Jim Saul is a computer consultant with The Computer Hero. He helps churches and Christian schools with their IT operations. He lists the following equipment as critical to the IT infrastructure of a church, no matter how big or small:
- A multi-function device (MFD) that can scan, copy, and print documents. He says many churches now act like print shops, producing most of their own literature, much of it in color;
- Membership tracking and donation tracking software, which he says can run locally at the church or "in the cloud" through the web;
- Last, he lists Google Apps (google.com/apps) because features of this service often are available free or at low cost to churches and nonprofits.
Saul also lists overrated IT equipment that churches often needlessly spend money on:
- A dedicated file server, especially in a church with fewer than ten staff members, is often not needed, and usually requires paid IT support since the server is usually just used to authenticate users;
- Ink-jet printers, due to the high cost of ink cartridges and other consumables compared to a MFD.
Weeding out unnecessary gear, and focusing on the mainstays of IT, helps a church fashion the best budget.
"For us, the most important pieces of IT equipment are an Apple XSAN server (for computer access to the network), SIP Router (for voice communication), storage area network (for storage), and disaster recovery storage area network (for business continuity storage)," LifeChurch.tv's Hunter says.
The process of prioritizing IT equipment and ministry needs also requires another kind of investment: time. For many churches, this is where the murkiness comes into play. Volunteers who work in IT often are incredibly busy in their day jobs. Budget prioritization means taking the time to understand ministry needs, tapping resources, and then planning the budget as thoroughly as possible while still focusing on the ministry.
Miller says part of the prioritization process for churches is determining whether a new technology is even valuable, and whether tweaking the network and server for optimal speed is important.
"I think the so-called geeks can get too fired up about the latest and greatest technology," Watermark Church's Miller says. "We have to make sure we are looking at technology as an extension of our mission. Don't buy technology for technology's sake. Secondly, while it might be cool to spend hours ensuring that your speed between desktops to the server is running as fast as technically possible, that extra millisecond of transfer time is probably not killing anyone. Focus on moving your ministry forward. Spend your time thinking outside the box, not dealing with minutia."