David Szpunar: Owner, PC Help Services & indeedIT

David's Church Information Technology

March 19th, 2010 at 5:35 am

Church IT Roundtable Recap Spring 2010, Saddleback Church

I attended the national Church IT Roundtable event last week, this time held at Saddleback Church around Los Angeles. I was asked by the editor of IndyGeek.net if I would write up the event and, since my blog is in transition (and somewhat unattended :-) and he asked nicely, I’ve posted the article over there. Here’s an excerpt followed with a link to the full thing:

Last week, listening to my iPhone while traveling home, I heard the first verse of the song Calling All Friends by The Low Stars:

Calling all friends, and people I met on the way down.
Calling all friends, and people I don’t even know.
Calling on high, I wanna believe there’s a way now.
I’m too tired to pretend I don’t wanna be alone, I’m calling all friends.

For those working with Information Technology in churches, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone, trying to figure out what the best technology solutions are (and how to afford them!), how to best support your staff, recruit and manage volunteers, and figure out how to communicate your needs and solutions to leadership and users in ways they understand, go along with, and fund. Most churches have either a volunteer IT staff, a paid staff member who does IT as part of their job, or perhaps one full-time IT position. If you’re really large and fortunate, you may have a small team of two or more to support your environment, creating some camaraderie, but it’s still easy to feel alone, isolated and seldom understood.

Read the rest at IndyGeek.net. (NOTE on Dec. 12, 2011: IndyGeek.net is no longer operational. I am republishing the rest of the original article below, picking up from where I just left off above.)

Fortunately, Jason Powell, the IT Director at Granger Community Church (GCC) in Granger, Indiana felt that way himself several years ago, and decided to do something about it: he started blogging. The online community created by Jason’s blog led him to invite other church IT folks to GCC and have a “roundtable” discussion to see if they could benefit from sharing with each other. This was the first official Church IT Roundtable (CITRT), a term that now encompasses an unofficial group of people, discussions and community that connect from around the US and even the world so no one has to “go it alone.”

Roundtables are generally held a couple of times a year. The most recent Roundtable was held at Saddleback Church in Foothill Ranch, CA on March 10th through 12th. Approximately 75 people from churches around the country (and a small number of vendors) attended.

On Wednesday night, officially the optional “pre-roundtable” dinner, old friends and new ones gathered for some excellent dinner provided by the on-campus foodservices at Saddleback and some even more excellent socialization. Sharing technology and technique are excuses to have a Roundtable, and don’t get me wrong, the both were shared in abundance and the knowledge and experience is invaluable. But the real, just as tangible but less quantifiable, reason to get together is to share life with each other and forge long-lasting friendships with peers who just happen to often have resources they’re willing to share with you at and after the Roundtable. For all the technology, there’s at least a triple dose of inspiration and connection.

Why get together in person? That’s a good question, one that geeks of all stripes would probably ask in a similar situation. After all, technology and the Internet are pretty powerful now. Why not leverage blogs, social media, online chat and streaming video to accomplish everything remotely? Because that already happens, and it’s not enough! Relationships developed online can be good, and even somewhat deep, but it’s not often they are as rich, full and close as ones developed when eating, laughing, sharing and telling stories together around a table or tables. The “roundtable” events often happen around square tables, and the CITRT geeks enjoy pointing out the irony of this fact—however the national Roundtable at Saddleback actually took place around round tables! Additionally, it’s much easier to focus on sharing and developing friendships in an environment removed from daily workflow and life.

That doesn’t mean that the CITRT group foregoes the use of technology! In between Roundtable events, the group does leverage Twitter, Facebook, wikis, blogs, and IRC (Internet Relay Chat, a very old and once more widely used Internet chat protocol where the chat rooms are called “channels”) to communicate regularly, and for those who have met in person it’s that much easier to continue those friendships in between get-togethers when everyone is spread around the country. There’s a social aspect, but every day there are usually multiple technology problems and questions answered by others in the group in the IRC channel, saving those who ask countless hours of their own research, trial, error, and often even the cost of hiring a contractor or outside expert to provide advice and/or solutions.

