[photo credit: National Geographic]
I needed to pick up a Mother’s Day gift for my wife, so I decided to leave the church office a little early that afternoon. While driving I noticed in my rearview mirror a frightening wall cloud moving in from the southwest. I turned on the radio to hear the weather report and learned that everything I’d left behind me was being hit by a massive tornado. I sped up!
It was May 20, 2013 and an EF5 tornado devastated the city of Moore, Oklahoma. Our church was 3 miles south of the tornado’s path and many of our church members lived in the affected areas. There was no doubt in my mind that people I knew were being directly affected by the Tornado. I felt a growing sense of urgency to figure out who had been affected and how our church could help.
Our church uses Churchteams, a church management system (CMS or ChMS) that made a tremendous difference that day. The first thing we had to do was send out mass emails and texts to everyone in our database. Both of these tasks only took minutes using the Churchteams system. We asked people to begin checking in and sharing any useful information about our church members who may have been affected by the tornado. Immediately there were many responses.
Next we used the software to plot a map showing everyone in our church database who lived in Moore. Again, Churchteams made this easy. We could see every person in our database as a pin on a map. Then we compared our map with one showing the tornado’s path and we knew exactly who to begin focusing on.
The last part of our plan was to send out another mass email and text telling our church what items were needed to help people who had lost their homes. Within the hour the church lobby began to fill up with bottled water, snacks, juice boxes, clothes, toiletries, towels, bedding and air mattresses. Our church quickly became a refugee camp for homeless families and thanks to quick communication we were ready.
That week will forever be etched in my memory because I worked 36 hours straight with no sleep. I’ll always remember how people in our church lost their homes, pets and property. But within the tragedy I witnessed amazing generosity and love poured out to those who needed help. An important part of my memories of that week relate to something that may seem strange: my computer. That’s because it was our web-based church management system that made all the difference in effective communication. Before May 20, 2013 I saw ChMS systems as tools for handling data, tracking financial contributions, checking in children and volunteers and monitoring small group communication. But after May 20, 2013, I saw our church management system as something more: an irreplaceable asset for communication and hands-on ministry.