s relatively easy for somebody with an IT background to learn. And so, we bring in a lot of volunteers who work for other places. We’ve got one guy who works for Comcast, another guy who works for Dish and actually does my job, but for Dish. So, obviously, at a much higher level. And so, people like that, I can just bring in and say, “Hey, here’s the thing we’re doing. We’re gonna spend an afternoon wiping all of these computers and rebuilding them with these new images, or setting up this new server.” Whatever it is. If it’s something like that, that I can train people in a relatively short amount of time, and then just have so many extra hands working on it. That’s one thing that I always try to leverage volunteers for, but another really big thing for me is brainstorming. And so, if I had an issue that I have not been able to solve, then for me to just have this group of people who run IT at pretty big, sometimes tech companies, sometimes not to just get in a room and say, “Hey, here’s the problem, what are all of the possible solutions? Yeah, we can build our own software, yeah we could buy something new. Yeah, we could change our policies, or what’s gonna work best for us in this situation.” Like I said, this is my second job out of college. And so, having all of these people who are in their 40s and 50s and have done this, this isn’t like a big scary new thing for them. That’s been a big deal for me. So, that’s where I try to leverage volunteers as much as possible. We leverage this company that we use here in Colorado is dataVoice and they’ve been just excellent. And so, we talk with them about anything that’s a little bit more that has gotta be done in a really specific way for us, things that need to be tailored for us, things that need to be built out that are more advanced. And so, things from configuring servers to even just setting up the images for us to build computers really quick from, those are all the things that we’ll go to dataVoice for.
Interesting. So, I wanna get a little more into the brainstorming part that you were just talking about. So, I’m curious, maybe what are one or two things that you have come up with a solution for that might be interesting for some others listening? Then, on the flip side, maybe what’s something that you haven’t quite gotten a solution for yet that you’re still trying to figure out and work through?
No, that’s great. So, I’ve actually just started the IT team within the last couple of months. There wasn’t anything before I got here. But we have had one really major project, and for anybody who’s listening who’s done anything with church management technology, and as had to do any transitions with that, we transitioned our entire database, our entire all of our systems this last summer. And one of the biggest pieces that we said, “We have to get this right. We wanna make this work. We want this to be world class,” is our check in system. And so, we move to Planning Center Check ins, and for just even the way we set up the iPads that are running the check in software and the trenchers, and where we place them in. I brought in several people from the IT team who are also on the check in volunteer team who work with the kids ministry and said, “What’s gonna work best here, what’s going to… where should we put these?” And so, a lot of those changes happened after we set things up. It was, “How can we make this better? What’s working, what’s not?” And so, one of the issues that we had was, for example, that we had to do set up a policy where it would force volunteers to register themselves as checking in as a volunteer, because a lot of them would wanna come in and just get a name tag that says ‘third grade’ ’cause they’re helping with third grade. But we want reports to come out the other end that say, “We had 45 volunteers this week, and this many were with this group. And this many were with this group.” And so, a lot of the stuff that the IT guys have come in and helped me with and how we set the system, so that it s communicates well to volunteers and it makes it really easy for them to step in and say, “Hey, I’m a volunteer. I need to do this and be checked in for my event.”
And gives the church some data to collect and analyze to make some good decisions going forward, too.
Yeah, we haven’t had good data here for a while. And so, trying to even just teach the staff members how to take advantage of how much better out data has gotten has just been, it’s been a lot of fun actually. But it’s been a whirlwind of talking with people about, “Yeah, this is data can access, this is data you can just sit down, pull out a report, and you don’t even need my help.”
I think data is one of those things that sounds so technical and unpractical until you actually see it in practice and then you realize how incredible it is for a decision making tool.
For sure. Yeah. And I’ve got some friends who are working in data visualization, which is another big term that makes people say, “I don’t know if I really wanna dive into that.” But the ability to take the data that your church already has and then put it up in front of you and say, for example, one thing we did with data this last year was we started a huge on capital campaign to redo a lot of the AV and the parking lot and typical things like that. Anyway, one thing we use data visualization for was plotting out where everybody lived, everybody’s addresses and saying, “Hey, we are centered in this one location. Yeah, there’s a couple people out here, but now we can measure this line of where the vast majority of people who go to our church live and say, ‘Hey, we’re talking about your neighbors.’ This capital campaign is not for you. This capital campaign’s for your neighbors and providing an apology free environment for them. When you say, ‘Hey, come to Christmas here, or come Easter.’”
That’s really neat. That’s a really neat angle on that, too, the apology free environment.
Yeah, there’s lots little terms like that we use around here. So, I’ll probably throw out a couple more as we’re talking today.
