I haven’t talked about this much yet, but Google has been creating a set of tools that can literally change the way churches do business. Yes, yes, I know that they have a great search engine (and are upping the ante with a new search engine process called Caffeine), but the exciting stuff is all out of Google Labs, their experimental wing.
One really powerful tool for busy pastors (or anyone) who really want to stay connected is Google Reader. This isn’t new. It has been around for quite some time, but many people are still not aware of it. Google Reader allows you to look at all the different blogs or websites that you regularly check (it isn’t that great for straight news sites) all from one page. It presents the information sort of like how your email is. If you set up the view right, you see all of the sites in a chronological list with an abstract in the next column. One click allows you to read the article in full, and another throws it into the trashcan from your virtual desk. A lot of people have asked me how I can possibly read so many blogs. Reader is the answer, and I do it in 10% of the time because of it.
Thanks to Ed Dale, who taught me that one. You revolutionized my life with that, and I can’t think of Twitter in anything but an Australian accent now, either.
But the most exciting thing for churches (and especially church plants) is Google’s newest project, Google Voice. First, let me paint a picture of what a typical church plant looks like:
Most church plants (newly started churches, under 2 years old) are led by one pastor and a team of lay leaders. The pastor is usually bi-vocational at best, or even pastors without taking a salary at all. Either way, almost all pastors of church plants have a full time job outside of the church. Most of these churches have no paid staff outside of their solo pastor.
Because of this, any time someone calls the phone number of the church, it goes straight to voice mail. The pastor is working way too long and too hard to worry about such trivial things as returning messages, especially when 8 out of 10 messages are some sort of church telemarketing…No, I don’t want to go to Bible Bash and Bake Sale 2009! On the other hand, the 2 calls out of 10 might be someone looking to start attending the church. They don’t get called back, and they never come.
Enter the game-changer, Google Voice. I cannot think of any other digital tool that may be as helpful to a new church plant as this one. When you start with Google Voice, the first thing you do is pick a phone number…a local phone number…a real phone number…like the kind with an area code and 7 other digits. You can even search for available numbers that you like. If you want your number to be (555) the-vine (555-843-8463) you can search for that. Of course, it isn’t that easy to get what you want. They have to buy a block of numbers like any other company, and someone might already have that number, so be patient. It took me a couple hours to decide on mine.
After you pick your number, it is live and real. Anyone can call it from that point on, and yes, it is free. I am not going to go on and on about all of the myriad and incredible bells and whistles that this offers, other than to say that some of them are things that most people didn’t even know were technically possible. But those aren’t within the scope of this post. We are interested right now in how this changes the picture we have painted above. So, let’s retell it after the point where the church has set up the Google Voice number as their main number. In this illustration, their Google number has been associated in the Google control panel to the pastor’s cell phone, home phone, the pastors wife’s cell phone, and one of their main lay-leaders cell phones. Let’s see what happens now, to a fictitious church plant:
Annie calls First Church to ask some questions about their church. When she dials the number, it simultaneously rings Pastor Bill’s cell and home phones, his wife’s cell, and the cell of the lay leader. Bill is busy, as is his wife, but the lay leader isn’t. He looks at his caller ID, and sees that it is someone calling the Google number. He answers and hears an announcement saying it is Annie. He presses 1 to talk to Annie.
“First Church, this is Ed. How may I help you today?
“Hi, I’m Annie, and…”
If no one had been available at all, Annie’s message would have been recorded, and put on the Google server so that any of the churches leaders could hear it from the online account, or accessed from a phone, the same way all voice mail is done.” A transcribed text message would then be sent out by the system (I have this disabled on mine) to all of the cell phones with Annie’s message. Whoever got to it first could return the call.
Ahh, the wonders of Google voice. Try calling mine right now.