Don’t miss out on the 2013 Church IT Network Roundtable Events

Super pumped about how God is using this to connect technology people from all over the country.  Make plans to be there for one or both of these.

From the Church IT Network Page….  More information at

2013 SCHEDULE Unveiled! 

In efforts to move our big National event from Spring to Fall (get away from Easter and Spring break and unpleasant weather in Northern States) we’re having 2 National events next year!

National Spring 2013 event >> 2/27-3/1 in Phoenix, AZ at Christ’s Church of the Valley  Schedule will be a mix of training, workshops, presentations and peer roundtable discussion spread over 3 full days.  And like we started last Spring in Dallas, we’ll have a separate Web/Dev track again so be sure to invite your web/dev peeps!

National Fall 2013 event >> Week of Oct 20th (nailing down exact days still) in Kansas City, KS at Church of the Resurrection  This event will also be a 3 full days of a mix of training, workshops, presentations and peer roundtable discussion.  This event will also kick our web/dev track through the roof by hosting Refresh Cache along side our Church IT Rountable event!  RefreshCache mirrors the DNA of our community so it was a no-brainer to host our 2 events together in 2013.

From the RefreshCache website …
The RefreshCache community is a group of connected web developers and designers from churches, businesses, and non-profits that leverage the power of Church Management Systems. Our purpose is to create an environment driven by innovation, collaboration, sharing, and openness. We seek to empower each other; to share ideas and code, and to shatter the traditional business dependencies on silos and secrecy that plague many ministry organizations today.

We believe that through our God-given talents in design and software engineering, we are in control of our own destinies. With innovation and collaboration, we can give birth to far greater things than a single church IT staff can alone.

More details to follow, but we wanted you all to get this on your calendars NOW!  You’ll want to be at BOTH events if at all possible, so get it in the budget and start convincing your boss now.  We had almost 300 in attendance at our Spring event in Dallas!  Wonder what will happen in 2013? :-)

Starting 2014 our schedule will be a Spring Regional Event (date will change each year based on Easter) followed by a big National Fall Event (late October timeframe).

We’re EXTREMELY pumped to have 2 events next year AND have the location and dates ready for peeps to put on calendars :-)

More info and registration link to follow …

Fall Regional Church IT Network Recap –

At the end of October, a bunch of church IT folks gathered in Edmond Oklahoma for our regional Church IT Network Roundtable.  For those of you who are not familiar, The Church IT Network first began as a series of events called the Church IT Roundtable (CITRT). Today, the CITRT has grown into a network, a peer learning community, of Church and ministry IT people not only across the US, but around the globe.  This year, we had a national roundtable here at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, and multiple regional roundtables scattered around the country.

Our Edmond, Oklahoma host campus was and we were blown away by the way we were hosted.  A special thanks to Mark Burleson and the rest of the team for making the event so awesome.

The night before the event, we ate pizza, had a 4-on-4 Halo tournament, Mario Cart, and Poker.  What we found out is that we have some highly competitive people in church IT (go figure)  We also found out that playing Halo in the global operations center is just about as cool as that sounds.

The next morning, after consuming multiple cups of coffee to wake up from a late night, we started the day with the Livechurch worship team leading us in worship.  Amazing.  Then we had a keynote message delivered by Bobby Gruenewald.  Amazing x 2.  Then we broke into smaller tables to have roundtable discussions about various tech topics, had an amazing lunch, more discussions, a panel discussion on multisite, and wrapped up the day with dinner.

I’ve always said that the roundtable events are the highlight of my year, and this was certainly the case this time around.  I’m thankful not just for what I learn each time I attend, but the relationships that are created or deepened.  The best thing about the church IT network is that I know that I’m not alone.  Whether I’m just having a bad day, or I have a major technical problem that I need help with… I can count on the relationships that have happened because of events like these.  Mark Burleson said it best when he said, “I know that no matter what, there are people in this room that I could call day or night and they would be there for me.”  And he’s exactly right.  And I feel the same way.

If you are looking for ways to connect, check out for more information about our next national roundtable events;  February 2013  in Phoenix, and October 2013 in Kansas City.

As always, if I can help you get connected or serve your church in any way, please let me know.

Have you ever been to a Church IT Network roundtable event?  Leave a comment and let me know what your experience was like, and why it was valuable to you!


The unspoken truth about managing geeks

This is an excerpt from an article in ComputerWorld written by Jeff Elo.  You can find the entire article here.  Lots of things resonated with me in reading this.

