Podcast Episode 48 - New Horizons
What's the latest?
Let's start with the current version release- what's the latest on version 8.4?
We've been at work on the version 8.4 release- it's been in alpha and recently completed beta. It's now available to early adopters, as we're continuing our work from the past few weeks on the upcoming 8.5 version.
8.5 is going to have a few fixes, but we're also including one new feature. Before we talk about the new feature, a word about the bug fixes. It's been interesting to see the bugs that are getting spotted as our community grows and as they're flexing and stretching Rock to new limits, so it's actually encouraging to see some of these reports come in, since it means that more and more of the features of Rock are getting used by churches.
The new feature in 8.5 is going to be the ability to add and edit families within the checkin screens. We've always imagined that this would be a separate app, but we were working with a partner who challenged us to consider this functionality being integrated right into check-in. And it makes sense- this way it's nice that you can have the option for your own system, on whether you want to have that ability, if you want to keep that edit functionality separated in its own app or page, and if you just want to stick with the same old check-in experience. So if you use this new functionality, here's what you need to know: you can add a new child or even a new family, but it's really designed to be volunteer-driven, not really self-service. So look into the functionality as soon as we release it for testing, and get ready to introduce your volunteer teams to the new option.
This is another great example of all the churches we consult with- we love that they're never just trying to drive their own agenda. They are always community-minded and want to make sure that features being added are going to be something that really works for most of the community, and not just their church.
In other news, version 9 is really coming along as well- our asset manager is nearly complete (and even has already been revised to get some new features). Content Components are just about done, and the Spiritual Gifts assessment is down to some User Interface polish work now. Now that we're looking at so many different assessments coming into Rock though, we're working on how to help your staff figure out which assessments they really want to request for various people, help them manage the results, and really use them properly to give a feeling for the person on the other end of the results. Also, as of yesterday, we're happy to say that volunteer scheduling is being actively developed. This is really the last feature we wanted to start developing in version 9, so this is a big landmark. We don't have a solid date for version 9, but we're more than halfway there (and version 8 is even still only in early access), so our rate is continuing to accelerate.
Our next Master Class is being held November 6-8, and there's a little bit of space for a few more people to join. If you're realizing that you still have a little room in your budget that you won't use by the end of the year, this would be a great way to solve two problems at once. And if you've already attended a master class, consider looking around at your own staff internally and see if there's someone else that you might want to send as well. We know you are all busy in your roles, and what we also know is that if you are the only person who can run data views, set up registration, or manage people, that can be a recipe for problems in the future as your staff's needs grow. So send someone else to a Master Class and have someone who can help you approach your workload. Also, remember that Master Class is more than an education, it's also a new set of connections - our classes are always keeping in contact with each other even after the class is over.
Speaking of community, in some parts of the country there is a high concentration of Rock churches, and some of the churches in these regions have come to us and asked us to set up user groups so they can meet from time to time. The reason we try to set those up, is to help give them tools to make sure that the tools and solutions they share in the user groups, also gets out and benefits the community as a whole. Recently one of these user groups got together in the South Carolina area, and they sent a really encouraging note to the core team that we really appreciated. It's fun to know that those churches never would have gotten together in that environment without belonging to the Rock community, because we know that products don't spawn meetings like this; only communities do. So it's great to see evidence of how effective our community is able to be.
And that leads us into the next big event we want to talk about; RX2019. We know that you want to know soon when and where it is, and we'll share that information with you as soon as we have it nailed down. If you're needing to budget right now, our best advice is to consider what it would cost you to go to the farthest part of the US from where you are- that way you can only be pleasantly surprised. But we're working hard on getting that information to you, so stay tuned.
