Office 365: A Powerful Platform that Enables Ministry, Enhances Stewardship, and Elevates Performance
There are seemingly a thousand and one technology tools available to help you accomplish all the things you need to get done in a typical workday. From communicating with your team, planning and building out projects, creating presentations and visuals, conducting virtual meetings, note-taking, managing email, creating surveys, organizing and handling files, the list goes on and on. The array of available technical tools to solve these problems also feels endless and often creates complexity and confusion. One of our goals at Enable is to help churches eliminate the complexity associated with “tool sprawl.”
Eliminating Tool Sprawl
“Tool sprawl” refers to the situation in which a church staff acquires overlapping, redundant applications, software programs, and various accounts to solve day-to-day operational and ministry tasks. Typically, churches do not use these tools uniformly, and individuals tend to gravitate towards whatever they have found or what has been recommended to them by someone else. When individual staff members and volunteers adopt separate applications individually without the guidance of a more strategic approach, inefficiency, added complexity, and (depending upon the licensing arrangements) wasted money are often the result.
There are many reasons why churches and other organizations find themselves in this condition of “tool sprawl.” It’s not uncommon to hear about the latest, most incredible tool for “xyz activity” and immediately jump on the bandwagon. Or maybe a fellow staff member used a particular app at a previous job and insists that your team use it now. Adding tools without an overarching strategy is very tempting because many apps are easily downloaded and are either free or very inexpensive. While a particular application may individually be beneficial, if the staff and volunteers add such applications constantly, you can quickly find yourself in a complex scenario.
You may find yourself jumping around between many apps, many of which other staff members are not using. This inconsistent use across the staff team can be very frustrating and inefficient. For example, you email a file to a few people. You then hop on the group chat to confirm they received it. Only then do you realize that someone doesn’t have permission to view the file or must log in to a separate app for which they don’t have a login ID or password, or perhaps have forgotten their login information.
The last thing Enable Ministry Partners wants to be is just more noise in the sea of voices touting another tool that you’ve just got to try. Our goal with our church partners is to help them understand the various options and resources available. The great news is that if your church uses Microsoft Office 365 along with your Church Management software, you already have access to all of the communication, collaboration, and productivity tools that you need to enable your ministry operations! The various Microsoft Office 365 tools integrate seamlessly and work together to make communicating & sharing with your team surprisingly easy and pain-free. Effective use of this integrated platform also presents a strong case for responsible stewardship. In even some of the largest and most complex church settings, you will not often need to pay for other tools or applications because, in most cases, the platform you have already purchased contains all the tools you will need.
In this blog post, we have put together a simplified, general guide to discuss various tools that church staffers often use and then compared those tools with the Microsoft 365 tool that does the exact same thing while integrating seamlessly with every other Microsoft 365 tool. Please understand that we do not intend this post to be exhaustive. There are other tools within Microsoft 365 platform and also outside the ecosystem that churches can utilize to enable ministry. We are simply highlighting the benefits of using a robust platform of tools designed to work together, thereby reducing complexity, inefficiency, and cost. We’re also highlighting practical uses of these tools in a church context.
Our goal for this post is twofold: first, after reading this post, you will understand more clearly those tools to which you already have access and might ALREADY be paying for, and second, how you can best use the powerful Microsoft 365 platform to enable ministry.
Do These Headaches Sound Familiar?
In our work with over 350 churches since 2001, we have encountered these “tool overlap” issues in almost every environment. After presenting our technology assessment findings to church staff, they are typically shocked when they learn how many redundant, similar-functioning tools exist in their environments. When they realize the overlap, they also begin to understand some of the technology annoyances that they have been experiencing. For example, you may have a church-provided Office 365 account, but when working on documents and sharing files with your team, you are using your personal Gmail account and Google Drive or Dropbox. While there is nothing wrong with the Google platform and tools (and we have many clients who use and love Google), this can cause frustration with sharing and access permissions for co-staff or volunteers. On top of that, utilizing the Google platform and other non-Google or non-Microsoft 365 apps means that users will have to log in to multiple accounts to share information. The simpler alternative would be to use OneDrive and Sharepoint, the file-sharing tools already built into Microsoft 365.
This issue also often surfaces when collaborating with volunteers, especially for events like VBS (Vacation Bible School) or organizing small groups. Microsoft 365 does a great job of allowing you to collaborate with “guests,” making it a breeze to include volunteers in everything associated with the planning and communication related to ongoing ministry or events.
Another extremely frustrating situation we hear about from our church partners is the constant and inefficient back-and-forth over email. Perhaps it’s a busy week, and maybe you’ve overlooked an important email or file due to an extended conversation in a long and active email chain with multiple parties that really should’ve been conducted in a chat or more immediate and less “noisy” platform. Or perhaps you are speaking at an event or are in charge of Sunday’s sermon PowerPoint slides. Because of all the back and forth between email communications, with many versions of the file flying back and forth, the person responsible may inadvertently load the wrong version of the presentation into the media software. (This scenario happens more frequently than most staff like to admit!) With churches, constant communication exists between staff, volunteers, outside partnerships, and more. Without utilizing the most effective collaboration and communications tools, items can easily get lost and looked over.