It’s all about respect

Few people notice this, but for IT groups respect is the currency of the realm. IT pros do not squander this currency. Those whom they do not believe are worthy of their respect might instead be treated to professional courtesy, a friendly demeanor or the acceptance of authority. Gaining respect is not a matter of being the boss and has nothing to do with being likeable or sociable; whether you talk, eat or smell right; or any measure that isn’t directly related to the work. The amount of respect an IT pro pays someone is a measure of how tolerable that person is when it comes to getting things done, including the elegance and practicality of his solutions and suggestions. IT pros always and without fail, quietly self-organize around those who make the work easier, while shunning those who make the work harder, independent of the organizational chart.

This self-ordering behavior occurs naturally in the IT world because it is populated by people skilled in creative analysis and ordered reasoning. Doctors are a close parallel. The stakes may be higher in medicine, but the work in both fields requires a technical expertise that can’t be faked and a proficiency that can only be measured by qualified peers. I think every good IT pro on the planet idolizes Dr. House (minus the addictions).

While everyone would like to work for a nice person who is always right, IT pros will prefer a jerk who is always right over a nice person who is always wrong. Wrong creates unnecessary work, impossible situations and major failures. Wrong is evil, and it must be defeated. Capacity for technical reasoning trumps all other professional factors, period.

Foundational (bottom-up) respect is not only the largest single determining factor in the success of an IT team, but the most ignored. I believe you can predict success or failure of an IT group simply by assessing the amount of mutual respect within it.

The elements of the stereotypes

Ego — Similar to what good doctors do, IT pros figure out that the proper projection of ego engenders trust and reduces apprehension. Because IT pros’ education does not emphasize how to deal with people, there are always rough edges. Ego, as it plays out in IT, is an essential confidence combined with a not-so-subtle cynicism. It’s not about being right for the sake of being right but being right for the sake of saving a lot of time, effort, money and credibility. IT is a team sport, so being right or wrong impacts other members of the group in non-trivial ways. Unlike in many industries, in IT, colleagues can significantly influence the careers of the entire team. Correctness yields respect, respect builds good teams, and good teams build trust and maintain credibility through a healthy projection of ego. Strong IT groups view correctness as a virtue, and certitude as a delivery method. Meek IT groups, beaten down by inconsistent policies and a lack of structural support, are simply ineffective at driving change and creating efficiencies, getting mowed over by the clients, the management or both at every turn.

The victim mentality — IT pros are sensitive to logic — that’s what you pay them for. When things don’t add up, they are prone to express their opinions on the matter, and the level of response will be proportional to the absurdity of the event. The more things that occur that make no sense, the more cynical IT pros will become. Standard organizational politics often run afoul of this, so IT pros can come to be seen as whiny or as having a victim mentality. Presuming this is a trait that must be disciplined out of them is a huge management mistake. IT pros complain primarily about logic, and primarily to people they respect. If you are dismissive of complaints, fail to recognize an illogical event or behave in deceptive ways, IT pros will likely stop complaining to you. You might mistake this as a behavioral improvement, when it’s actually a show of disrespect. It means you are no longer worth talking to, which leads to insubordination.

Insubordination — This is a tricky one. Good IT pros are not anti-bureaucracy, as many observers think. They are anti-stupidity. The difference is both subjective and subtle. Good IT pros, whether they are expected to or not, have to operate and make decisions with little supervision. So when the rules are loose and logical and supervision is results-oriented, supportive and helpful to the process, IT pros are loyal, open, engaged and downright sociable. Arbitrary or micro-management, illogical decisions, inconsistent policies, the creation of unnecessary work and exclusionary practices will elicit a quiet, subversive, almost vicious attitude from otherwise excellent IT staff. Interestingly, IT groups don’t fall apart in this mode. From the outside, nothing looks to be wrong and the work still gets done. But internally, the IT group, or portions of it, may cut themselves off almost entirely from the intended management structure. They may work on big projects or steer the group entirely from the shadows while diverting the attention of supervisors to lesser topics. They believe they are protecting the organization, as well as their own credibility — and they are often correct.

Credit whoring — IT pros would prefer to make a good decision than to get credit for it. What will make them seek credit is the danger that a member of the group or management who is dangerous to the process might receive the credit for the work instead. That is insulting. If you’ve got a lot of credit whores in your IT group, there are bigger problems causing it.

