The pulpit and the Pentium: how West Angeles Church of God in Christ uses technology to save dollars and souls.
WHEN MOST CHURCHGOERS THINK OF SYMBOLS of divinity, a minister holding a laptop doesn't usually come to mind. But the sight of Pentium-packing preachers may soon be the norm. As some memberships expand into the thousands, churches are developing businesses and increasing their involvement in community development. Church leaders are relying on computers to help ensure that their business and community work saves dollars as well as souls.
If you didn't think the gospel could be spread over cyberspace, think again. The information superhighway may be coming to a parish near you. Just the thought might make more traditional-minded parishioners cringe cringe
intr.v. cringed, cring·ing, cring·es
1. To shrink back, as in fear; cower.
2. To behave in a servile way; fawn.
An act or instance of cringing. , but the truth is, it's already happening. The largest churches in the country are the most likely places for acolytes and gigabytes to come together. Bishop Charles E. Blake Bishop Charles Edward Blake Sr. serves as the Presiding Bishop and Chief Apostle of the Church of God in Christ, a 6 million-member Holiness-Pentecostal denomination. Blake is the fifth Presiding Bishop (seventh leader) of the historically African-American denomination. , the pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ West Angeles Church of God in Christ is a member church of the Protestant denomination of the same name. It is located in Los Angeles, California, USA.
It was founded in the early 1960s and the first sanctuary was located on Adams Boulevard, near Interstate 10 (known locally in Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. , has aggressively moved to incorporate the use of technology in his church. Since 1991, West Angeles has invested nearly $300,000 in computer hardware, software and network systems.
Blake says the investment in cutting-edge technology allows his staff to serve the West Angeles congregation with optimal productivity and efficiency. He felt the choice was simple: Either try the technology, or be overwhelmed by the needs of the nearly 15,000-member congregation and the church's numerous business and community development ventures. "It's poor stewardship not to utilize every form of assistance available in doing the Lord's work," Blake explains. "It's like insisting on riding an oxcart when air-planes are available."
Some West Angeles parishioners have misgivings about having so much of their offerings spent on computers. But Donald Gridiron Jr., the church's chief financial officer and computer systems manager, says the system is needed to service the needs of the congregation.
Last summer, Gridiron and Sam Taylor Jr., West Angeles' computer systems supervisor, upgraded the church's Novell Network A LAN controlled by one of Novell's NetWare operating systems. See NetWare. file server from a 386 microprocessor (CPU CPU
in full central processing unit
Principal component of a digital computer, composed of a control unit, an instruction-decoding unit, and an arithmetic-logic unit. ) to a powerful Pentium system at 60 megahertz One million cycles per second. See MHz.
MegaHertz - (MHz) Millions of cycles per second. The unit of frequency used to measure the clock rate of modern digital logic, including microprocessors. . The random access memory (RAM) and CPUs of most of the desktop computers in the system were also upgraded. Now, 110 full- and part-time staffers operate a sophisticated system of 50 desktop and 15 laptop computers that rivals systems at some midsize companies.
Of course, in many ways, West Angeles is a midsize company. In 1994, the church reported a record $8.1 million in total revenues. The congregation's tithes TITHES, Eng. law. A right to the tenth part of the produce of, lands, the stocks upon lands, and the personal industry of the inhabitants. These tithes are raised for the support of the clergy.
2. and offerings accounted for more than $5.4 million of that amount. But church auxiliary groups, the church bookstore and tuition and fees from the West Angeles Christian Academy also made healthy contributions. In addition, West Angeles owns more than $14 million worth of land and other buildings that it is jointly developing and managing with the West Angeles Community Development Corp. And the church also owns West A Ventures Inc., an independently operated property management firm that provides jobs in the surrounding community of Crenshaw cren·shaw also cran·shaw
A variety of winter melon (Cucumis melo var. inodorus) having a greenish-yellow rind and sweet, usually salmon-pink flesh.
[Origin unknown.] . The record-keeping for all this community outreach is done on the West Angeles computer system.
Since 1991, West Angeles has grown from 8,000 members to nearly 15,000, making it one of the fastest growing churches in the U.S. Many in the congregation are middle class, and there's also an affluent segment, which includes celebrities such as Magic Johnson “Earvin Johnson” redirects here. For the Milwaukee Bucks center, see Ervin Johnson.
