Welcome back to Monday Morning Church. Today’s guest is Michael Carson of the Church Of Rock Creek in Little Rock, Arkansas. Really happy to have you, Michael.
Thanks, Courtney, for having me.
Michael, you worked for the government in the information technology field for 20 years. You also served in the military and were a lay member of the church at Rock Creek before being hired on staff. Had you worked on church IT solutions before being hired on there at the church at Rock Creek? And did you walk into an existing role or was this a new step for the church?
Actually, no, I had not worked for the church other than maybe doing some volunteer work. I actually did do some camera, I actually operated the cameras before I actually came on staff. The role there was an administrator here before me, however, I actually came in at a different capacity to kind of focus on all of technology here and try to really get it to where that we can have some cost savings and things of that nature.
When you first came on, most of your focus was on the cost savings part running efficiently?
Yes, and also the other focus was also security. She said, “I came from the military and the public sector, and coming over to the non-profit part was somewhat of a culture shock.” So, my focus was definitely on securing and getting things more structured. And we were a growing church, so this was something that the executive pastor really focused on. The main reason bringing me in, so that was kind of my primary focus there.
You’ve been in the role for about seven years now and having such a culture shift when you first came on board, I’m curious your reflections on how your perspective has changed now coming into the church world, and maybe how you’ve try to influence the perspective there at the church from your previous backgrounds.
Well, I guess coming in, I really didn’t know anything other than the regular structure of information technology when it comes to security and when it comes to some of the requirements across the board. Because we had a lot of working groups in the security sector and coming into the church environment the technology was there, however, it was a little bit different because you had so many different pieces. And it was a little difficult just kind of grasping everything and just trying to figure out, “Okay, what’s really needed? What do we need to change, or what we need to keep the same?” So, that was somewhat of a struggle there. But other than that, it was pretty challenging and fun to just come in and actually do some things that I did not have any experience on. For instance, Macs, I came from a Microsoft or Windows world, and coming into the church environment we had the Windows and the Mac, so had to figure out how to actually make that secure and how to actually make the Macs talk with AD and some of the other things that we need to dom as far as securing our environment.
So, in this last seven years you’ve been on staff, how has the church at Rock Creek incorporated technology?
Well, some of the things that we have done basically was really looking at central management, central security, and also removing pieces that we did not need anymore. As far as, for instance, when I came in, we actually took several different websites that we had podcast sites and things of that nature, and we incorporated that all into one piece so that we wouldn’t have to actually touch so many different pieces to update our podcasts, or update our website, or update other pieces. So, my main focus was centralization, making things simple. I think that was one of the really neat things about coming in, because I had the opportunity to make it my own, and make it simple, and make it easy to wear that if something happened to me, it would be easy for somebody to come in, just pick right up and move right on. So, I think that’s the main focus that I had coming in.
Do you find today that your focus is still on some of these overarching things of cost savings and security website maintenance, or are you also working in the day to day administration of the churches?
Yes, I actually wear a couple of hats, the main objective that I had to really determine was if I was gonna try to do it all or if I was gonna start doing some outsourcing. And once I understood what we had then I started to look at areas that I could actually outsource items, where that it would give me more time to do some of my other functions as associate pastor. So, that played a huge part in being able to outsource some of the applications that we use and of some of the giving applications that we use to actually outsource that and not have so much here on site.
Would you mind going into a bit more detail about that? Because I think it’s often a long decision making process to trust the outsourcing methods. So, what exactly have you outsourced? What are the, if you wouldn’t mind naming the resources that you use that you’ve chosen to outsource?
Sure, sure, sure. Well, it was definitely a process. One of the things, as the IT director, is really trying to develop some really close relationship with vendors. And one of the ways that I was able to do that was actually being involved in a church IT work group, which we actually call Church IT. It’s a work group that I’m actually involved with, and I’m able to talk to other people that’s been in the church environment a lot lower than I have. And as far as the outsourcing part in the civilian sector, we did not do a lot of outsourcing because we had enough staff to actually manage different pieces, say for instance, websites. We could have someone that actually managed the help desk and the best tops in the servers. And we could actually allow different people have different roles. Well, in the church world, you don’t have that ability to really bring on so many staff members to be able to do that. So, there is where that… you have to decide that the things that you can outsource, you do. Like for instance, our website, our website’s outsourced, we use a content management piece that we have someone here that actually managed the content, but as far as worrying about the backups or anything of that nature, I don’t have to worry about that. Office 365 was something that was kind of a no brainer for me because we did have Exchange here on site, which took a lot of my time and going to the Office 365 was a very smart move for me because it brought back a lot of time. So, those are two pieces, of course. And then I also have a vendor, a local vendor that I also lean on when we have issues that takes a lot of time to troubleshoot. So, I can actually call on them as an outsource piece to come in and help me troubleshoot, or take the lead in maybe even finding a solution for us. And it’s really a balancing act because I went through several vendors, so it will take some time. But once you talk to vendors and they’re on the same page as you, it’s normally all about building that trust and that relationship with those vendors where that they look at your environment as their environment.