And that is the focus of the daily Roundtable sessions in California on Thursday. In addition to a daily keynote speaker, there were two Roundtable discussion times on Thursday and one on Friday. Wednesday’s discussion started revolving around how the spiritual life of Church IT staff was affected by working in a church. Generally, a moderator stands up at the front of the room and takes topics from the group, writing them on a whiteboard. That’s how the rest of the sessions worked, but because most geeks would rather talk about technology, the spiritual discussion was a pre-picked starting topic foisted on the three rooms of Roundtable groups at the opening session (with 75 attendees, the sessions are much more manageable and more can participate if they are divided up into groups of around 25 each). After the spiritual discussion, the groups moved on to pick a set of topics ranging from email systems to storage solutions, networking to working with volunteers, and many more. The afternoon session on Thursday was divided up into four groups by type, with infrastructure in one room, management in another, helpdesk and user support in another room, and web design and support in the final, while the Thursday morning Roundtable was an open discussion of any remaining topics.

Attendees are admonished at the beginning: if the topic you have questions about isn’t covered, it’s your fault! Speak up, join the conversation, and participate so everyone can get what they need most from the group. Yes, geeks often are shy and reserved, but it’s much easier to open up with friends. Many in the group are already friends, some have met at prior Roundtable events and some were only friends online until this week, but even for those there for the first time, the pre-existing online friendships created a fast connection.

On Thursday afternoon, an unscheduled visitor stopped by, Pastor Rick Warren, founding pastor at Saddleback Church and author of the bestselling Purpose Driven Life book. For him to take an hour and a half out of his busy schedule to greet everyone individually, give a very insightful talk and stick around for individual pictures was not only unexpected and very welcome, but demonstrated a down-to-earth man with a heart for service and Christian ministry.

Friday morning was opened with a keynote from Scott Smith, CEO of Solerant, a company that was founded to provide IT services and support to churches, although they have corporate clients as well. Solerant has been a long-time supporter of the Roundtable online and in person, and Scott delivered a much-needed message from a CEO’s perspective about how communicating as a technology person to leadership needs to be carefully constructed to provide information that the leaders care about in a context of the things they care about, rather than spewing techno-speak that may very well be correct, but won’t translate into a concrete reason to provide support and resources. Scott focused on how to position projects and requests through high-level descriptions and especially by using stories and analogies that are easy to relate to outside of the geek mindset. Geeks in all fields could benefit from using his tips.

The daytime food and events were just the icing on the cake, as most attendees continued their discussions after dinner, often late into the wee hours of the morning in their hotel rooms, the hotel lobby, and for some, the pool and hot tub! This could range from group discussions to one-on-one or two-on-one teaching or assistance. The knowledge transfer happening at all levels is something most organizations probably wish they could leverage on demand.

It’s an event that’s hard to describe, as much as I’ve attempted here, and a lot of people who might benefit from the event, even if they already participate online, have wondered if it’s worth the time and expense (travel is most of the cost as the registration, including food, has always been under $100 thanks to sponsors who not only bring technology and services to display, but also in most cases participate in the discussions and truly help just like everyone else—the group encourages vendor engineers and technologists to attend and become part of the community, not just sales people!). However, without fail, first-time attendees enthusiastically said at the end that it was indescribably valuable, that they’d forged new and deep friendships, gathered excellent ideas to take home and implement, and that they couldn’t imagine not making this a part of their regular schedule whenever possible. This is my personal feeling after attending all but three Roundtable events since they started, but it was by far a widely shared opinion.

The CITRT main website is currently a wiki located at http://www.citrt.org. The site provides links to participant blogs, Twitter lists, ways to connect to the #citrt IRC channel on the Freenode IRC network, and information and registration information for future in-person Roundtable events around the country as it becomes available (they move often or will break down into multiple regional Roundtables around the country in some cases), along with other information, and allows anyone to easily get involved. And because it’s a wiki, anyone connected to Church IT can request an account and add/update information on their own—just one more way to connect and collaborate! Every church, contrary to what it sometimes feels like, has many similar technology needs and those supporting them are not alone. And sometimes, that makes a big difference.

Also, for more technical notes, Tony Dye posted his excellent rough notes of Day 1 and Day 2, my article is a high-level overview but Tony provides a blow-by-technical-blow of the sessions he was in (and the main ones), even though it’s unedited there’s a ton of useful information there. Worth checking out, thanks for sharing Tony!

October 9th, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Church IT Roundtable Day 2 at Seacoast

I’ve been way to busy having awesome conversations and learning new things here at the Seacoast Fall Church IT Roundtable to actually have time to post much. Instead, the conversations in this Roundtable are hitting Twitter with the tag #citrt! Check it out!

September 1st, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Fall Church IT Roundables: Be there or…don’t see me!

I’ve gotten approval to go to the midwest regional Church IT Roundtable at Granger Community Church (organized by Jason Powell) on September 17th! I always love visiting The Jason, Ed, and now Justin Moore too! (Read about Justin joing the GCC team here, here and here.) And Dean Lisenby‘s going to be there, taking the awesome factor up by a factor of two. My wife may even come with this time (but not to the Roundtable itself)! It’s a party you won’t want to miss. The smaller regional roundtable is great, being smaller than the national one.