Earvin Effay Johnson, Jr. (born August 14, 1959 in Lansing, Michigan), nicknamed Magic and his wife Cookie, choreographer Debbie Allen and her husband Norm Nixon Norman Ellard Nixon (born October 11 1955 in Macon, Georgia, USA) is a retired American professional basketball player for the NBA, who spent ten seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers. , the former NBA NBA
1. National Basketball Association
2. National Boxing Association
NBA (US) n abbr (= National Basketball Association) → Basketball-Dachverband (= star, actor Denzel Washington Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr. (born December 28, 1954) is a two-time Academy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning American actor and director. He has garnered much critical acclaim for his portrayals of several real-life figures, such as Steve Biko, Malcolm X, Rubin "Hurricane" and Los Angeles Police Chief Willie Williams This article is about an executed murderer. For other uses, see Willie Williams (disambiguation).
William James Williams, Jr. (November 9, 1956 – October 25, 2005) was a murderer executed by lethal injection in the U.S. state of Ohio. . Meeting both their needs and the needs of the poorest in the community is no easy feat. The computer system makes that task easier.
Bishop Blake recalls how difficult it was to keep accurate records for tax and business purposes when he assumed leadership of the church 26 years ago. Back then, the church used Flexowriter typewriters/word processors. Using such equipment now is unthinkable. "With close to 15,000 members, the typewriter has become virtually obsolete," says Blake.
The church uses a powerful software package, Integrated Church Management System (ICMS ICMS Imposto Sobre Circulação de Mercadorias e Serviços (Brazilian excise tax)
ICMS International Centre for Mathematical Sciences
ICMS International Committee for Museum Security
ICMS Integrated Customer Management System ), to handle most of its record-keeping. ICMS enabled the accounting department to prepare and mail out more than 50,000 quarterly and year-end statements to members and visitors who contributed to West Angeles in 1994. In addition, another program, Solomon III, generates more than 400 checks each month to pay the church's bills.
The computer system also stores files on each church member. These files contain a short biography, records of church contributions, membership in auxiliaries or church committees and a brief history of consultations with ministers. The built-in fax/modem in Bishop Blake's IBM Think Thomas J. Watson coined the motto Think while managing the sales and advertising departments at the National Cash Register Company, saying "Thought has been the father of every advance since time began. 'I didn't think' has cost the world millions of dollars. Pad laptop allows him easy access to church records from anywhere in the world.
Instead of trying to remember the personal experiences of the entire congregation, Bishop Blake can familiarize himself with the needs of a specific member in minutes simply by calling up the file. And he doesn't have to be physically in the office. The Bishop says this type of flexibility "allows me and the ministerial staff to better serve each individual in our congregation."
Bishop Blake also prepares his sermons on the computer. Using a software program called PC Bible, he can do a computer search for the Bible verses he needs, then integrate them into the sermon he composes on the church's WordPerfect word processing word processing, use of a computer program or a dedicated hardware and software package to write, edit, format, and print a document. Text is most commonly entered using a keyboard similar to a typewriter's, although handwritten input (see pen-based computer) and program. Since PC Bible contains four versions of the scriptures, a concordance concordance /con·cor·dance/ (-kord´ins) in genetics, the occurrence of a given trait in both members of a twin pair.concor´dant
n. , a Bible dictionary, maps of the Holy Lands from various biblical time periods and a number of Bible references, the Bishop can retrieve biblical information much faster than he would by going to hardcover references.
"A new sermon typically took 15 to 20 hours to prepare," says Blake. "Using PC Bible, it now takes 10 to 15 hours."
Many others are benefiting from the church's computer system. Children attending the West Angeles Christian Academy (pre-kindergarten through eighth grade) use educational software on the computers and conduct research. Anyone studying for an associate's degree as·so·ci·ate's degree
An academic degree conferred by a two-year college after the prescribed course of study has been successfully completed. at West Angeles Bible College A Bible college is an institution of higher education in which the course of study specializes in biblical studies. This curriculum differs from the focus on academic programs of Christian liberal arts colleges or research universities, which may include, but are not limited to, can also use the church's computers. The church runs The West Angeles Literacy Empowerment Team, the largest literacy program in Los Angeles. About 90 certified teachers use the church's computers to teach programs that include computer applications and clerical training, English as a second language and business and critical skills in preparation for employment. And important records from the church's community counseling Community counseling is a generic term for any kind of professional counseling that occurs outside a hospital setting. center are also kept on computer.
There are financial benefits to the computer system as well. The church has spent $300,000 on its current system, but it expects to save much more than that over time. Like Bishop Blake, key staff members can use a modem to access files from anywhere. Untold dollars are saved every year because being absent no longer means being unproductive. Employees can now complete important work from home. Using e-mail has reduced paper use for internal memos, and sending and receiving faxes via computer has cut the cost of fax paper.
The church saves thousands of dollars producing its own annual reports, letterhead, Bible lesson manuals, church bulletins and other documents. Jeani Ruff, the church desktop publishing desktop publishing, system for producing printed materials that consists of a personal computer or computer workstation, a high-resolution printer (usually a laser printer), and a computer program that allows the user to select from a variety of type fonts and sizes, expert, estimates it would cost West Angeles $3,500 a week to have each of its weekly bulletins produced by outside sources.
