Church calendars are the bane of my existence.
Okay, that’s not exactly true. Certainly there are worse things in life than trying to keep a coordinated church calendar that is accessible to all, but not too accessible. I suppose liver is worse than dealing with the calendar, but the fact remains for me that trying to keep everyone on board with what is happening in our church has its moments of frustration.
I think it’s harder in many ways for those of us in medium to smaller size churches, for we often don’t have full time office help. Now, in case she ever reads this, let me say that my part-time office manager does the work of ten people in the few hours that we have her, and if I had her full time I could give up worrying about the calendar at all. However, for all sorts of reasons that isn’t the case, and so we have to do the calendar dance to ensure that everything that needs to be added or deleted is dealt with.
For a bunch of years we functioned like many churches, with the paper calendar on the wall. This had the advantage of being easily visible in the office, and was accessible to many. The problem was that our office is a public space, and it was accessible to too many people, so that things would get added to the calendar without either the office manager or I knowing it, and we would run into coordination issues (double bookings, etc.). The other problem for me is that I am a bit lazy, and whenever someone called in to ask about something on the calendar I would have to get up, walk to the other office, take the calendar off the wall, find a pencil, and make the change. Being the technopastor I know that there had to be a better way. Given modern technology, there had to be a way to move our calendar to the computer.
The solution for many is to invest in Exchange Server technology and to use Microsoft Outlook for this. This works fairly well, but there is a bit of expense involved and it requires someone with some knowledge of servers to setup and maintain. Being a small operation, we handled all our networking on a peer-to-peer basis, and really didn’t want to go through the hassle of setting up Outlook for our needs.
The other problem with Outlook is the need by many of us to maintain multiple calendars simultaneously. In example, I need to have events from the official church calendar included on my personal calendar, but there are other things (pastoral appointments, etc.) that I didn’t want to share publically. Likewise, I also wanted to maintain a separate calendar for family events which could be accessed by the wife and kids, but didn’t have all my church and personal appointments on it. What I need is equivalent to a paper calendar with three overlays, which could be added or subtracted as needed. Outlook has the possibility of doing such a thing (especilly the new 2007 version) but at the time we were setting up the church calendar it was pretty much a kludge to do so, so we decided to go another route.
That led us to the internet. There were and continue to be a variety of solutions that handle calendars for individuals and groups, and since we have reliable, always on DSL at the church, using a web based solution allowed us to centralize the calendar in a remote location with the ability to access it where ever we are.
Were I to do it all over again today, I would most likely use Google Calendar for this purpose (www.google.com/calendar). Google Calendar is a free application which is very flexible and does all the things we need it to do. It is simple to use, but has the ability to be upgraded for more complexity through Firefox plugins and Greasemonkey scripts (which will be described in another article). It allows you to create multiple calendars and share items across calendars. It also publishes RSS feeds that folks can subscribe to, as well as offering publically viewable calendars on the web. Pretty much anything you might need to do can be handled through Google Calendar.
At the time we were setting up our system, Google Calendar was much less advanced and didn’t seem like a good option for us. We ended up using a competitor, which also offers a free service called Airset (www.airset.com). I originally chose Airset for two reasons — the ability of this service to use my cell phone to review calendars and send me reminders, and the ability to synchronize their calendar with the Palm TX I used as my personal organizer. One of the limitations of Google Calendar at the time was an inability to sychronize events to other calendars, such as Outlook or the Palm system. That has changed in the time since we selected Airset, but we are pretty standardized at this point and it doesn’t make sense to move to Google.
Currently, I have lost the Palm and moved to carrying a Blackberry Cell phone, which synchronizes with Outlook on my computer. The great thing about Airset is that their synchronization tool also synchs with Outlook, which allows me to transfer events from my personal and church calendars into the cell phone. It would be great if I could lose Outlook entirely and synch directly from Airset to the Blackberry, but they haven’t added that capability yet.
There are several other calendaring services available, most of which seem of offer similar functionality. However, in the end we have found Google Calendar and Airset to be the best options for our congregation.