10 reasons my church uses Planning Center Online
Last year I started to look for ways of improving the rostering system at my church. With 5 services (at that time) and growing, rostering was becoming a challenge. I began to review a range of different rostering tools to streamline our rostering - you can see the reviews here. In the end, we decided on Planning Center Online (PCO) and haven't looked back. PCO is a tool to enable you to:
- roster people on to serve
- create service schedules (map out what happens when)
- manage the songs you sing and assist musicians as they practice
You can watch the guided tour below, or on the PCO website:
The larger a church gets, the less it can rely on an Excel spreadsheet to manage rosters. It should be noted that PCO takes some time to set-up, and some time to get used to. It's also a shift in how many churches (mine included) do rosters. This presents some challenges that I might explore in another post at a later date. However, taking into consideration all of the features, PCO is a tool that fundamentally makes life easier for service administrators and musicians, and the church as a whole. In no particular order, here's 10 reasons why I recommend Planning Center Online:
1. It makes it easier to find people to serve in specific roles. PCO allows you to create custom properties, and assign these properties to people. For example, the properties 'Bible reading', 'Preaching', 'Pre-Service Prayer', 'Barista' and more are assigned to me. This means that come rostering time, the service administrator can easily see who is available, and with the necessary skills/willingness, to serve in a particular role.
2. It makes it easier to roster people to serve at services. PCO allows you to create templates of services (for example, Saturday night service - Week 1). This enables you to set-up the unchanging elements and order of service, and the number of people required to serve. You can then apply that template to a particular week, and assign people to the roles required, according to the custom properties for each person.
3. It makes it easier for members to indicate when they won’t be at church. When a member logs-in to PCO, they can select ‘block-out dates’ – dates they won’t be at church. This is very helpful when it comes time to prepare the rosters, as the service administrators can easily see that they won’t be available on a particular weekend.
In the past, members could send an email indicating the dates you were unavailable. Come roster time however, it was a fiddly task to cross-check each service each week, against the different dates people were unavailable. Now, if the service administrator tries to roster a member on when they’ve selected block-out dates, a conflict appears (see below), informing them that they're not available.
4. It makes it easier to create a service schedule (run sheet). By simply dragging and dropping, elements within a service can be easily arranged. Move the Bible reading to earlier in the service. Drop songs in. Indicate when prayer will happen. Then, when a member is rostered on to serve, they can see when in the service they are ‘on’ – for example, when they will be praying, giving an announcement, or presenting the kid’s talk. You can indicate how long each element should take too - to ensure that the service doesn't have more elements than time allows. It also makes it easier to print this out as a run sheet, or to give to the person who prepares the slides.
5. It helps musicians to practice and prepare. PCO is a very helpful resource for our music teams. PCO makes it possible for musicians to download the chord charts, sheet music etc., and view videos and audio files for every song we sing at church. Not only can musicians see when they are rostered on, they can see what songs we’re singing at church on these weeks, and access the resources (chord charts, sheet music, etc.) for these songs. This allows our musicians to rehearse in advance (not just in the hours before the service), and to practice new songs from home.
6. It makes it easier to find songs to sing. Not only do musicians have access to songs in advance, so do service administrators. Songs can have custom properties applied (e.g. themes), so you can find songs relevant to the sermon for that week (e.g. resurrection).
7. It makes it easier to remember when you're serving. If you use an electronic calendar (e.g. Outlook or iCal), you can sync the dates you are serving to this calendar. In this way, you can automatically view the dates you are serving on your calendar.
You can also set-up email reminder to be sent out automatically in the days before the service each week, so you can be reminded that you’re reading the Bible this weekend (in case you’d forgotten!).
8. Rostering can be managed by individual ministry leaders. PCO enables individual ministry leaders to manage their own rosters and be updated when people are unavailable to serve. This means that welcome team leaders, or Kids Church coordinators can create their own rosters, and see the availability of people on a given weekend, and how else they might be rostered on to serve. As a church, we’re still getting familiar with PCO and so haven’t set this functionality up yet, but we intend to make it available in the future. 9. It makes it easier to spot the gaps. When people either accept or decline rostered serving (and they can do this easily within an email you send them), you can see this in the plan (and you'll get an email notification too). This makes it easy to see what gaps exist that need filling. The custom properties also means that with two clicks, you can easily ask someone else to do PowerPoint, or sing, or bring morning tea, if the person you originally asked is unavailable.
10. The support is excellent. I don't think I've ever waited more than 12 hours (certainly never more than 24 hours) to receive a response to a question I've had. I can think of very few organisations that take support so seriously. Not only is the email support excellent, but they are constantly improving PCO with new features and improvements constantly being added. It seems that each time I log-in I can do something that I couldn't do before! They provide details on these updates on their blog, and notifications when you log-in.
There are other features that my church doesn't even use - for example Planning Center Live, Music Stand, Facebook integration, Media integration and more! If you don't use it, I recommend you try it out in a free 30-day trial.
I'm also keen to hear what system your uses instead, and what challenges you face with your rostering.