Organize Your Entire Church In One Place… Really!

Abbie Stancato of Rockin' God's HouseSeveral months ago I was under the insane impression that migrating to a larger church, with a larger pool of talent would make my life easier… Yes I’m stating this out loud – I Was Wrong!

My previous church had the minimal members for a Praise Team. I figured a new church with enough volunteers to run several praise teams would be easier. Matching songs to the talent and getting everyone into a monthly schedule was a nightmare. My predecessor subscribed the church to an online software package called Planning Center Online. The software was only partially utilized. He only installed the praise team members and songs. With so much on my plate switching churches, it was difficult to take the learning curve. They had videos online and a really good support team which had me up and minimally functional in about two weeks. Within those two weeks, I uploaded all my songs from my previous church along with my homemade sheet music.

Even if you use this software, I implore you to read this article so you can get the inside scoop on this software package.

I interviewed Mr. Aaron Stewart, Co-Founder and Product Manager for Planning Center Online, and asked for all the details on this software.

Aaron was a Music Director when he and Planning Center’s owner, Jeff Berg, envisioned the software. They developed it out of necessity, not just from a planted concept.

Aaron stated, “The software was launched in July of 2006. It was primarily geared for our music department. It started from our desire to help our worship team, and church. But we quickly realized it could be something that could help lots of churches. I estimate we have about 1.8 million users from all over the world.

“It was developed to plan everything that was happening in your service, organize your songs, and to schedule your people so they can see all the stuff you have planned. Up until then, people were using email or conversations for scheduling. Planning Center took everything you need to schedule a service, and all those different forms of communication & media, and put them into one place — online.”

This brings me back to my beginnings with the software; once I poorly attempted to organize all my musicians and my vocalist, who I knew so little about at that time, I soon realized I could organize my sound staff. Soon it became obvious to the church staff just how under-utilized this software had become.

Aaron said, “Shortly after initiating Planning Center for my worship teams, I soon realized the software was beginning to trickle out to all the other departments in the church – – ushers, greeters, children’s ministry, parking attendants… That now seems to be a very popular story through all of the churches using our software.”

On the music side, Planning Center has some very cool features. One is the transpose feature. Great for when you want to change the key of a song and allow praise team members to practice with the mp3 in the changed key. It permits you to pitch change the song to different keys without changing the timing of the song.

Planning Center Online just released an agreement with PraiseCharts. Aaron said, “Song Select (Owned by CCLI) usually has one arrangement of a song, but PraiseCharts will give you the sheet music pertaining to many versions of the song, they have a lot more options.”

“Planning Center has recently integrated with iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, Spotify, and YouTube, allowing members to upload, or link to any of their files. Aaron explained why, ”CCLI is a church licensing agency. CCLI recently released a ’Rehearsal License’ which allows everyone on the praise team to legally share audio files, and is only applicable to music which CCLI actually covers (CCLI has agreements with most, but not every Christian Publisher). However, some churches do not want to purchase that license. So in that case they could just use some of our linking features to the songs for their users to buy it.”

“It’s an alternative for a church to have the users pay for the music, instead of the church carrying the CCLI Rehearsal License.”

“If you have the premium level of SongSelect membership, then you can set it to automatically import the sheet music into Planning Center.”

Planning Center has a “Media” section. This is a section I have not used before. Aaron described the media section as, “The Media section is designed for you to upload any file that is not a song, which you want to use more than one time. As an example, churches that have a children’s ministry curriculum that would be useful for Junior High and High School, if they have two different services in Planning Center, rather than upload it to both places, they can make a media item that can be linked to lots of different places.

“Media is much easier to understand than music content. It allows you to upload and preview media, and then schedule it into your service. However, most of the time people are not uploading material so others can download it; it’s usually uploaded so others can preview the information, such as a video, or PowerPoint.”

My current church is using PowerPoint slides for each song. Aaron recommended we upload each PowerPoint directly to the song instead of storing it in Dropbox. Aaron said it would not display an icon, but would display the extension — I think we will!

Planning Center now offers a “Top Songs” section. This is a great way to gauge the songs of your services verses the multitudes of Planning Center Online users. “Those Top Songs are there for the sole purpose of helping other churches,” stated Aaron. “There is no revenue collected, we don’t report it anywhere. We discovered that churches want to see what other churches are doing. They want to know not just what the new popular songs are, but what are other churches doing for Christmas or Easter? We found that other sites which track song information can’t track popularity until after the songs have been scheduled and performed.”

Aaron is correct. Many Music Directors like me prepare their songs a month or many weeks in advance. Planning Center has the ability to “look-out” and preview that information. Therefore, other sites only have the ability to predict, not forecast the songs planned. This offers Planning Center members the ability to gauge their song selections against other churches. Therefore, the Aaron comment about Christmas holds true. By early December you can track against songs scheduled for the season. Please note that this feature only reflects songs registered on CCLI, which have a CCLI license Number.

Aaron Provided Some Tips For Members and Subscribers.

If you peek at the “Songs” section, you will see the “Top Songs” icon in the upper left hand corner. Launch it and look to the “Search” window in the upper right hand corner. Type a search, and it will search for songs that match the title, and the theme. So if you type in the word Christmas, in the left column you will get songs with the word Christmas in the title, and in the right column you will get songs that are about Christmas (themes based upon the CCLI database).

While in Planning Center, type the following letters on the keyboard for shortcuts…

I = Will Add An Item

S = Will Add A Song

H = Will Add A Header

N = Will Add A Note

Mass Emails — Enter into the Matrix section, you can email everyone at once who is scheduled for those services open in the Matrix at the same time. Therefore, load up one month, schedule your people, click on “email these people” in the upper right hand side, and an email will go out to everyone at the same time, sending only one email per person. Even if they’re scheduled for more than one week, they will receive only one email.

Finally, click the help button under your name, type any question and it will search for an answer while offering 175 lessons, which will assist you in learning this new software. Most answers will get answered at the help button.

When I took the learning curve for this software, it was a difficult getting started. However, they’re customer support was VERY helpful and prompt. Once it was running, everyone in the organization became interested in using it to schedule their staff. Mostly because some of the people I would schedule were needed in other areas of the church, and there was no way of me knowing it without each department head using Planning Center. The fee per month is low, and the reduction of aggravation is huge!