Speaking of the national one (wow, what a natural transition! :-) it’s coming up next month! October 8-10 at Seacoast Church. Check out the official website for details. Early bird registration was extended by a month until September 8th, so you can still get in at the cheaper rate! I’m planning on going to this one too and so is my wife, unless plans change at the last minute.

You should go too. See you there!

April 11th, 2008 at 8:31 pm

Post Roundtable and MinistryTECH Thoughts (Spring 2008)

Both MinistryTECH and the Roundtable were, again (for the Roundtable), well worth the trip in more ways than I can express, but since this is a blog I’m sure you expect me to try anyway (I won’t disappoint). There’s always something new and different going on (this time it was some video experimentation and the heavy use of Twitter throughout). This is only the second Church IT Roundtable I’ve been to (the first was last October), and this was only the fourth National Roundtable since Jason Powell kicked it off shortly before I discovered his blog and shortly thereafter started blogging (but missed the second Roundtable in Houston last Spring).

The Roundtable, Now and Again

Each Roundtable ends with a discussion regarding the future direction of the Roundtable. Do we want to continue as-is, or do we want to become more of an official group? Do we want to stay the same size, or try and grow? Do we have a problem at all, and if so, what is it? The general consensus I think, was that we will continue as-is until we discover a problem to solve. We’ll keep inviting people, but it doesn’t matter if they come or not. That’s their problem. I think almost everyone who has been to a Roundtable has had an amazing enough time that they are excited about it and want to share such an amazing experience with others in a similar position who haven’t heard of it, and that’s where the desire to grow comes from. At the same time, the group works well with approximately the number we have (25-75), so why change it?

I agree with both perspectives, how’s that for being on the fence? Until we have a problem, we keep it small but work to make it bigger. We have local Roundtables in our area if we can drum up enough interest among the locals Church IT folks. We work on centralizing and updating the main CITRT website more often to provide some cohesiveness and a single-source-of-information without becoming too structured. We keep hanging out in the #citrt chat room on IRC (connecting online with people we’ve met in person is a tremendous boon, at least to me, and the two complement each other very well), and we keep blogging. It’s worked pretty well so far. A couple of vendors suggested creating more structure, and I think they could end up being very helpful in this area when we get to the point that we want or need to do that! Until then, we’ll stay on what looks like auto-pilot (can you tell I’m writing this in an airport?) but with the usual careful planning and assistance that the “founding partners” have provided behind the scenes with everyone else helping out where willing and able. I think that was the consensus as I heard it, feel free to correct me or provide an alternate view.

One issue that was raised in the final discussion was, “Why keep having a discussion about the group at the end of each Roundtable, does that mean we need to change or people want change?” I think that group introspection and evaluation is a good idea to see what did and didn’t work each time, since each Roundtable is different. We are very “un-group” still, and rather than a core group getting together to review and plan after the event, I think it’s beneficial to have everyone contribute to the process as a part of the meeting. I would call the discussion useful and beneficial, which is why I feel posting the details for anyone to see here is just continuing the same transparency and discussion already started in person. Of course, this is all my understanding mixed with my opinion, so feel free to disagree (comments are welcome although if you care that much, it’s likely you have a blog of your own!).

All in all, I had at least as good a time at this Roundtable as the last, if not better. I love the people and the friendships and the discussions and the shared enjoyment of technology with fellow Christians. Sure, I can read Wired or Network World magazines and see a lot of cool gadgets, but there’s no shared worldview or mission to really connect with, it’s just technology (and often, in the case of Wired, a very atheistic worldview comes through very strongly). With the Roundtable, it’s not just a meeting and it’s not just about technology. It’s an excuse for friendships and relationships (shhh, don’t tell my boss–oh wait, developing relationships is higher on Lakeview’s radar than technology, and getting both at once is quite a nice combination :-)

MinistryTECH

So what about the new MinistryTECH conference? Overall, I think it was a success. In addition to the CITRT group, many of whom were present, MinistryTECH managed to reach a wider audience due to their existing MinistryCOM foot-in-the-door history and an actual marketing budget (apparently there are some benefits to charging $325 instead of $15 to attend, and hosting a vendor exposition hall!). They also were able to attract some well-known people in the Church IT world (such as Terry Storch and Tony Morgan and others) that provided some great information and ideas to re-energize us and provide food for introspection, in addition to the great church tours we were able to take (even though I missed about half while traveling). A side benefit to the conference and the many attendees was the opportunity to mention the Roundtable to people that hadn’t heard of it. We are at least getting seeds planted and the more we can get people involved in the national (and global) Church IT community rather than hanging out by themselves, I think there will be more of a reach for both MinistryTECH and the CITRT in the future.

