Managing a multi-site mega-church is no easy feat. But today’s podcast guest, Matt Pugh, IT Director for McLean Bible Church, will guide us through the process of integrating IT and Office 365 to empower church members in conducting their humanitarian activities.
With Teams, let’s explore how technology was leveraged to be a key COVID response tool in mobilizing volunteers and helping the community.
In this episode:
The journey to IT
It was actually a very interesting, strange, weird ride. I went into college, declared computer science, but through the first semester I realized as I looked around the room that these were not my people. I jumped out of computer science, went over to psychology, graduated with a psychology degree. But because there weren’t many jobs available at that time, I did a bunch of part-time temp work and landed as a facilities admin.
At one point in time, all of the IT guys in the company I was working for up and left all at the same time. So during a staff meeting, when they asked who had IT experience, I raised my hand because I’ve always dealt with computers or troubleshooting things at home and that kind of thing. And so I became the sole help desk windows systems admin for this multi-million dollar international company. From there, I went to McLean, then went to work with different ministries until I came back to McLean to be the IT Director.
McLean Bible Church
We’re a multi-site mega church. We’ve got five locations. Attendance fluctuates, but it’s probably about 10,000-11,000 attendees on the weekend. As this COVID-19 thing has happened, our attendance insanely jumped online.
From the tech side, there’s a high level of technical knowledge in the congregation. There’s two of us right now in the team, and I take the brunt of managing our Office 365 environment. My main tasks on top of managing a department of two are creating users, setting security rights, creating teams, adding people and creating private channels, and migrating data from our on-prem data storage to SharePoint libraries.
IT in Church
It depends on the area of the church you’re talking about, but I think our production side does a lot of really amazing cutting-edge stuff. From internal IT area, what we try to do is we try to stay pretty much ahead.
We deal with a lot of people from different backgrounds and skillsets, so we have to approach every situation as a completely different one from the others. Others may not have the skills to use Outlook, or schedule meetings and other stuff because they’ve never had experience working in an office environment, coming out from ministry education. So we approach it differently for the different ministries or different people that we work with.
Office 365 expansion
When I came back, they had already migrated to Office 365 and using Exchange, Word and Excel. It was just a matter of expanding on that usage once I took over. During the time when our staff size shrank, the emphasis on centralized management across all of our systems really increased.
Because I wanted to simplify my job and not be chasing things down all the time, I wanted to manage things easier. We started dealing with our phone system and migrated to Microsoft online PBX. And I think that was the start and one of the bigger factors that helped us move into Teams and collaborative SharePoint infrastructure. It’s been lots of different little steps along the way.
Consumer-based apps vs Office 365
With any IT department, you always find about rogue usage of different software products and you’re constantly having to battle that and try to draw people in. We take the approach of, “I want to convince someone that I’m right”, as opposed to mandating that we’re right. So that’s like, “Hey, this is why it’s a good idea, and this is the way you need to be doing it”. And it makes it different. It makes it more of a psychological expedition as opposed to a technical know-how. My technological know-how on anything, networking infrastructure, all of the nuts and bolts of how everything works is nowhere near up to par of other people, I know. But the psychology of how I am dealing with these people and getting them to use the right thing –I feel like that’s where I do have have a good amount of experience.
Adopting Microsoft Teams
When I first came back, everyone was already in Outlook Exchange. So for the most part, they’d already been trained into that. But bringing in Teams and getting it out there was a priority on our part. The adoption wasn’t necessarily that high because no one really saw the need. They didn’t understand. Teams is a beast. It does a lot of different things, but people don’t understand that because they’re used to seeing an app just do one thing.
So as COVID happened, it was the perfect time to double down and be like, “Hey, we’ve been working on this thing for three years. Now is the time to really lean in. You guys can be working at home and just hit the little green button and call someone and you’re good to go.” From then on, we have been doing all of our staff meetings –that’s close to 130 members –on Teams.
Teams as a key COVID response tool
When we started working from home and thinking about the outreach potential of what the church was going to be taking on to meet the needs of people in the community who have lost jobs, we thought, “How can we help them and how can we equip our staff to keep that communication so we’re not stepping on each other?”
And so we immediately created a COVID response team and then started creating different channels for our outreach endeavors. I also set up a channel that was specifically forwarding emails from our support email and drops directly into the channel. That way, we could see all messages coming in and people can connect easily.
Managing external access for volunteers
Within the team structure, we’ve quickly realized the beauty of private channels. Coming from an angle of, “Okay, we need to set up a team considering the fact that we may end up needing to invite volunteers into this”. We needed to make it open, but it should also be secured for our staff. It goes back to that whole, “You gotta approach everything from individual situations”. The access we give really depends on the level of involvement of a volunteer.
On Teams lifecycle
I tend to live in a world where, when something’s done, something’s done. Like if it’s something we don’t need any more, then we don’t need it. But I can also see where, depending on the situation, we may need to keep stuff up, but that’s why I’m saying most of the Teams we’re making are ministry based. So a team really wouldn’t end. This COVID response team we’ve got is really the only one that I would say is probably timeframe related, but I could see that turning and adapting into something else, even after all this is over.
A lot of the guys in the church IT community have been joking around how this has been some of the busiest time in our career, but it has been the most fun we’ve ever had. Because you’re seeing the light bulbs come on and you’re seeing people get actually really excited about this product that I’ve been trying to push for three years. And it’s really cool.
You get these people going, “Oh, wow. This was awesome. This was so great that we can do these calls and we can post these things.” We will come out of team meetings and someone will be like, “Man, can this chat stay here?” And we’re like, “Yeah, the chat’s there. We had that meeting. The chat is there infinitely.”
When the #ShiftHappened
I think there were two places where the shift occurred. There’s the shift from the mindset in the IT side, but then there’s also the shift on the adoption end. And those are two separate places, especially within the church. Because from doing software implementation and being that change agent that came in and talked to churches, it was always a struggle to get a church to adopt new processes and new software. But it really was looking for that trigger and that catalyst that made our adoption go full scale.
Today’s takeaway from Matt:
“Not everybody comes from the same background, so you have to treat every situation independently from the others.”
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