Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today on our podcast we have a special guest. We have Scott Magdalein who’s the founder of TrainedUp. You may remember TrainedUp from an earlier episode. It’s a software that I’ll let Scott describe a little bit more. Scott, good morning. How are you today?
Good morning. I’m doing well.
Yeah. I’m really excited to share a little bit with you and to hear your story. So why don’t you give us a little bit of background? You weren’t a software guy from the very beginning, but tell us a little bit about how you got into this and what TrainedUp is.
No, no. I’m a bible guy from my background. So I went to a bible college here in Florida and graduated with a degree in Theology and did some master’s work at Liberty Distance, so, I guess, through their distance learning sites here in Florida. And then, I guess, when the iPhone came out, it was really when I got into it. And I built some website stuff before that, but when the iPhone came out and the App Store, especially in 2008, I got into app development. I’m really into the software side of things, not just websites. That took me in a direction of sort of like software development becoming my tent making kind of thing. So while I was doing local ministry, I was also building stuff on the side. From time to time, I would have a full time software thing where I was helping with a full time team. Like at Life Church, I was working with YouVersion as a project manager and then I stopped working that and go back into local ministry and do software in the side again. So yeah, I have a last 12 or 13 years of split between local ministry and software.
Fill us in a little bit on the local ministry side. You’ve been an ExP at different places and you mentioned Life Church and everything. Walk us to that a bit more.
Yeah. So my local ministry background is mostly as an ExP or in the systems roles and it’s also been mostly at mid-sized churches. I’ve been at one larger church but that was more of a consulting, helping their ExP build some new systems to manage some of the growth that they were having and also on a limited contract. So it’s only a year with helping as a right hand man to the ExP. But so mostly I’ve been a system’s ExP role at mid-sized churches. The life church thing was not a local ministry role although it wasn’t a local church. I was working with the Digirati team on the YouVersion bible app and their church online platform. Then ExPs, if they follow this kind of thing, we built church metrics in that time frame as well, which is kind of a platform for tracking all the numbers in your church.
Okay. So during that time, you’re kinda inside, outside different ministries, but you never really felt like you wanted to do ExP work necessarily full time. Right?
Right. Yeah. Honestly, mainly because my tendency is heavily towards systems. So the systems that I’ve put in place at churches have, in the past, also worked me out of the job, which is great. Honestly, this is something I am proud of or happy about that I was able to build processes within the church staff and with the ministries that no longer required hands on staff person to manage those things and it became automated. And so, yeah, so I’m happy that my role in those places was really focused and then was time-boxed or time-ended.
Yeah. Automation is a big theme that we talk about in this show. We love it with Kissflow. But when it comes to building systems that can run on their own, a lot of times, some people are afraid of that element of, “Oh, we’re gonna decrease jobs and have less things to do about it”. What’s the attention? How are you proud about that? Talk about that a little bit more.
Well, I don’t mean to get into as an ad for Kissflow, but I mean, if I had known about Kissflow or if I had Kissflow when I was doing my thing as an ExP — to me, automation is much more about stewardship and managing the resources that you have than it is about efficiency or trying to cut jobs or anything like that. In fact, every church that I’ve been in as an ExP where I’ve worked myself out of the job, no one else was affected by their job. The workflow helped them to do their job so they could spend more time in person to person ministry, which is something cannot be automated. You can’t automate conversations over coffee but you can automate the scheduling of meetings. You can automate how volunteers are scheduled and trained. You can automate a lot of the moving parts which allow your staff people to spend more time with people.
Yeah. So tell us the story of TrainedUp. It’s specifically about training. It’s about system. It’s leading all into this. How did it get started and how did it launch?