Antisocial behavior — It’s fair to say that there is a large contingent of IT pros who are socially unskilled. However, this doesn’t mean those IT pros are antisocial. On the whole, they have plenty to say. If you want to get your IT pros more involved, you should deal with the problems laid out above and then train your other staff how to deal with IT. Users need to be reminded a few things, including:

  • IT wants to help me.
  • I should keep an open mind.
  • IT is not my personal tech adviser, nor is my work computer my personal computer.
  • IT people have lives and other interests.

Like anyone else, IT people tend to socialize with people who respect them. They’ll stop going to the company picnic if it becomes an occasion for everyone to list all the computer problems they never bothered to mention before.

How we elicit the stereotypes

What executives often fail to recognize is that every decision made that impacts IT is a technical decision. Not just some of the decisions, and not just the details of the decision, but every decision, bar none.

With IT, you cannot separate the technical aspects from the business aspects. They are one and the same, each constrained by the other and both constrained by creativity. Creativity is the most valuable asset of an IT group, and failing to promote it can cost an organization literally millions of dollars.

Most IT pros support an organization that is not involved with IT. The primary task of any IT group is to teach people how to work. That’s may sound authoritarian, but it’s not. IT’s job at the most fundamental level is to build, maintain and improve frameworks within which to accomplish tasks. You may not view a Web server as a framework to accomplish tasks, but it does automate the processes of advertising, sales, informing and entertaining, all of which would otherwise be done in other ways. IT groups literally teach and reteach the world how to work. That’s the job.

When you understand the mission of IT, it isn’t hard to see why co-workers and supervisors are judged severely according to their abilities to contribute to that process. If someone has to constantly be taught Computers 101 every time a new problem presents itself, he can’t contribute in the most fundamental way. It is one thing to deal with that from a co-worker, but quite another if the people who represent IT to the organization at large aren’t cognizant of how the technology works, can’t communicate it in the manner the IT group needs it communicated, can’t maintain consistency, take credit for the work of the group members, etc. This creates a huge morale problem for the group. Executives expect expert advice from the top IT person, but they have no way of knowing when they aren’t getting it. Therein lies the problem.

IT pros know when this is happening, and they find that it is impossible to draw attention to it. Once their work is impeded by the problem, they will adopt strategies and behaviors that help circumvent the issue. That is not a sustainable state, but how long it takes to deteriorate can be days, months or even years.

How to fix it

So, if you want to have a really happy, healthy and valuable IT group, I recommend one thing: Take an interest. IT pros work their butts off for people they respect, so you need to give them every reason to afford you some.

You can start with the hiring process. When hiring an IT pro, imagine you’re recruiting a doctor. And if you’re hiring a CIO, think of employing a chief of medicine. The chief of medicine should have many qualifications, but first and foremost, he should be a practicing doctor. Who decides if a doctor is a doctor? Other doctors! So, if your IT group isn’t at the table for the hiring process of their bosses and peers, this already does a disservice to the process.

Favor technical competence and leadership skills. Standard managerial processes are nearly useless in an IT group. As I mentioned, if you’ve managed to hire well in the lower ranks of your IT group, the staff already know how to manage things. Unlike in many industries, the fight in most IT groups is in how to get things done, not how to avoid work. IT pros will self-organize, disrupt and subvert in the name of accomplishing work. An over-structured, micro-managing, technically deficient runt, no matter how polished, who’s thrown into the mix for the sake of management will get a response from the professional IT group that’s similar to anyone’s response to a five-year-old tugging his pants leg.

What IT pros want in a manager is a technical sounding board and a source of general direction. Leadership and technical competence are qualities to look for in every member of the team. If you need someone to keep track of where projects are, file paperwork, produce reports and do customer relations, hire some assistants for a lot less money.

When it comes to performance checks, yearly reviews are worthless without a 360-degree assessment. Those things take more time than a simple top-down review, but it is time well spent. If you’ve been paying attention to what I’ve been telling you about how IT groups behave and organize, then you will see your IT group in a whole different light when you read the group’s 360s.

And make sure all your managers are practicing and learning. It is very easy to slip behind the curve in those positions, but just as with doctors, the only way to be relevant is to practice and maintain an expertise. In IT, six months to a year is all that stands between respect and irrelevance.

