10Q with Jeff Hook of Fellowship Technologies

Kent Shaffer —  July 16, 2008

Jeff Hook is the CEO of Fellowship Technologies, a company specializing in web-based church management software called Fellowship One.

ABOUT FELLOWSHIP TECHNOLOGIES

Year Began: 2004
Active Clients: 850
Staff: 65

Originally, the Fellowship One church management software was developed for Fellowship Church (Grapevine, TX). Now, it is currently used by 32 of the top 100 largest churches in America.

10Q WITH JEFF HOOK

1Q = What is a church management system (CMS)?

At a basic level, church management systems help churches track information about their congregations.

Traditional church management systems were primarily simple databases of attendees/members for tracking addresses and giving records. From that, modern solutions have evolved to be complete “operating platforms” for churches to not only track vital data about the members of the congregation but to also manage processes more efficiently from outreach and assimilation to event registration and check-in to online giving and group management.

As the capabilities of systems broaden, the church is able to use computers to streamline operations much the same as commercial businesses do.

2Q = What are Fellowship One’s most popular features?

The fact that we are Internet-based is a big advantage over the more traditional solutions. This allows church staff to access the information wherever and whenever they need the data using any computer that has a web-browser. As computing becomes even more mobile through devices like the Apple iPhone, this ubiquitous access will help churches provide better service to their congregation members.

Also, because Fellowship Technologies is a Software as a Service (SaaS), all of the technical heavy lifting (such as backups, upgrades, security, etc.) is performed as part of the monthly service by us. This cuts down on the technical resources the church has to hire and manage. Because we are native to the web, true integration from the database to the church’s website is relatively easy and allows the congregation more convenience in conducting church business like managing online giving, registering for a special activity, submitting questions and inquiries, as well as looking for the right small group to join and submitting a volunteer application.

Functionally, the really big draw for us is our best-of-breed check-in system that provides security for children and real time attendance tracking. This gives the staff a jump on following up on who did not attend a service to make sure they know they were missed. That is somewhat the irony – a church should track attendance not necessarily to know who attended, but who was missing; somewhat counter-intuitive. This personal care and interaction makes a big mega-church seem smaller through better customer service and follow-up.

3Q = Are there any downsides to using church management software?

  1. The biggest issue in using a robust church management system is the amount of information that can be tracked is new for some churches. But without that data, the information is not present and, thus, is not beneficial.
  2. We also see a problem in the discipline of churches in keeping their data relevant and complete.

Irrespective of the specific church management system used, a church needs to have a data strategy that helps determine what the minimum amount of information that will be capture and then how it will be maintained.

4Q = Are there any types of churches who do not work well with a church management system?

All churches need some sort of church management system, even if it is manual. In the United States, every church is required to report to the congregation their individual giving for IRS purposes. Computer systems are made to provide such reporting with ease.

5Q = What does the future hold for Fellowship One?

Fellowship One will continue to improve in both its depth and breadth of functionality.

  1. We will soon release the ability for a church to write its own reports. This is a request from a lot of our customers and will help them get information the way they want it when they want it.
  2. We are also rolling out a complete data warehouse and analytics tool for our flagship customers. This will allow church staff to slice and dice information for decision-support purposes over a set of aggregated time-based data. This will allow churches to make better decisions from real operating data. We think this is a first for the church industry.
  3. Finally, we will be releasing a new “Groups” module that will be the foundation for much of the system going forward. This will improve our ability to support small groups, yet also be foundational for website communications, social networking, and curriculum-based learning.

6Q = What are some well-known churches that use Fellowship One?

  1. Community Bible Church (San Antonio, TX)
  2. Fellowship Church (Grapevine, TX)
  3. Granger Community Church (Granger, IN)
  4. Holy Trinity Brompton (London, England)
  5. Lakewood Church (Houston, TX)
  6. Mariners Church (Irvine, CA)
  7. New Birth Missionary Baptist (Decatur, GA)
  8. New Life Church (Colorado Springs, CO)
  9. NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC)
  10. Prestonwood Baptist Church (Plano, TX)
  11. Victory Christian Center (Oklahoma City, OK)
  12. Victory Christian Center (Tulsa, OK)

7Q = What is the Dynamic Church Conference?