I was an ExP at a church, mid-sized church that was going through a transition. And when I say transition, it was going from an old way of doing things and they were really wanting to kinda catch up. They’d been behind the 8 ball for a number of years. And so when I was brought in, I was the young pastor brought as an ExP to do a couple of things: to bring in systems and processes to help streamline a lot of the stuff that was really rusty and not efficient stuff moving in the church and number two, to help transition toward a more modern mindset. So one of the first challenges that I noticed when I was there was we have a lot of great volunteers and the ministry at that church but we need to re-train them on new ways of doing some things and then new ways of talking about just about everything. So we went through a revisioning process and in that revisioning process, we have new language and been trying to build and create new culture and it was just not gonna happen with lots and lots of volunteer meetings and volunteer training meetings. So I got that one foot in software and one foot in local ministry. I built myself a little training tool and it was really clunky but it got the job done and it worked really well. So our people, even though most of the congregation especially the core of the volunteer army there was mostly like 40 and up, they really reacted well to being able to access volunteer training online and they were appreciative. I was surprised at this, but they were appreciative that there weren’t more volunteer training meetings. The church still had a full calendar of fellowships and other types of meetings but the fact that they didn’t have to come to a volunteer training meeting on a regular basis was something that they verbally came to me and expressed gratitude about that. So that was one of the problems it solved was re-training a lot of people. And the other thing was the church was also, through this transition, also growing because it was an older neighborhood that we’re starting to see a revitalization in the neighborhood itself. So we were growing in number of people. That means we were recruiting new volunteers and those volunteers needed to be trained and gotten up to speed with the existing volunteers in a hurry. I don’t know if you have experienced this. I’m sure that a lot of people who are listening have experienced this, but when you have a well-trained existing volunteer ranks and really knew a lot of new folks, there tends to be some friction, some tension between them. And so getting our new volunteers trained up, and that’s why we call it TrainedUp, trained up in our hurry and ready to go, or we call it onboarding those new volunteers, really helped to number one, engage those new volunteers quickly and also integrate or assimilate those new volunteers into the existing volunteer ranks.
You built it for this one situation. And when did you realize, “Hey, there’s some potential outside of this one use case?”
Well, my brother-in-law, he’s also a pastor. My brother is a pastor and, of course, I’ve got other pastor friends. I’m going to a bible school, all of my college friends are now pastors. On social media, just saying, “I built this thing. It’s going really great. Anybody wanna test drive it in for their ministry?” Some friends said they’d like to give a try. So back then, it wasn’t like a tool you could sign up for. It was something I had to literally take the code base and clone it into another installation for somebody else. And so at that time, they were just like using it and we were all working on providing feedback, record, and refining it. Over time, it’s sort of more and more people wanted to use it. So, yeah, over time, it became a thing where we made like I took some time to create self-sign up where people could sign up for an account themselves and it wasn’t like a manual process to clone it. But it was more just, in the very beginning, word of mouth and friends that are using it and giving feedback.
And then at what point did you think: “Okay, wow, this can really actually become something that lots of churches can use and I want to spend some time to develop it.”
Yeah. About six months, probably, was the time frame for when — as a builder, as a product guy, there’s always that kind of thing in the back of your head: “I’m building something for myself and I wonder if this could be something that other people could use.” I think I had that realization that it could be something successful and a lot of churches could find value in it.” About 6 months was that time frame. We had probably 15 or 20 churches or so, at the time, using it, all manually installed and stuff, manually on board, and do a Skype call to show them how it works, kind of thing. Then I realized I need to put a little more time and make this real, not just for the existing churches on it and put more effort into it but also it is a — because I was finding that there wasn’t really a comparable system out there to help churches do this really specific thing of training volunteers.
Yeah. And how does your platform differ from just like an e-learning type platform that would be out there?
That’s a really common question that we get. Most e-learning systems are pretty complicated. They have a lot of bells and whistles. They have a lot of features for power users or power situations. Those learning management systems are big pieces of software. Our system, I guess, although is technically in the category of a learning management system, it is really built specifically for volunteer training in a church. So our system has a very simple course concept. There’s not lots of moving parts to the courses. There’s not lots of configuration to it. A course is a series of multiple modules. In each module is a single video with a series of however many questions you wanna do to follow up from that video. So it’s a very simple format. I took the format from, or I learned the format from my experience at the company called Treehouse, which is like an online learning technology company. Their format for online learning was really simple, as well, and it turned out to be really effective and very engaging for the learners. That’s something, for me, that’s really important. When I build a course, I want my volunteers to actually engage with it and go through it. That’s the whole purpose of building the course. And so I took that model from Treehouse that I learned from Ryan Carson, the CEO. He’s an old friend of ours. I took that model and put it into TrainedUp as a platform and it turned out that it translates really well into volunteer training space, as well.