Finally, executives should have multiple in-points to the IT team. If the IT team is singing out of tune, it is worth investigating the reasons. But you’ll never even know if that’s the case if the only information you receive is from the CIO. Periodically, bring a few key IT brains to the boardroom to observe the problems of the organization at large, even about things outside of the IT world, if only to make use of their exquisitely refined BS detectors. A good IT pro is trained in how to accomplish work; their skills are not necessarily limited to computing. In fact, the best business decision-makers I know are IT people who aren’t even managers.

As I said at the very beginning, it’s all about respect. If you can identify and cultivate those individuals and processes that earn genuine respect from IT pros, you’ll have a great IT team. Taking an honest interest in helping your IT group help you is probably the smartest business move an organization can make. It also makes for happy, completely non-geek-like geeks.

Jeff Ello is a hybrid veteran of the IT and CG industries, currently managing IT for the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University. He can be contacted at

Campfire Feature – Spiritual Formation and the 4Bs.

We believe in discipleship at Watermark.  So much so that once a year, in order to stay a member of our community, each member is asked to complete a 4B Spiritual Assessment.  Our model for spiritual formation is based on our 4 ‘B’s:

  • Believe in Christ
  • Belong to His Body
  • Be Trained in Truth; and,
  • Be Strong in Ministry.

Our assessment is designed to ask each person a number of questions that will help them to stop and evaluate their walk with Christ over the past year.  As we have moved to a more online environment at Watermark the past several years, we’ve had the opportunity to capture this data, report on it, and make strategic decisions based on this data.  For example, we might structure our equipping classes offered, Sunday teaching, even staffing is based on how the body of Christ at Watermark is doing in areas of serving, stewardship, knowledge of truth, community involvement, community effectiveness, etc.

New this year in Campfire, we have been able to provide a personalized growth plan to each person who takes the survey.  We provide them a breakdown across not just the 4 “B”s, but also across 13 “sub-buckets” such as evangelism and apologetics.  In addition, we show them their lowest scoring areas and have nearly three-hundred resources available that we recommend based on how they score.  Once again, what I love most about this functionality in Campfire is that these are fully customized to how we do things.  We can base our results on our values.

For example, my greatest area of growth this past year was Apologetics and Evangelism.

As I view my next steps, I have the option to select the next step, whether that is video to watch, a class to take, a service opportunity, or a book to read (which can be one-click ordered from Amazon).  Selecting any of the growth areas in the left column provides detailed resources in each of the individual areas.  As we prepare for the 2011 Assessment (which is coming and too soon!) we are working on full integration with Arena to automatically notify members of my community group whenever I take a next step.  In addition, we are adding the ability to rate resources and serve up resources based on user and staff reviews.
As part of Campfire, the backend admin tool allows us to easily add, update, and delete opportunities very easily and link them with the appropriate areas of growth.  The thing I like most is that we are integrating into ONE system what used to be completely separate.  There is a lot of power in bringing all of these things together.

Campfire going LIVE at Watermark this weekend.

We have been working for a long time on a new tool for Watermark called “Campfire.”  It’s based on a tool that we are collaboratively creating with Big Bad Collab (@bigbadcollab) that we really are excited about.  This tool is collectively known as “Shadetree” (@getshadetree.) Not only does the tool provide a great user experience for the user, but provides tons of functional tools.

So how is this different from ANY NUMBER of social tools out there for the church?  Well, in a nutshell, this isn’t just a social tool for the church.  In my humble opinion (see also, I’m an idiot sometimes), the church doesn’t need a ton of other social tools.  In many cases we have created “church bubbles” that merely replicate the same functions that can be found in Facebook, YouTube, etc.

What is different about Campfire, is that we have customized our church’s process and integrated them into an online environment that allows our people to better communicate with one another, connect with spiritual growth resources, get updates about ministries they care about, AND take advantage of social tools.  This isn’t an either/or situation… it’s both/and.  The best part in my mind is that this tool is open source.  In other words, we aren’t building this tool to sell to another church.  The vision is, and always has been, to create a set of tools that other churches can take and build upon, then make available to others free of charge.  I’d sing “We’re all in this together” from High School Musical right here… but I’ll spare you the pain.

Over the next several blog posts, I’ll be talking about features and functionality that we think are important.  Understand that these are the things WE (Watermark) think are important. Your church might not value all of these things equally, and that’s just fine… ’cause I love flexibility.

Most of all, I covet your prayers.  We pray the tool helps people better connect and grow to become disciples so that they can go and disciple others who are far from God.  At the end of the day any tool is just a tool.  Pray that we can be faithful in making it available and serving the body well.