But before then, we have another trip coming up. At the conference we talked about how we wanted to knock down barriers in the Rock community. One of those barriers that we want to help tear down, is where our churches (and Spark itself) can get a new influx of talent coming in who are familiar with Rock. This takes a multi-pronged approach; we need to bring in seasoned professionals, but we also need to bring up a new generation of technical leaders. Some of the people coming out of college now actually are seasoned. So we're working with Christian universities to help develop people studying in these technical fields. One of these universities is Liberty University - they have an excellent IT program as well as strong Christian values, so we feel that many of their graduates would be strong candidates to work at churches. So we are flying out to be at one of their events and give some presentations, lead classes, and be in a recruiting session.
We're already working with some of these students on their capstone projects, and we've been extremely impressed. They're asking questions that we've never even considered, and that excites us. The specific project they're working on is interesting as well; facial recognition in the context of check-in. So they are going out and looking at the landscape of what technologies are available, but they're also looking at the psychology of it (how comfortable church-goers would be using a system like that), as well as the legal aspects of it. Not that we know whether this will be a feature in Rock, but the experience and research is really valuable. Our participation in this project also puts us in a position where we can keep our eyes out for people who may be fits for your ministry, based on what you need. So let us know
if you're looking to hire and we'll see if we can find a fit for you. We assume that most of these students would be looking for positions around May (graduation) but there may be some coming in December as well.
As you're thinking about what your needs are though, we also want to encourage your ministries to think about the needs of the people you want to hire. In many cases, we know that churches can't be competitive with the secular world. And the good news is that in many cases, these graduates are willing to take a "hit" in their salary in order to work in ministry. But you're probably not going to be able to attract them if they're only going to be offered, say, 30% of what they could otherwise make coming out of college. We recommend that you consider them IT Professionals (highly in demand in the corporate world), not just "students". We're not looking for interns for you- we want to match you with people who will be excellent professional-level employees.
Part of this process that has been surprising to us, is that there's really no concept that ministries are recognizing that they need technology. So we're going to be able to introduce (and in some cases, reinforce) that there is a way for them to use their skills and passions in churches. For much of Christian history, the Church was actually the main driving force behind knowledge and scientific discovery, and it's only relatively recently that there seems to be this split. So we want to help take this back and bring more churches to the cutting edge. Some of these students are programmers, some are security specialists, and some are more general IT, but the other thing that we hadn't really considered before, is that some of them are really good project managers. They understand the technology and have a little development experience, but some of these people would really be able to help a church take a holistic view, from process design, to reporting, dashboards, communications, and really take those ideas through.
Finally, we want to give a big "THANK YOU" to the churches who have stepped up to the call in our last podcast, in helping us plan for the end of the year. By all counts, we are experiencing 50-100% growth year over year, and we're trying to keep up with that level of growth. Several churches shared with us when they plan to start contributing to Spark, and at what level, and that lets us move some of our metrics forward. Remember, we are capped by what we can do and plan, by what we hear from you. As you can relate to, there's a lead time when it comes to increasing staff and starting projects, so it's extremely helpful to know ahead of time when those will be coming so we can synchronize our efforts with the funds which will support them.
To current contributors, please take the end of the year time, when you're planning your budgets. Take a look at your weekly attendance and your contribution amount and just check and see if you need to update anything. To churches who can't yet contribute: you are the reason we set up this funding structure, so that you have access to Rock anyway- we are just glad you're in the community! Most churches came from other systems which they had to pay for though - if that's the case at your church and you're not donating (or not donating at the recommended level), please consider taking some of the money you saved when you switched and fund Spark, and fund the churches who can't yet afford to contribute monetarily. Our community only survives and thrives when most of us can be in a giving and receiving position.
On that note, we are excited to share that this month for the first time, we have broken through the 50% mark: about 52% of churches who have told us they're running Rock in production, are now contributing back financially. We are trending in the right direction, and that's great! It's a little sobering that it's still only half of churches who are finding success using Rock are contributing back, but September was one of the highest months this year, in terms of churches who began contributing for the first time, so thank you all for that!
This episode of Rockcast is brought to you by Rock Partner Checkr, a provider of our integrated background checks. Rock Partners are crucial for the support for Spark Development Network and our community.