Great. So I’m sitting out there, I’m an ExP, I’m listening to this, I’m thinking: “Okay, TrainedUp. I heard it once before. Maybe it’s something that I need to look at. They have a specific use case in their head.” What are some of the benefits they can expect to get out of TrainedUp?
Oh, goodness. This is my pitch then.
Yeah. Go for it. That’s your chance.
Yeah. So the benefits, really, of TrainedUp are — we talked about it in terms of three things. The first thing is accessibility. It makes it really easy for your volunteers to access training. We’ve done a lot of surveys and generally the average attendance rate at a volunteer training meeting is about 60%. And that includes times when you’re offering a nice meal or some entertainment along with the training.
Yeah. You gotta have the cookies and the sandwiches set out, right?
Right. Yeah. I was at a church where they catered it with this nice company twice a year for the training meetings and twice a year, big event, lots of announcements, and still about 60%, sometimes they’d reach 70%. But still at a church that — we were at a church of 3000, 3500. That’s a couple hundred people that don’t show up to your volunteer training. That’s a couple of under people that aren’t up to speed on latest processes, new rules, new ways of doing things, new policies. So I think that becomes a big challenge for ministry leaders when you put a lot of time and planning into a training meeting and you still have people that still need to be trained before they get back to work. So accessibility, making it much easier for people to get to the training means you get more people in training. We talk about making it possible for a 100% of your volunteers to be trained because there’s no road block to them being trained. The second thing is accountability. The other challenge with training meetings is that you may have people there but even the people that are there, there’s no way to really know that they got what you said. So you have a training meeting and let’s say it’s a really good one, you put a lot of money into it, they have a meal so they eat first and then the ones they’re done eating, you started training and you train for 30 minutes. It’s a quick one or an hour to an hour and a half. It’s one of those once a year of training. But how much of that information did they actually retain in a one hour talk with a PowerPoint on screen? Most likely gonna be pretty low. And so with TrainedUp, you have the ability to, of course, number one, make it more engaging, but also have the accountability of knowing that they understood things because you have follow up questions right after your videos. So you have a five minute video talking about diaper changing policy and having two people around or whatever in children’s ministry and you have follow questions that you can verify that they watched the video and understood what was in the video. So accountability and accessibility are the two big things. And then the third thing is that we have a library of pre-built content, pre-built videos, and actually the videos are also pre-built into courses with follow up questions already there. So it’s just one click to bring over an existing course and it covers dozens of the low hanging fruit of volunteer training that is redundant across every church but you really need to do that kind of basics, best practices and safety kind of stuff for across almost every ministry area in a church. So we have a couple hundred videos in that library as well.
No, that’s very useful for people to access and have that. And also, you’re talking about less meetings too, right? Less time that you have to actually schedule things and get people around the same place too.
Yeah. Yeah. And that’s one of our big things is that we don’t believe in replacing the human interaction but we do want to replace unnecessary meetings in churches and give church staff, church leaders, ministry leaders, more time to spend in meaningful meetings, meaningful interactions with their church people, and not so much just an information transfer.
You guys should give your pricing in terms of number of Qdoba meals that someone can pay for the comparable.
Qdoba? [laughs] Let’s say, it is 4 Qdoba meals a month is our pricing.
That’s good. Go with that. Well, tell us a little bit about one success story. I’m sure said, you know, when you start off, you had 15 to 20 churches using it. You probably have more than that now. What’s a great success or you could share?