In Which The Babbling Stops

That just about does it for my thoughts right now. I have a lot of pictures to sort through and upload (in the range of 600-700 raw), and I’ll post them or links to them when I do that. I left my laptop off and did more Twittering than blogging or note-taking this time, but Jason Lee and several others have done an excellent job of posting outlines and summaries of many of the talks and topics, and in many cases speakers have posted their slides for download as well. In addition, a couple of talks were streamed and recorded using the uStream.tv video service thanks to Ian Beyer.

Also, this post was written primary on Sunday, April 6th (the day after the Roundtable) while I was in the Cincinnati airport on my way home, with links added later. So it’s a fresher perspective than I have now, not that I’ve had time to think about it since! Being gone for a while from work means a bit extra waiting when I return :-) Since it’s taken me a while to get this posted, Tony Dye (at least) has already managed to beat me to a lot of this. Check out his posts, and as usual they are very logical and well-considered (he also re-caps each session he attended and all of the Roundtable in posts just prior, check them out too!):

I know others have posted as well, I just haven’t had time to find them all yet!

April 5th, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Spring 2008 Church IT Roundtable Afternoon Live Blog

I’m provided some live updates and coverage on what went on earlier this afternoon here below, live feed, starting at 3 pm Central. I invited Nick Nicholaou to provide content as a panelist as well (this was a last-minute thing, otherwise I would have invited more to participate, CoverItLive supports up to 10 contributors and unlimited live viewers who can leave comments!). Everyone was welcome to submit comments, and there were 11 viewers total while it was live. It’s archived below for your convenience and perusal!

UPDATE on April 7th: I have gone through the entire Live Blog below and spent some time linking to people (the first mention of them) and products as well as cleaning up a few areas where the wording was a bit unclear. Just click Replay below and you can scroll through “blow by blow” notes on the discussion topics from 3 pm to 5 pm!

April 1st, 2008 at 1:09 pm

MinistryTECH and Roundtable canceled due to weather

The recent storms in Oklahoma have gotten so bad and caused so many issues with airport delays and other damage that it appears the MinistryTECH conference and the Church IT Roundtable have been canceled, or at least postponed to the near future. This is unfortunate, but organizer Terrell Sanders was quoted as saying, “It’s disappointing, with all the success that MinistryCOM has enjoyed in recent history, to have to do such at thing with the TECH conference at the last minute. It’s devastating to see all that planning go down the tubes, really.” Jason Powell, the originator of the first Church IT Roundtable and a major participant and organizer in each Roundtable since, was supposed to facilitate the Roundtable this Saturday, but when I talked to him late this morning about the cancelation he seemed to be sad, but his spirits seemed higher than he tried to sound, probably because he was secretly happy about being able to stay home and gorge himself and not have to walk around airports with such a full stomach now that the Church IT Biggest Loser contest is over.

Terrell was concerned that the weather had caused enough disruption with local communications that he has so far been unable to call or email everyone scheduled to attend the conference, and hasn’t been able to get his internet access to work long enough to update the MinistryTECH website with an announcement, and hoped that putting the word out through blogs would be enough to alert everyone.

Hopefully the airlines and hotels will be understanding of the situation created by the weather and refund people’s tickets and reservations, or it may be difficult to afford travel when the events are rescheduled. Unfortunately, airlines are known for making up reasons for not giving refunds in such circumstances, but we’ll see how it turns out in this situation. An alternate idea might be to contact the government and see if they can assist with disaster relief funds, although this might be limited to people attending from organizations without any religious affiliation.

I was really looking forward to attending these events this week, but I guess there’s always the Roundtable this fall to look forward to…as long as there aren’t any hurricanes in the Carolinas this October!

March 3rd, 2008 at 10:51 pm

And with that…I’m registered for MinistryTECH!

With one month left and heeding Tony’s warning that it’s down to the wire, I finally registered for MinistryTECH! I still have to book travel/hotel etc. but at least this takes care of the registration itself. I took care of the Roundtable registration the day it opened, so I’m at opposite ends of the spectrum! If you aren’t registered, I want to see you there so go do so :-) Instead of linking to the Roundtable website, I’m going to leave it as an exercise for you. It’s in many other posts on my blog, at at least one link above, and all over many other blogs I link to, so if you can’t find a link to the upcoming Church IT Roundtable, well, you’re not computer savvy enough to attend, sorry ;-)  (It’s so easy, that you may not be qualified even if you can find it!)