So, for other churches who are considering this and also possibly shopping for vendors, since you’ve gone through the process, what should churches or executive pastors or IT professionals at other churches be looking for in vendors?
I would say to make sure that the vendor themselves understand your direction, understand also what your objective is, because you do have some vendors that come out to sell a lot of latest and greatest pieces, which you have to be very careful about implementing anything new that you don’t really need. I find that simple is best. And the other piece to that is, as an administrator, you also have to be knowledgeable about the issues that you’re having and know what you need to do to actually address the issue, that way when the vendor actually tells you what the problem is you know whether or not they’re taking you down the right path. So, it’s not just getting someone to come in and just run the show for you, but you need to be knowledgeable about what you have and what needs to be done, that way you can kinda guide them and make sure that you keep everybody honest. So, it’s definitely important to stay up on the technology. It’s just that you don’t have to do it all. So, that makes you able to buy back the time that you need and you know that whatever they’re selling you, whatever issues they’re trying to tell you that, “Hey, this is the problem.” Well, you know whether or not it’s a problem or not, because you can pretty much say, “Hey, well, let’s don’t do this to shut. But let’s look at this issue here first,” and you can lead them into what you need done.
That’s fantastic. Do you mind sharing some reflections on the relationship between information technology and ministry?
Yeah, well actually when I came on board, that was quite interesting. I came on board and as I was doing the normal duties of technology, and I kept hearing the buzz word that, “This is a ministry, this is a ministry,” and I could not really wrap my around it because the ministries that were in the church at the time was a children’s ministry, youth ministry, you had women’s ministry. I was like, “Okay, how is this a ministy?” Then it took me a little while to kind of get an understanding, but IT is a ministry that supports every ministry in the church. And that being said, it affects the church as a whole. So, yes, it’s a huge ministry, not only in the importance of other ministries being able to run and do what they’re called to do, but also the church as a whole to make sure that they’re able to continue to do the things that we’re supposed to do as a church.
That’s great. I’m also curious about your reflections on introducing new technology to staff and to church members. If you’re just sitting across the table speaking to someone who’s about to introduce some new application or item of technology, what would you say to them?
Wow, that’s a great question. I get that all the time, and it’s not only here in the church environment, but it was there in the civilian sector. “It’s the latest and greatest thing and we need it. We have to have it.” And a lot of times, my question to them is, “What is the outcome that you’re looking to get from making this purchase? What’s gonna be different than what we have now?” And we have to decide whether or not it’s feasible at the time to actually make that investment. Because I think a lot of times we get very excited about something new and innovated and, “We gotta do it now.” A lot of times it’s very important to not get caught up in that and be patient and allow things to sit on a shelf for just a little while, because normally those type of ideas, they just whittle away. Now, I’m all for making the job easier for any of the ministries that we have here. My thing is though, is it gonna make your ministry better, is it going to do something better than you’re able to do now, or maybe faster than you’re able to do now? And that’s where we look and say, “Okay, well, yeah, we’re gonna get our money out of this if we make this investment, whether or not it’s in time or whether or not it’s ministering to more people.” So, that’s kinda the angle that I normally take.
I like that question you ask of what is the outcome you’re looking to get from making this purchase, ’cause that really weeds out the flashy as compared to the nitty gritty real solutions.
That’s great. So, what encouragement would you give to executive pastors when it comes to the role of information technology at their church?
I would probably say the most important thing would definitely be to have someone there on staff that understands the technology, that understands not so much as how to do everything but have someone there that can lead you in a direction and also be able to articulate and say, “Okay, well, this is what this really means.” The other thing would be looking for someone that is flexible, that can grow and learn, and also somebody that knows their strengths and knows their weaknesses and be able to let you know that, “Okay, well, this is out of my scope, so therefore I’m gonna have to pull on some other resources.” But I would say someone that can be honest and open, and someone that you can trust. I think that’s one of the big keys about being in technology. You have to be able to relate to people, and you also have to be able to help anyone that has an issue or a problem, whether or not they’re the executive pastor or whether or not they’re the administrative assisted. The problems are equal because… and that’s how you have to look at it. I really try to pay attention to everyone, because everybody’s problem is important.
That’s great. I like the focus you’ve given a couple of times during this interview about how the IT professional of the church is not necessarily someone who knows how to do everything, but someone who can lead and manage and direct all the different pieces of information technology.
Michael, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Thank you, Courtney, for having me. I really enjoyed it