Microsoft 365 Tools Vs. Other Apps
Simple and clear communication is essential in any organization, and a church is no different. Beyond face-to-face meetings, vital communication occurs in emails, group texts, project planning apps, virtual meeting apps, note-taking platforms, survey tools, etc. With communication options, you name it—it’s out there. Wouldn’t it be great if all these things could exist together under one roof? Well, with Microsoft 365, they genuinely do! Microsoft 365 offers a seamless platform for getting your job done efficiently and all in one place. A significant benefit of Microsoft 365 is not having to keep up with 42 different apps and logins just to get through a meeting or share a document!
Check out this simple guide to commonly used tools, their functions, and the Microsoft version that could replace them for you. This guide may help you to begin to eliminate any dreaded tool sprawl you may be experiencing.
While any of the tools listed above in either column may certainly be great on their own, the beauty of the Microsoft 365 platform is that all the tools in the platform work together and integrate seamlessly.
Let’s Break it Down a Little More
Microsoft Teams provides a fantastic and super-efficient way of sharing information within a group or “team” of people! We like to refer to it as a Collaboration Dashboard or a launching pad for working remotely with others. It allows you to arrange your organization into teams based on any criteria you want, e.g., role, project, department, etc. It also provides a powerful video collaboration function for virtual meetings that can replace Zoom or other meeting and video platforms (and their associated costs!). Teams will allow you to scrap the GroupMe or the group text apps that seem to never shut off after hours or that cause issues when you mix Android and iPhone users in one group text!
- Calendar and Outlook integration
- Robust Video and Virtual Meetings
- Capability to incorporate Volunteers/Guests
- File storage and sharing
Check out this Quick-Start Guide to MS Teams and this 25-minute webinar for a solid overview of the main features of Microsoft Teams and how to use it within a church context.
Teams is the best replacement for Zoom, GroupMe, Slack, group texts, and Google Chat
OneNote is a powerful note-taking and note-sharing app. You may have used other apps like Evernote, which works similarly. Microsoft designed OneNote to operate like a notebook with sections and pages. OneNote offers a great way to plan multiple projects, draft ideas, keep lists, record team meeting notes, and much more, especially if you want to share these things with other staff members or volunteers. You can create both personal and shared notebooks. A beneficial feature of OneNote is that you can access your teams’ OneNote’s directly from within the Teams app, making critical information easily accessible for everyone.
- Access to Your Notes from Anywhere
- Automatic Saving of Items
- Ability to Tag Important Notes
- Capability to Organize Information in Tables
- Capacity to Create of Wiki-Style Hyperlinks
- Means to Copy Text From Pictures
- Facilitates the Sharing of Notes With Other People
Check out our Ultimate Guide to OneNote here!
OneNote is the best replacement for Evernote and Apple Notes
Planner, Tasks, and To-Do
Planner is a great tool when it comes to planning events and projects. If your church hosts quite a few events, or you are just a details-and-delegations kind of person, you might already be using a similar app like Trello or Monday.com. Planner is already included with your Microsoft 365 subscription and operates as Tasks inside of Teams, making delegation a breeze with events and projects. Planner lets you assign task “cards” to your team and designate the tasks as completed when finished. This process is super pleasing to the eye and creates accountability within a team. Planner allows you to efficiently keep track of everyone’s progress and create realistic timelines and expectations with visibility and accountability.
This linked webinar shows you how to best use Planner, Tasks, and To-Do within Teams in a church setting.
Planner, Tasks, and To-Do is the best replacement for Trello, and Monday.com
OneDrive & SharePoint
While you may not always be able to keep your head in the clouds, you can certainly store things there! Cloud-based file storage is a cost-efficient, safe, and flexible way to manage and maintain your files. The perks of Cloud storage include the capability to access your data from anywhere, at any time, and not having to rely on an antiquated system that only lets you view and work on your documents while connected to a specific network. Because OneDrive and SharePoint are housed within the Microsoft 365 platform, they work seamlessly with the other daily tools you’re using for your work and ministry.
Here are some helpful tips when thinking about OneDrive and SharePoint
- You should think of OneDrive as your storage location for “ME” files or things you are personally working on that are personal to you. You can share these things later when needed, such as a rough draft of an event schedule on which you are working.
- You should think of SharePoint as your storage location for “WE” files or things you need to collaborate on with your team. SharePoint also “lives” inside Teams and makes file sharing within your teams simple and easy.
In this article, you can learn more about the best ways to utilize OneDrive and SharePoint
OneDrive and Sharepoint is the best replacement for Google Drive and Dropbox
Forms is a great tool that allows you to create registrations, surveys, quizzes, etc. Forms is very convenient and efficient. It quickly provides results and sends those results directly to your Outlook email. Forms is more accessible than other applications like Survey Monkey, etc., that require you to log in with a tool-specific password and check results in a separate application. Forms provides your results directly, within the confines of your Microsoft 365 account.
- Easy Exporting
- Fast, Real-Time Results
- Personal Customization
- Ability to create custom Templates
- Direct integration with Other 365 Tools
- Quizzes, Polls, Surveys, Registrations, etc.
Forms is the best replacement for Survey Monkey, JotForm, and Google Forms
With this post, we intend to to give you an initial glimpse into many of the essential tools you have access to within the Microsoft 365 platform. We also touch briefly on how the many 365 capabilities work together. This post is by no means an exhaustive treatment of all that is available either inside or outside the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. You can learn much more in these articles and webinars related to Microsoft 365 Tools. If you want to know more about how you can use Microsoft 365 within your church or organization, please email [email protected]. We have been able to help many people discover just how effective Microsoft 365 can be in organizations of all types and would love to assist you as well.
Download Microsoft’s Quick Start Guides to their other applications for more tips and tricks.