February 28th, 2008 at 1:26 am

Has it been one year already?

No, seriously. Has it been a year? On February 28th, 2007, I made the first post in this blog. From no subscribers to a few (thanks to generous initial links from Jason Powell and Tony Dye) to consistently over 100 (along with thousands of web hits), it’s been quite a year! October of 2007, during and after the Fall 2007 Church IT Roundtable, was the first month I surpassed 100 subscribers. Jason Powell, of course, has recently surpassed 1,000; I seem to track pretty closely at 1/10th his readership, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Besides giving me an outlet to polish my writing–a never-ending process–this blog marked the beginning of the end of isolation for this Church IT guy! Little did I know, until I stumbled upon Jason Powell’s blog in some way I don’t even recall now, that there was a growing group of Church IT-ers getting to know each other online, while remaining somewhat isolated by positions that are generally volunteer or, perhaps most often with the online group, one-man IT department positions that make peers hard to come by on a regular basis. There are certainly exceptions, the churches where Jason Powell, Jason Lee and Clif Guy work included along with others, where churches are large enough to have two, three, or more IT staff, and those churches also tend to lead the way in creating and contributing to the online community (well, Jason Lee’s new to the blogging scene but has certainly started off strong). Do those guys just have the spare time, now that they have staff to do their grunt work, to spend online? (I hope you see the wit behind that fallacy–there are numerous one-man IT shop bloggers and many of the aforementioned IT Directors have bloggers on their staff, among many other reasons my question does not have merit! Arguably, one-man IT shops need the online community more than those with an on-site team!)

But I digress, because my initial question was if this blog has existed for one year already. Because I’m not sure. I managed to, unintentionally, begin this blog one year and one day before a leap year Feb. 29th. So, which is it? The 28th is the anniversary of my first post, but the 29th is the last day of the twelfth month. But don’t worry, I promise I won’t duplicate this post tomorrow, if you promise not to read it! Ironically, outside of Church IT I actually had a blog before Jason Powell (the brief 2002 foray he mentions notwithstanding), who made his first post back on Feb. 19th, 2005 (congrats!), while I started my personal blog just under four months before that, back on November 9th, 2004 (at around 2 am…not far off the time of day this blog started). It was the same day, coincidentally, that Firefox 1.0 was released. My personal blog was going rather strong until May of 2005, when a multi-month quiet period followed my engagement, and I was otherwise occupied. It picked up a little bit after the wedding (not immediately, of course…), and then, right about the time our son was born and I set up a blog just for him…it went completely dead and has thus mostly stayed. This blog is definitely more focused than my personal blog (mostly), and is about stuff I’m passionate about and work with on a daily basis. It’s been a little slower of late, but I’m looking forward to a summer free of most schoolwork where even a long workday can end happily without school deadlines looming that evening or the next. I’m taking a web design class this semester, so while I’m not debuting a new blog theme yet, I may take on the creation (or customization) of something over the summer. That, or I’ll be so fed up with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) by then, it’ll have to wait a bit longer…

Anyway: To the next year of online ChIT! (Hmmm…does that mean all this stuff is ChIT Chat?) And thanks for reading.

February 3rd, 2008 at 9:49 pm

Church IT Roundtable Spring 2008 Registration Now Open

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…(OK, the moment I’ve been waiting for)…Event Registration for the Spring 2008 Church IT Roundtable is Now Open! Announced by Jason Powell, it’s on Saturday, April 5th, the day after the MinistryTECH conference. I’ve registered, but I’m not 100% sure I’m going. But I hope it works out! And hope I see you there. The location:

Crossings Community Church
14600 North Portland
Oklahoma City, OK 73134

Map of Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City

And of course, if you haven’t make sure you check out the official Church IT Roundtable web site.

February 3rd, 2008 at 9:00 am

Trip Planning Made Simple

You still have to actually make your reservations, but a service called TripIt makes it easy to track everything from there on out. Just forward your confirmation emails to [email protected] (no signup necessary) and wait for them to rock your inbox. Well, I haven’t tried it myself yet, but that’s what Joel Spolsky says (approximately), and he’s rarely wrong (and always entertaining). Might be a good way to keep track of your trip to MinistryTECH (April 3-4) and the Spring Church IT Roundtable (April 5); I know I’m going to try it if I end up able to go!