The call comes in at 6 p.m., right before dinner. The senior pastor says his laptop has a virus and he can't access his sermon notes. In most churches, this sends the computer experts—those who carry around the latest smartphone and know what an SQL server does—into panic mode. With the right resources—say a backup server that automatically duplicates a laptop hard drive—the pastor can get back on track.
For most churches, Information Technology (IT) is a critical part of ministry. Computers that function correctly, a website that looks professional, and a backup process for sermon notes all help the staff do ministry more effectively, communicate with the congregation, and focus on building relationships. The tough question is not, Do we need IT?, because most everyone agrees computer technology is important. Instead, for most church leaders, the question is this: How do you budget for IT equipment, taking into account what is really important for the ministry?
For many church boards, the process of carving out an IT budget requires patience and a deft understanding of computers, servers, and the related peripherals, such as multi-function printers and copiers.
Scott Miller, the technology director at Watermark Church in Dallas, says a good first step is to assemble a team of IT volunteers and experts. These subject matter experts can even serve as a good resource for completing projects. Miller says seeking wise counsel (according to Proverbs 11:14) is a good approach even with IT equipment, especially when the church staff is starting to think about how to spend resources.
Miller says IT should actually run in direct opposition to the accepted practices in the IT industry, which often emphasize central computer operations and tend to operate in a technology vacuum.
"I believe you should pay attention to the stability of the workstations that people will use every day to do their job," Miller says. "I firmly believe there isn't a Mac vs. PC argument that makes sense in the church anymore. People should be allowed to use whatever platform allows them to run their ministry to its fullest."
For Miller, the next priority for budgets follows this same pattern: providing what the staff need for ministry. He says to focus on file servers and uptime, and to consider a technology called virtualization, which helps churches get more "bang for the buck" by running multiple operating systems on the same hardware server at a significant speed and cost advantage.