Font Size » Large | SmallAs both a pastor and an IT (Information Technologist) professional, I love it when my worlds collide. Like me, you too, can leverage technology to help your church carry out its mission and enhance ministry experiences – from the technology that makes your church office run to technologies that improve the experience of your average weekend worshiper. I’ve spent the last decade wrestling down the following questions: How does a church with limited resources find and use affordable technology? How does a church address the challenge of keeping pace with what our (please forgive the term) “consumers” expect? And how does a church deal with the techno-envy that small- and medium-sized churches feel as they look to leading mega-churches with their seemingly mega budgets? In the early to mid 2000s church technology was all over the board. For example, few churches had any technologically-centered approach to collaboration, communication, or resource management. While studying what large churches were doing, I thought it cool that some actually employed IT staff and deployed some level of IT infrastructure. Although it was expensive, a rare few did employ their own on-premise email systems, networking PCs, and a few shared applications. Smaller churches had a much different story. The extent of technology in use at the time consisted mostly of pastors and staff leveraging individual email accounts with AOL, CompuServe, or Yahoo. They may also have had stand-alone software applications for office productivity, accounting, and, if they really splurged, some version of Church Management Software. Nothing very cohesive, let alone collaborative. Precious dollars were needed for ministry, not technology. That would all soon change. In August of 2006, a then young company called Google (ever heard of them?) introduced something called Google Apps for Your Domain. Just a few months later, in October of 2006, Google released its Google Apps for Education. Amazingly, Google made this free to any qualifying non-profit (and, wonderfully, churches qualified). Within the first few weeks of its debut, I had completed an application for our church and received details about how to set up and use my new Google Apps product. Did I mention the free part? Now maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, but let me lay this out. For exactly ZERO dollars, I was able to secure church branded Gmail accounts for our teams, Google Drive for online document storage and collaboration, Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms (think MS Office), Google Sites, Google Calendar (which allowed us to create unlimited shared calendars across the organization), Google Talk (which allowed for instant messaging connecting our team), plus several other features to boot. Essentially, Google gave our church a communication and collaboration IT infrastructure requiring no special staff or IT support to operate, 100 percent free! It only got better for us when Google launched the Apps Marketplace in March of 2010. Suddenly an entire world of technology options opened to us. From there we integrated other free or low-cost tools which we use yet today to help carry out ministry, leveraging the generosity of this mega-technology corporation for the cause of Jesus Christ. That is why today, when I am asked about must-have, easy-to-do technologies churches should leverage for exceptional value, without hesitation my first answer is the newer Google Apps for Non-Profits. That said, tools like Google Apps are just the tip of the iceberg. Free or inexpensive operational technologies are springing up every day. You might be surprised at what your church can afford to have and what your church can’t afford to miss.