Thinking about implementing check-in at your church? This post, written by Ideas to Impact Conference speaker Bill Sanders, is a must-read!
Having become a father for the first-time this past year, I have a new respect for parents who can roll four children out of bed, get them dressed, put them into the car, and arrive at church on time. When considering a new check-in system, you want to keep in mind what parents have already been through on any given Sunday. You want the system to be quick and painless. It is with these parents in mind, that I offer insights into launching Children’s Check-in.
Develop your Plan
A little planning goes a long way. You are rolling out a technology that will directly impact every family in your church. A well thought-out, planned launch improves customer service by keeping things simple and making the new process quick. If, like our church, you’re using The City, I cannot implore you enough; you need to get your City launch team and you information technology teams in the same room with your children’s pastor (and his or her team) to plan it out. Meet routinely as the project moves forward. This is not optional.
- Know your goals. Do you want improved security, shorter lines, quicker pickup times, name tags, face time with parents, comprehensive demographic information, volunteer check-in, a slick new technology, or all of the above? Discuss and prioritize your goals.
- Install the check-in stations appropriately. Observe the children’s area, lobbies, and hallways for a few weekends. See how parents flow through the hallways, open areas, and check-in/out lines. Know what doors they use. Identify the problem areas and potential bottle necks. See in your mind the best location for first-time visitor stations and check-in stations for the regulars. Avoid putting check-in computers in already congested areas.
- Know how many computers you need. Does it take a parent with several wiggly children 30 seconds or 3 three minutes to check in? How long does it take a first-time visitor? What is the longest acceptable time a parent should wait to complete check-in or checkout? Do some math. If you have 100 families and it takes 1 minute to check in, that’s 100 minutes of total check-in time. If you need to move all 100 families thru in a 20-minute period, then you need 5 computers. Here is how I did the math:
(# of Families x Average Check-in Time) / Check-in Time Period (in minutes) = Computers needed
100 families x 1 minute = 100 minutes / 20 minutes available (9:10-9:30) = 5 computers
I highly recommend providing a separate check-in location for first-time visitors that is staffed by a friendly volunteer. A nice touch is providing a second volunteer to walk each new or visiting family to class.
Follow your Plan
It will be tempting to skip steps or cut corners to save time or be less intrusive, especially by not “making” your parents pre-register. But believe me – doing this ahead of time is much better than the alternative: everyone registering on launch day. Even after making pre-registration available for months, our first few weekends were very painful. More than 70% of parents did not pre-register (we didn’t “make” them). The result the first several weekends: 30-45 minute check-in times. Not good. Don’t be rushed and stick to the plan. Take more time if you aren’t seeing the results you expected.
- Identify the right volunteers to help … in advance. Your system needs two types of volunteers: friendly, welcoming greeters and focused techies. The friendly, welcoming volunteers help first-time visitors check-in and walk parents and their children to classrooms. The focused techie people observe what is going on the check-in area and proactively jump in to help parents use the check-in system correctly.
- Have a realistic timeline. You cannot roll out check-in in one weekend. The larger you are, the longer it takes to do properly. A good rule of thumb is 1 computer can pre-register 7-8 families in 30 minutes. Count the number of families with children in your church and develop the timeline accordingly.
- a) Pre-Registration (anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months): Pull parents out of your current check-in lines to pre-register. Do not wait until after service. I guarantee they won’t to do it then. Have knowledgeable volunteers who get down to business and can avoid being distracted by sight seers wanting to chat. Provide your techie volunteers iPads from which to send City invites (parents without accounts), lookup usernames in the admin tool, or send password reset emails.
- b) Launch Weekends (1-2 months): If your church is like ours, people do not attend every weekend. This means you will be helping people get in the system over a period of several weeks to months. Be prepared with the appropriate staffing levels. Have 50% more than you think you are going to need. Recruit and schedule volunteers in advance. Train them ahead of time. Have them all add their own “kids” using the last name test – very easy to find later and delete.
Be Flexible with your Plan
Most important to the development and execution of your check-in plan is to remain flexible. I guarantee this launch will not go as expected. You will need to make changes and adjust not only the timeline, but the work flow. We found out several of the things we wanted to do sounded good in theory, but didn’t fit our work flow after we launched. Here are some examples:
- Have extra volunteers on launch weekend: No matter how diligent you are with pre-registration, you will have parents show up on launch weekend and register for the first time. If you can muster extra computers, I would do that too.
- Add multiple barcodes: In addition to using scanners, we added keypads to allow a parent to add their phone numbers as a barcodes. It gives the parent two check-in options and works wonders when they forget their plastic. It also allows grandma or the nanny to check-in the kids without creating a duplicate child. Fixing duplicates sometimes requires that children are removed from their parents. Doing so, in certain situations, deletes the barcodes. Make sure both parents have at least one assigned.
- Avoid duplicate users: Depending on what type of check-in system you use, you could end up with people who forget their logins or barcodes. Have volunteers watch for people who repeatedly add themselves and their children every week creating multiple offline duplicates. Proactively jump in and ask, “Have you done this already? Ok, let’s see if you have a barcode in the system.” The current duplicate tool was created in response to the over 1,800 duplicates our parents created in the first three months using check-in.
- Balance customer service with security: You may not want to give user admin access to volunteers to fix duplicate children/parents or establish family relationships. So while your check-in volunteer can fix barcodes, they can’t do much else. Do you need a staff member standing by in real-time or can those corrections be made during the week? We opted to go with a staff person for many months to get the situation back under control.
- Volunteer Check-in: Volunteer check-in sounds great in theory, but it may not work for multi-site or really large churches. For one, volunteers have to check-in at an admin station. They can’t do it from the check-in kiosk. With 100 volunteers per service, this wasn’t realistic for us, so we don’t do it.
I hope our experiences are helpful to you as you launch check-in. We love the system and so do our parents. It is quick and easy to use. As with anything, there are changes we would like to see – but we continue to provide enhancement requests to The City and help them beta test new functionality. I encourage you to do the same. The City staff work diligently to digest requests and implement those that truly make The City a better community building tool.
Please feel free to message me on The City Builders site if you have questions.
Bill Sanders is the IT Manager at The City Church in Kirkland, Washington. The City Church is called home by more than 11,000 individuals who attend multiple campuses. In his six years at The City Church, Bill has led the efforts to implement and manage the church social network, The City, as the sole user database, instituted satellite broadcasting and live internet streaming of church services, and directed the day-to-day activities of the Information Technology Department.
Bill is a career systems management expert having served as Senior Analyst for The 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, a consultant to several non-profit organizations, and a consultant to several Fortune 500 companies including Alaska Airlines and Visa. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Northwest University with a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies, Children’s Ministries, and a minor New Testament Greek.