Yeah. Okay. So one of our longest, in fact, he was probably number 3. His church was number 3. He’s been a longtime friend of ours, of mine, personally back from way before he even planted to this church. When I started TrainedUp, he was more of a tech forward guy. And so he’s been on it for two solid years now and through every transition, every iteration of features and everything, and he’s used TrainedUp in just about every conceptual — he’s used it far more than I’ve ever used it, every conceptual way. And so he’s found he’s able to use it as a primer for church membership. So when somebody wants to join the church, he’s got a course on there for pre-membership. He’s got baseline courses for all volunteers, as well as specific courses in each ministry area where they learn about the specifics of how to do their role. They even have courses for specific roles within those ministry areas. So he’s moved all of the information transfer that he normally does in meetings into TrainedUp. So what he does then is once they’ve completed their training in TrainedUp, they’re able to get started in volunteering. So there’s no wait time between when somebody signs up on a Sunday morning and getting them involved in ministry. He said it’s pretty common for somebody to sign up on Sunday and then be ready to active and show up to serve the next Sunday because they’ve already been trained during that week. So a one week turnaround time on a volunteer. So he does then is, I think, quarterly he does meetings with volunteers but they’re all human meetings. They’re all vision casting meetings. They’re all fellowship meetings with volunteers that where he celebrates what they’re doing. He said, “But we don’t have to spend any time in those meetings getting people up to speed on policy or on new ways of doing things.” He said, “It’s all already in there in there. They already know the information so we can spend these meetings really just pouring into and enjoying time with our volunteers”, which has really changed their engagement, they’re happiness in the role and all that kind of stuff.
Wow! That’s really great thing to see how somebody can use this and really can even apply beyond what you probably thought of at the very beginning too.
They are. In fact, I’ve learned a lot from him and how he’s using it. So a lot of the video library that we produced is kind of inspired by how he’s used it. And so we’ve seen the course that he’s built and said, “Oh, we can take that and get a really good one for other churches to be able to use” because we saw that he was successful in that one, as well.
Yeah, which is always just something to encourage ExPs out there. If you have a chance to get in on a technology like this in the early phases, it’s really great. Often one reason, because the prices are usually lower but also you have a chance to shape the course of where that product goes and you can really be about very influential on how it goes. You try to access a huge church management system that’s been around for 10, 15 years. Your feature requests are gonna be heard but not likely acted upon. But something like this, you can see some change pretty fast.
Absolutely. Yeah. In fact, we’re still pretty young. There’s only four of us and any time a feature request comes in, we use Trello for task management and a feature like Road Map Management. And so literally, when a feature request comes in through our chat tool or by email, it goes directly into at the top of our backlog and Trello for a discussion for the next iteration or the next release that goes out. So we are very actively listening to the pastors that are using it to get feedback on how it could be used better.
Yeah. One common thing I hear a lot from pastors as they’re looking for new software is that, “Hey, they already have 3, 4, 5, 6 different systems that are going on. We don’t need yet another software system to manage, to try to go through different things”. What’s TrainedUp’s plan for that? How are you gonna be able to answer that question?
That’s a great question. That’s a really common question, as well, for us. You don’t wanna have to be able to balance between a lot of different systems, be able to get something done. So in the fall, we’ve already started on this but I don’t wanna promise a specific date just because it can be a little complicated, we’re going to roll out our first integration with a church management system. And then from there, we’re gonna be opening up a connection with Zapier is our next plan. So they’ve connected to a lot of other business tools. And then do our best to work with other church management systems, on one hand, to help them with their API because there are not a lot of great API. Also, do what we can to integrate to make the workflow more seamless between CCB, their process queues, or the planning center people and their work flows there. So to be able to integrate with other systems to where an ExP or a ministry leader only has to log into one to see the progress of the learning for all their learners.
Yeah, absolutely. If you’re doing the tech stuff out there or if you have people who are doing that, make sure that these are questions that you, as an ExP know about. Especially Zapier, knowing how that works because I know we use a lot with Kissflow trying to integrate with different products but so many of the other things that are out there in churches just don’t have those open APIs that are easy to access in different things. So that’s great. I’m glad you guys are moving that way. Scott, what kind of encouragement can you give? You’ve been an ExP, you’ve been out there, you’re now still working with them but on the software side, what kind of encouragement can you give to ExPs listening in?
Well, most ExPs, really good ones, are systems guys or ladies and they’re really process oriented, which also means that we can tend to forget that the systems that where pretty in place are for people. Especially as churches grow, it’s easy to forget the human aspect that these people need to be shepherded as well as — like, they’re useful in ministry but also they need to be shepherded personally. So my encouragement, and this is because this might been my own short coming in the past, is to still focus on people and spending time with people and valuing people and treating people like someone who God loves and not just a tool in ministry to get more ministry done.
Excellent. Scott, it has been great to talk with you. The website is trainedup.church. Anything else you wanna tell us?
That’s it, man. I appreciate you letting me talk to all the people who trust you and on this great podcast. I appreciate your time.