Illusory Follies Andrew Flanagan's Blog

12Mar/112

Church Software, First Steps

Trying to do a little brainstorming here for the church software. I did just a little research and found that sure enough there are tons of products out there. The problem I'm seeing is that the interfaces seem a little less than useful and many of them are somewhat pricey. What I'd like is a "roll your own" option for any of these. Don't sell me the service or the product, sell me hosting and management if I can't do it myself.

Some new ideas based on what I found:

Facilities Management: would be nice to add. Isn't really fundamentally different than event planning and scheduling but could provide checklists, reminders, inventory (for consumable products), that sort of thing.

Childcare: Could easily integrate a check-in system for the nursery with all the data that we have.

Background, user meta-information: Useful for programs like Reducing the Risk. Basically, the ability to look at things like when a member has completed some necessary training or certification. Sad that this is needed, but it is.

Financials: After working on the budget committee this year and looking at other software, I believe that this is pretty straightforward. The big deal would be incorporating a tracker for two primary things:

1) Incoming checks and cash. Allow a weekly input where a user's check is recorded (possibly even scanned), the amount is recorded even before it's deposited with the bank. (With newer banks, it might be possible to simply upload check images). It would be very nice if users could check their own contributions online by logging in. Alternatively, any church administrator would have the information available without moving/copying Quickbooks files.

2) Outgoing checks and expense reimbursements. At least at our church we have a fairly small amount of accounts for expense tracking -- this would be easy to import and manage. Granted, this information wouldn't be available immediately in a full-fledged piece of software like Quickbooks, but what we need week-to-week and month-to-month would be adequate. Would provide immediate feedback to accountable parties for expenses that are being made rather than waiting for an end-of-month report.

3) Both of the above lead to budget tracking. With each account, if we have a weekly, monthly, or yearly budget, we can easily track actuals against budgeted amounts.

Anyway -- this is all well and good. It definitely, hugely increases the scope of work.

As a first step, I'm looking at trying to start with

1) Authentication system

2) User management

3) Scheduling system (rotating assignments with exceptions, email reminders, rescheduling/adjusting by admin only)

For our church, this is the most critical need. I'm going to be working on some models and some basic system requirements and we'll see how far I get. There's nothing there yet, but I've set up a new website here: http://steepleproject.org/ The plan will be to start formal documentation there, code repositories, etc.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please leave a comment!

2Apr/100

To Christ on Golgotha

We're singing this piece for the Good Friday service tonight and I couldn't find the music online for it. It's a nice piece -- I hope it gets more attention. This is from the Zions Harfe (Zion's Harp) hymnal used by the Apostolic Christian Church.

An MP3 version of the MIDI file:

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Update: Our actual performance (just verse 3):

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To Christ on Golgotha (MIDI file -- please redistribute this!)

To Christ on Golgotha,
My spirit fain would go
To Ponder on His words
and His exceeding woe.

What pain unspeakable,
in this great cry we see
"My God, My God, oh why
hast thou forsaken me?"

No Vengeance in His heart,
I hear Him plead, anew,
"Dear Father, pray forgive;
they know not what they do."

His mother weepeth sore,
He comforteth her now;
"Behold in John thy son",
"O John, thy mother know."

"I thirst," He crieth then;
There's no affliction thus,
Which He, the friend of man,
Has not endured for us.

He, "It is finished," cries.
And bows His head, The End,
"Oh Father, to thy hands,
My Spirit I commend."

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10Oct/082

Christ Church, Victoria, B.C.

We saw this church in Victoria, B.C. and it truly was amazing (and I believe God-centered and glorifying in its design). It's a pity that churches are often just like business offices or other "ordinary" places. I guess some would disagree but I think that a return to "great" architecture in church buildings is a wonderful thing. The UMC and some other denominations seems to have gone through a period of uglification in their architecture -- somehow trying to modernize or reinvent something that wasn't in need of an update. People in general seem to be less willing to spend the big bucks on churches than on other things like the poor and the needy. I know other issues can't be ignored, but worshiping God in a place like this seems to really help put things in perspective. Just like the robe, the solemnity of the service, and the order of the liturgy, the architecture seems to be a huge aid in the worship. I'm sure like all things in the Christian life and even those things in worship, it can become an idol but I have a hard time believing it's wasted money or effort. The Temple was a truly glorious place; a feeble attempt at showing the glory that will be revealed in heaven, but a worthy attempt. As Christians we carry out the creation mandate to bring order out of chaos in the world. A building like this that's built not to commemorate its long-standing members, nor to enshrine saints, but to stand as a place of worship -- a place set apart.

I know it's far, far away for our small group (and even a large and prosperous church like the above took over 100 years to get where they are), but I look forward to the beginning of such an effort.

Update: Regarding Dave's comment -- I wasn't very specific about what "like this" I think is good... I think it's architecture that reflects attributes of God and his nature. So yeah -- creative is a good thing but I think that awesome and majestic is important too... Obviously some of these characteristics are a little subjective. I hadn't really thought of it so much but Dave mentions the re-using and revitalizing of buildings; this seems perfectly to reflect the transformative power of God's Kingdom. Thanks Dave. 🙂

6Dec/073

A proper prayer to God?

I just found the following in a local church's bulletin for the prayer of confession:

God of the future, You are coming in power to bring all nations under Your rule. We confess that we have not expected Your kingdom, for we live casual lives, ignoring Your promised judgment. We accept lies as truth, exploit neighbors, abuse the earth, and refuse Your justice and peace. In Your mercy, forgive us. Grant us wisdom to welcome Your way, and to seek things that will endure when Christ comes to judge the world. Amen.

And now, from another church that will remain nameless.

Almighty and all holy Father; we confess ourselves unworthy of Your unspeakable Gift. We have not loved You as we ought; nor have we always been loving to one another; kindhearted, forgiving one another; even as You, for Christ’s sake, have forgiven us. We have lived in selfishness and worldly pride, and the good gifts You have bestowed upon us, we have not used to relieve the burdens of others. Pardon and blot out our offenses, we beg You. O merciful Father, who in compassion for Your sinful children did send Your Son Jesus Christ to be the Saviour of the world: Grant us grace to feel and to lament our share in the evil which made it needful for Him to suffer and to die for our salvation. Help us by self-denial, prayer, and meditation to prepare our hearts for deeper penitence and a better life. And give us a true longing to be free from sin, through the deliverance wrought by Jesus Christ our only Redeemer. Amen.

One mentions redemption and the other doesn't. It's very weird to me. The first excerpt is a little mystical as to why we bother to obey and why what we've done is wrong (other than it's not part of His "way"). It seems that the author(s) of the first prayer seems to think that we should be on the winning side when Christ comes again. The second seems personal -- a real offense has taken place, a real sacrifice to appease the wrong has been offered, and a real act of reconciliation has been brokered.

I'm obviously extremely biased to the second, but I do think that the above shows how the mainstream church in America has become "drained of its blood". It's not that it's wrong, but just incomplete. Could moves like this, be one of the reasons that the mainstream church is falling in membership and attendance, and lacking purpose? The odd thing about all this is that it probably was designed to make things more palatable to visitors. But really what it's doing is watering-down the Christian faith so much that a Buddhist could jump right in and participate without changing any of his beliefs. When something lacks a unique identity, no one will be interested in any depth or for any length of time.