Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Open Source Church

Many churches have been undergoing budget cuts, both due to and prior to the US economic crisis. Like I have said in the past, though economic crises can be quite difficult, they present us with the opportunity to look at our efficiency - something that we rarely do when all is going well. The same thing occurs when we go through a personal or spiritual crisis: we find that we need to reassess our lives to cut out some of the things in our lives that keep us away from God.

That being said, there is one area that many churches are very weak on: technology. Many churches are lacking in their adoption of technology, lacking in their knowledge of technology, or all of the above. In this article, I would like to address the latter deficiency: churches lacking the knowledge of what technology is out there. Let's primarily address software.

Let's assume that you are starting a new church plant. (This makes me think of my good friends, John and Kristia Wickstrom - hopefully you get your opportunity someday!) What do you need (or greatly want) for your new church?

Let's list some items:
  1. Computers for your staff
  2. Printers
  3. Computer network (remote printing, wireless access, file sharing)
  4. Phone system (with call forwarding, voicemail, etc.)
  5. Productivity software (Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)
  6. Website
  7. General Ledger (software to manage expenses, tax exemptions, budget, etc)
I'm sure that this is not an all-inclusive list, but it's a start. Add comments to this post if you have any additions.

When you look at the list above, you're prone to gawk. "How are we supposed to afford all of this?" you may ask. More importantly, you might ask, "How much of our congregation's tithes and offerings have to go toward technology? I would rather be using the money towards ministry and missions!" If you asked that second question, I want to say "Thank you!" because you're concerned about being a good steward of God's gifts. And also, because you're ready for my solution. Let's take the items above and talk about how you can save money.

If you were purchasing computers, where would you go? What software would you get? Assuming you aren't interested in Macs, many of you would look to purchase computers from HP or Dell (possibly even purchasing them from a store like Best Buy). You're most likely paying too much! If you know anyone who can build computers, you could save yourself a lot of money. One great place to buy cheap components (and monitors!) is New Egg. Hardware is a bit out of the scope of this article, but I wanted to provide an alternative.

What about software? Surely, you need to buy Microsoft Windows and other software like Microsoft Office, right? We'll discuss these in the next section.

Before you spend thousands of dollars on vendor licenses, please research the alternatives out there. Have you heard of the term "free and open source software (FOSS)" before? Not only is this software free to download and use, you can also make changes to the code or find plug-ins to the software to make it work better.

Operating System. Instead of buying a Microsoft Windows operating system, take a look at Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a completely free Linux operating system that is relatively simple to use, once configured. Linux can seem intimidating at first, but Ubuntu is an operating system that behaves very similarly to Windows or Mac OSX. The other nicety about Ubuntu is that it offers a TON of free software that you can install with the click of a button.

Even if you decide to buy Windows, you can still save money on free software.

Microsoft Office? No thanks. Surely you can't live without Office, right? Check out OpenOffice. OpenOffice has MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint alternatives that work very similarly to its Microsoft counterparts and is fully compatible.

Internet. Please stop using Internet Explorer, and take a look at Mozilla Firefox.

Email. Mozilla Thunderbird is a great alternative to Microsoft Outlook. It only lacks a calendar.

Most churches nowadays have websites, and a good website better reflects the nature of the church. However, it can be difficult for non-programmers to design a website. Instead of buying a program like Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage, take a look at the following Content Management Systems:
These content management systems not only allow you to quickly (and cheaply) create a website, they also have built in "file versioning" like Microsoft Sharepoint that keep a record of revisions to a file.

Pair up those tools with a web hosting solution that costs you less than $10 a month. Here are a couple of examples.
Image Editing
Before running to Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.) right away, take the time to see if any of these open source alternatives would meet your need.
  • The GIMP (covers a lot of features in Photoshop)
  • Inkscape (covers a lot of features in Illustrator)
If you're really technical and want to create a IP phone network, check out Asterisk. Pair it up with Vonage, and you could have an phone network that allows you to internally connect around 10 phones with only purchasing 2-3 outside lines!

For more advice on deciding whether you can go all open source, check out this website: Also, check out Wikipedia for a big list of free software.

Needless to say, FOSS software could save churches a lot of money. There is pretty much an open source program for every need a church has - it's just a matter of identifying it and working to incorporate it into your staff's daily life. With a little research and a couple of people in your church with the gift of technophilia, your church can save a lot of money that can be used in ministry.

Spread the word so that the Church can be a part of this technical reformation. The next step is the open source sermon!

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