Yeah, no, it’s really nice. You said you just developed this team, but what’s one challenge you got going on right now that’s still in process for you, you’re still trying to figure out?
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, as I’ve been listening to leaders and reading leadership books, and even podcasts like this one, one question that has come up over and over again is this, what is your saying, your problem that you need to solve in your department, in your area, that if you solve that, it changes everything? That’s been the question for me over the course of the last couple of years actually, just what is the problem that no one has solved, but if I could solve it it would change everything? And so, that has been, for us, I found out that this is actually kind of a recent revelation for me, but that problem is whether or when we can get staff to manage their own technology. So, that doesn’t mean that staff are setting up new multi function printers or new servers. But that does mean what can I do to make this a place where a staff member doesn’t need help to access their data, to understand how to use the information that we put in their lap, whether that helps them out to leverage the systems that we’re already paying for, that we’re already setting up. An example of that is how, if we got to a point where staff members could all manage their own systems and their own data, then the use, for example, would be able to every week if they wanted to step out and say, “Hey, we are checking in on every person who’s maybe visited our youth group three out of the last four weeks.” Or, maybe they missed this last week, we wanna follow up with them. And the more that it’s not just my head and my hands and my mouth teaching and leading and thinking through all of this but the all staff team can see really, and this is true beyond just our church, but that I think organization where staff can start to learn to leverage technology themselves without me needing to make it so that I’m a critical piece, even job security wise of the system. I think that that changes everything for us.
That’s really interesting. It’s like that next level of technology, not just being this outside player that jumps in to fix things but is actually a collaborative ministry tool.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
That’s really neat. So, IT and technology is changing all the time. How do you stay fresh and up to date on IT, on IT in the church?
Yeah, well, a big deal for me, and I’ve mentioned this before, it’s just the network of relationships and people I know. There are people in my church, in your church, in every church, that I really believe are the people who are developing the technologies and leveraging, and are early adopters for the technologies that are really, they’re here today but they’re for tomorrow. So, for me, to leverage the relationships with people who are developing those technologies who are implementing them, I’m worrying more about things that are coming out now than I was when I was in IT school. Because there are people who will just send me an article. It’s like, “Hey, look at this new thing that I found. Look at this new thing that’s coming out.” My pastor even actually sent me an email maybe a month talking about this new technology coming out where you can leverage just your church internet service to pull a list of everybody who’s been in your building and track we come. It’s almost like you can take attendance just by whose devices connect to your WiFi. There’s things like that that I’d never heard of before but, now that I think about it, are totally possible. I only hear about those things because of the people who are all around me, who are just reading those things for fun.
Not to take away attention from talking about the networks of relationships, but it’s pretty rare to have a senior pastor mildly up to date on technology happenings.
Yeah,it is. There’s a lot of things that I think I’ve been lucky on. I’ve been really thankful for gifts that God’s just dropped in my lap, and that’s one of them, that our senior pastor even is a concerned about leveraging all of the tools that he has to reach people who are close to us but far from God.
Interesting. So, to end on, I wanna ask two sides of this question. One is what encouragement would you give to other church IT people?
Yeah, so I was thinking about this question, I realized that I’ve struggled a lot this last year with the, “I’m doing stuff at a church, but am I really doing ministry? Am I really making a difference?” And I’ve been spending a lot of time praying just that God would show me that it’s not really about me. It’s not really about what I’ve done, what I’m doing, it’s about what He is doing through me and through my church. And as much as I’ve tried that, and as much as I think our listeners spend time just reminding themselves that it’s God who works through us. It’s God who works through our church. We start seeing more and more, and I’ve started seeing more and more, the people who are impacted even just by the really little things, the people who walk in and they say, “Oh, this doesn’t really feel like church. I thought church was supposed to be kind of backwards and maybe not up to date.” With IT we’re on the edge of some systems that other organizations, other companies are looking at, even in our terms of planning center and check ins and whatever else, that stuff is actually attritional, becoming cutting edge. And for us to do our job excellently, that is a testament already to people who are walking into your church for the first time.
Well, that’s great. A flipside of that question then is, what kind of encouragement would you like to give to others in church leadership when it comes to their relationship with technology or their relationship with the people who are in charge of technology at their church?
Yeah, that’s interesting because I think a lot of people, especially people who aren’t like me, who don’t have an IT background, have this view of technology and IT, that it can be really scary and really big. And that’s true, it can be. And so, I would just love to encourage XPs or anybody else who’s listening who maybe doesn’t have as much of a technical background to just lean into the people in your church who know way more than you do, know way more than I do, especially in technology.
That’s really great. Jason, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for calling.