The West Angeles staff also saves an average of $30,000 in consulting fees each year because they have the expertise and computer hardware to do the job themselves. For the church's annual business meeting, church members prepared a multimedia presentation featuring pictures and the architectural designs of West Angeles' planned 5,500-seat facility.
But before churches plunge into purchasing a high-tech system, Sam Taylor, the church's computer systems supervisor, cautions that all the savings and conveniences do not come without a price. West Angeles spends as much as an additional $35,000 on computer training each year. Without a highly trained staff, the technology is useless. Taylor also says that you must always be prepared to upgrade, which can cost thousands of dollars.
The existing computer system and discussions about future advancements, such as establishing Internet connections and videoconferencing for the surrounding community, may be trying the patience of some parishioners. A source who requested anonymity revealed that there are some who resent Bishop Blake's progressive style. They reason that a church is not a corporation; some even perceive West Angeles' large investment in technology as a form of showboating.
"The Bishop is trying to appease the Hollywood sinners," said the source.
Most parishioners, however, feel the positives of the system outweigh any negatives. Many in the congregation see the church's quarterly statements, for example, as a real plus.
"I love the quarterly statements. It's a tremendous benefit to have those records available to back up my tax forms," says Annette Robbins. Robbins also points out that if there are mistakes, "now they're corrected more quickly. We don't have to wait until the year ends."
Restricted or confined to home, as of an invalid. parishioners say the increased mailings are helpful in keeping them up-to-date. And if you miss a particularly inspiring service, you can now catch it on videotape.
Bishop Blake maintains that in order for a church to be the best available resource for its membership, it should purchase a computer system that can meet the congregation's current needs and that has the capability to grow as the church grows. "Keep in mind," says Blake, "that technology can serve as a means to a spiritual end."
RELATED ARTICLE: SETTING UP YOUR COMPUTER SYSTEM
Sam Taylor, the computer systems supervisor at West Angeles Church of God in Christ, says most churches with memberships in the thousands require computerized systems for organization and record-keeping. Keeping track of parishioners' addresses, phone numbers, occupations, interests, birth dates and contributions is nearly impossible without one.
These are his suggestions for ministers considering purchasing a system:
1. Brainstorm with pastors and church managers to determine what you want the computer system to do.
2. Talk to a computer systems professional to determine what is possible and what isn't.
3. Remember that your needs will change over time. Purchase systems that are more advanced than what you need now. Don't try to make do with cheaper, less powerful systems.
4. Purchase brand-name equipment. It is generally more reliable and comes with a service warranty.
5. Arrange basic computer training for everyone on the software applications they will be using.
6. Plan to hire an in-house computer systems expert to keep your system upgraded and your consultant costs low.
Call the following organizations for the phone number of the chapter in your area that can assist you further: Black Data Processing Associates See BDPA.
(body) Black Data Processing Associates - (BDPA) A non-profit professional association, founded in 1975 to promote positive influence in the information technology (IT) industry and how it affects African Americans. phone: 202-775-4301; Independent Computer Consultants Association phone: 800-774-4222.
For those who are more ambitious, the following books can help:
* Building Local Area Networks (third edition) by Patrick H. Corrigan; M&T Books, $39.95 phone: 800-488-5233.
* LAN (Local Area Network) A communications network that serves users within a confined geographical area. The "clients" are the user's workstations typically running Windows, although Mac and Linux clients are also used. Operating Systems Operating systems can be categorized by technology, ownership, licensing, working state, usage, and by many other characteristics. In practice, many of these groupings may overlap. by Rita Lewis; New Riders Publishing, $39.95 phone: 800-428-5331.
* Handbook of LAN Technology (second edition) edited by Paul J. Fortier, Intertext Publications/McGraw-Hill, $74.50 phone: 800-722-4726.
* MacWorld Networking Bible (second edition) by Dave Kosiur and Joel M. Synder; IDG IDG International Data Group
IDG Integrated Drive Generator
IDG Installation Design Guide
IDG Internet Discussion Group
IDG Inset Dielectric Guide
IDG International Dangerous Goods (mail, shipping) Books Worldwide Inc., $29.95 phone: 800-434-3422.
FOR CHURCHES INTERESTED IN SOFTWARE:
* Integrated Church Management System by Omega C.G. Ltd., Lombard, Ill. phone: 800-443-3481.
* Solomon III by Solomon Software, Finlay, Ohio. phone: 800-879-0444.
* PC Bible by Biblesoft, Seattle, Wash. phone: 800-877-0778.