I once attended an educational seminar for pastors and heard Reverend Adam Hamilton speak. He talked about his first “portable” computer; it was a Commodore 64 computer, and calling it portable, while technically correct, was still a stretch by today’s standards. The problem, as he pointed out, was that the church today is not like that old Commodore living in a laptop world but more like a typewriter in a laptop world. While Rev. Hamilton was applying this imagery to the church in a number of ways, it is certainly applicable when it comes to a church’s grasp and use of IT compared to other industries.
In my twenty years of leading churches as an elder in the United Methodist Church, I served congregations ranging from twenty-five to over five hundred people in average worship attendance. And in pretty much every church I served, the IT staff consisted of… me. I was the IT “guy.” This wasn’t because I was bi-vocational, serving as a pastor while also working in the IT world. It was because there was no one else. Do you get techie stuff? Congratulations!
My experience was not unique. As I talked to other pastors, it was a common problem. Church leadership rarely thought to budget for IT and, for many years, never truly saw the need. The pastor covered any IT needs or maybe a volunteer or two who loved technical stuff. In one church I served, there had been a volunteer who was an “expert” with IT who handled it all for the church. The biggest problem there was everything he did only made sense to him. You can imagine how complicated that got for everyone else working in the church. Volunteers are wonderful and absolutely necessary for any church to fulfill its mission, but things get more challenging when it comes to IT.
For the longest time, IT was seen as more of a luxury and an “extra” in churches. Today, no matter how resistant you may be to the technical world, it is integral to ministry, as proven during the pandemic. Many churches were forced to stop meeting in person for weeks and months. “How will we worship if we can’t meet?” became a common question. Suddenly, church leadership began asking questions about cameras and streaming. But before those questions were more foundational ones about computers and networks and more. As churches started to delve into those questions, another important question arose: who will handle all of this?
This brings us back to my previous statements. IT needs often fall to the pastor, office manager, or a church member willing to volunteer. As I mentioned, that person was usually me in the churches I served. Even the more prominent churches had no idea what to do or where to start. In my previous life, I did have some experience in IT matters. I received a certificate in electronics and have worked on control panels and monitors. Through the years, I was always interested in IT-related projects and spent time learning as much as possible. While I was better prepared than most in the church world, there was a limit to my knowledge. Even more, there was a limit on how much time I had to work on IT. After all, I was still expected to be the pastor! But I continued to do my best and ask for help from wherever I could find it. Other than the church being able to budget for new IT staff (I wish), there was little that I could do. But that changed in the fall of 2022 under some unique circumstances.
After over twenty years of leading churches, I made a life change. My wife and I were soon to be empty nesters. With that change in the family, we decided to make some significant life changes. I still had a heart for churches, but I also had been building up my skills in the world of IT. One day, I was looking at some job postings and came across an opening for a position with ACS Technologies working in their Managed Service Provider division, Higher Ground. The job sounded like the perfect opportunity for me because I could share with other pastors and church leaders that help is available.
What Is A Managed Service Provider?
An MSP (Managed Service Provider) is a third-party company that remotely manages a church’s information technology (IT) infrastructure, end-user systems, and network security. While I was somewhat familiar with the concept, I assumed that companies like this were only for large organizations with complex environments and big budgets. I was stunned to learn that MSPs could also be an answer for churches, regardless of their size. That is precisely what Higher Ground is all about helping churches manage their IT needs. Higher Ground brings an expertise that just doesn’t exist in most churches and for a cost far less than I would have thought.
Spoiler alert: I did get the job and now serve as the Adoption and Integration Lead for Managed Services. While I’m not serving in pastoral ministry anymore, I still get to work with churches and work for a company that has a heart for churches and their mission. But even before I was hired, I started sharing what I had learned with colleagues in ministry. Overwhelmingly, the response I got was something like “We’re not a large enough church” or “We can’t budget for that sort of thing.” They were surprised by just how attainable it is. In my time with Higher Ground, I have seen firsthand how much help (and relief) our team can be to churches. My only regret is that I didn’t know sooner.
There is no ignoring the importance of having a proper IT environment in the world today, not just in churches. With the complexity of computer systems and networking and the ever-increasing cybersecurity threats that are VERY real, properly configured and maintained IT is essential. So, if you are like I was and struggled for many years to meet the IT needs of a church, I want to leave you with this: There is help for churches of any size, with any budget.