Your church directory is the window to your church’s family life.
How you portray, store, manage, and access your church directory communicates something meaningful to both your church and to church visitors.
Think about it.
If you were visiting a couple with children and asked to see pictures of their kids, their response to your request would say a lot.
Do they have adult kids … but they only have pictures from when they were small?
Are all their pictures hidden in a box somewhere?
Are all their pictures informal—i.e., do they have no portraits of their family?
The way that a family displays and protects its family’s pictures and information communicates something about the diligence, care, and relational status of the family.
The same goes for a church directory.
There are basic principles that should guide how you compose and share your church directory.
By following these principles, you can communicate cherishing, an intimacy, respectfulness, and a professionalism that you might otherwise fail to communicate if you compose your church directory informally and thoughtlessly.
Let’s get right into these important principles so that you can create the kind of church directory that attracts new visitors and excites members to be a part of the church directory.
1. Get as much information as possible for your church directory
Don’t handicap the information in your directory by only gathering the information you’d share publicly, or internally within the church.
Gather as much information as possible.
Get parents’ names, emergency contacts, phone numbers for as many people as possible in the family, favorite bible verse, ministries in which they have been involved, previous churches, etc.
You don’t have to publish all of this information.
In fact, your internal database—church management software—of member information should be far more robust than what you publish in the member directory.
This is important so that in situations that require personalized pastoral care, the pastor can look back on the information in a member’s file—and an entire family’s file—and see what are past data points that can inform his care for them in a new situation.
Again—the church should be judicious about what it publishes. But it should likewise be exhaustive in the information that it seeks to acquire from its members so that it can minister to them most effectively.
2. Digitize your current church directory
You can digitize your church directory in the form of an excel sheet, a church management software, or even a word document.
But you’d be surprised how many churches miss this basic point:
The information in your church directory should be stored on both a physical hard drive and on multiple cloud drives (for safety and security).
You want this information to be extremely secure so that if one machine gets destroyed, the data exists elsewhere.
3. Use the right church management system
You should not simply store member information on an excel sheet.
There are church management software systems that have been developed to sync with the cloud, be exported, house photos, store member information, publish directories, and manage member experience in a far more versatile and dynamic way than the common excel sheet.
Use a tool like this, because sooner than later, every church will be using a church management system.
The only question is whether you want to be an early adopter or a late adopter.
This church management software will be the data source from which you will populate the church directory with data.
4. Define what information will be “public” and “private”
In Tithe.ly ChMS, for example, there is a “Member Directory” feature that allows you to store member data internally.
The Member Directory serves as a place where members can access a predefined list of church members and their contact details in the Member Area.
When setting up a Member Directory, admins can select which people categories or demographics are to be listed, as well as lock down the area to only show members and families connected to a person’s departments or groups. As an extra custom privacy option, individuals can select to hide certain fields in their profile within the My Account area.
Having a Member Directory available in your account can be useful for volunteers wanting to get in contact with different leaders or members within the groups they are a part of, and provides an easy way for getting details of the people they need.
5. Host a members-only photography session every six months
This can be a fun time that benefits both members and church leadership in that it helps to solidify church relationships by capturing moments when families can come together and express their joy for being a part of the church.
Use this time to update current names, numbers, and pictures, if a family so desires.
If your church is growing as it should, every 6 months will be a good frequency at which to update member information.
If you aren’t growing enough for this frequency to be worth it, then you should be researching how to grow your church and then how to display their information internally.
Even if you aren’t growing, a photography session can be a great way to capture member photos that are fun for the church and showcases new members.
6. Frequently host opportunities for people to become members
Some churches only have membership classes once per year.
This is a mistake, in part because you are never certain on how many people you’re missing out because they visited and departed in the year that you didn’t hold a membership class.
You should hold a membership class at least twice per year to capture and codify the involvement and belonging of new church visitors.
Very often, whether new visitors become long-time members has to do with whether there is an opportunity to join and become a part of the church.
If they do become a part of the church, they will stay.
If they feel dispensable and forgettable, they will leave.
Common membership classes communicate to new visitors:
“We want you to stay.”
Twice annual membership classes also give further logistical and theological rationale for hosting twice annual photography sessions for the church.
7. Don’t put children's information on your directory
This is extremely important.
Some churches will put childrens’ first names in an internal directory for the church, but it would be a mistake to publicly publish children’s information—including home phone numbers and addresses—in any kind of public book or website for people to access.
This information should be kept private and internal both for child safety and liability reasons.
Treating this information as sensitive data will communicate to members that you care about child safety and church security, and it will send a message to those without children that the church cares about protecting the data it receives from its members, which builds trust (and therefore engagement) throughout the church.
8. Require a membership sign-in to access your church directory
This is a very simple way to split the “public” and “private” aspects of the directory.
By requiring a member sign-in to access portions of the directory, you require people to go through basic membership screening in order to access a tier of information that other have agreed only to share with members.
By doing this, you can require users to agree to a terms of agreement that commits to not sharing the information with anyone publicly.
Using a secure church management software is the key to ensuring this level of security so that your members feel safe.
Over to you
The church directory can be a great tool to revitalize an excitement about engagement and community in your church.
For an older church, it can make the church feel relevant and alive again.
For a young, growing church, a church directory can add a sense of familial stability and history that makes newcomers feel like they want to be a part of something special.
In either case, the church directory, done right, is a fantastic way to communicate to your congregation that you handle sensitive information with discretion, and yet care about bolstering community engagement by using professional services to both showcase and protect shared data.