The Dynamic Church Conference is our annual user and developer conference where our community of users comes together for education, training and networking with other users.

Last May, we had approximately 371 church staffers come to Frisco, Texas, to learn how to use Fellowship One to its fullest. Besides just Fellowship One training, we try to expand their thinking with speakers who address where they think the church industry is going and how technology will play a role in the future of church.

8Q = In addition to Fellowship One, are there any other resources that you would recommend for churches who want to be better organized and more efficient?

There are so many good resources out there now that a church staffer can almost get overwhelmed with new ideas. I am a real proponent of a church looking at its own congregation data to help determine how best to improve. Too often, a church is trying what works at other churches instead of examining the facts about themselves. This “cookie cutter approach” fails many times and then the staff gets disheartened.

By looking at the “real” data, churches can better gauge how to serve the people within the congregation, such as asking questions like who is the typical customer, what stage of Christian walk are they in, what “services” do they need (family, marriage, health and healing, stewardship, etc.) and how is the church fulfilling those needs? If the church tries to “copy” what worked somewhere else, they may execute the plan well yet miss the mark entirely because the congregational needs are different.

9Q = I believe studying data can give us valuable insights into trends, problems, and success secrets. In all of your years of helping churches process data, are there any insights and ministry lessons that you have learned?

I definitely agree with your supposition concerning data. Two of the biggest issues in churches today are:

  1. A lack of an overall data strategy (what information to collect when and how to keep it complete and relevant)
  2. A lack of repeatable business processes that result in metrics to determine whether progress is being made

Pertaining to the first point, we see so many churches that have many duplicate or incomplete individual records within their database. Thus, when aggregated for reporting purposes, the numbers are really meaningless. It is the old computer adage: garbage in, garbage out. Sadly, many of the churches do not realize that the quality of their data is poor. Defining a strong data strategy and then having the discipline to follow through on execution would go a long way in providing better information.

To the second point, Dr. Peter Drucker, a business guru and management consultant, is attributed with saying that “you cannot improve anything that you do not measure.” Churches are notorious at tracking attendance and offerings and that’s about it. To improve results, more data points within processes need to be tracked and reported so on-going improvement can be achieved. Repeatable business processes that result in metrics will allow churches to better know whether the results of their investments in certain ministries are actually paying off for the congregant.

10Q = What is the best advice you have for church leaders?

The best advice I have for church leaders is to make change happen. Progress requires change and change requires leadership.

Too often, the administrative personnel (administrative assistants and operations) who run churches are comfortable with status quo. The only way churches are going to improve their ability to support the Christian walk of their congregation and thus grow in quality and quantity is to provide better service in meeting the “life” and “spiritual” needs of the people in the community. This has not been the mindset of the church historically, but in my opinion should be more so going forward.

To be successful, this change must be managed; driven even or the efforts will falter. Many times when we fail at change, we go back doing the same things we always have; however, expecting different results. Some people give that as the definition of insanity.

Be sure to check out Church Relevance’s “10Q” category to read previous 10Q interviews.

Kent Shaffer

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I live in an RV with my wife and 2 kids and work with OpenChurch.com to help Christians collaborate and build a global Church library of free, open content.

4 responses to 10Q with Jeff Hook of Fellowship Technologies

  1. A couple of years ago I ran the operations of a large church in Portland, Oregon. I did my research into ChMS and we ended up going with Fellowship One. That was one of the best business decisions we ever made! F1 made a massive difference with the way we collected and sorted data. Jeff’s company is top-notch in my opinion.

  2. If I’m not mistaken, Lifechurch.tv should have been included in that list of well known churches using F1. I may have heard wrong, but I believe they’re using it.

  3. Dude – I want to know what books these guys are reading – I would even say I want to know that more than anything. In your earlier 10Q interviews you asked people like Groeschel that – but in your most recent interviews like this one, you stopped asking what books they are reading AND what books have most impacted them as people not only as leaders. I want to know who and what they are reading more than anything.

    just some honest feedback.

  4. Good feedback.

    You’re right I should have included that as a question.