As the first decade of the new millennium ends, churches are facing the challenges of a lingering economic recession, the decline of the family and, in some areas, declining membership. With millions of members in the U.S. alone, what can the many Protestant denominations do to tackle the issues?
One company's mission is to assist the churches in overcoming many of the obstacles it faces today. AmericanChurch, Inc., (ACI) has been working with churches and non-profit organizations for nearly a century to solve the concerns of the faithful so the church can remain a vital part of church life and community strength. This Midwest company has weathered many changes to become one of the largest providers of innovative solutions designed to enhance giving, improve communication and create vibrant church communities.
Because ACI product and service offerings combine the use of technology with envelope and communications programs, small and large churches are able to adapt them to their specific needs.
According to Terry Poplava, ACI director of marketing and sales, the sales and customer service staff are in touch with what churches and their leadership need to be successful. "We work closely with our customers to make sure the products and services we develop and implement can be truly useful in overcoming challenges," he explains.
Contributions and communications
Any message is important, but it must be received to make an impact. ACI excels at helping churches stay in touch with members. In addition to annual boxed set envelopes, ACI offers a mailing program that enables church leaders to reach out on a regular schedule. These mailings serve as an excellent communication tool, while adding a personal touch when used to invite and welcome members to upcoming events, services or activities.
Everyone agrees that it's difficult to ask for financial support in demanding economic times. However, Bonnie Keffer, secretary at St. John's Reformed Church in Pa., says that giving at their church has gone up significantly since implementing ACI's periodic mailing program.
"As a first-time customer I have been working with AmericanChurch, Inc., formulating our new offering envelope system," she explains. "I must say, I was very nervous about the process because I have difficulty learning new things. The folks at AmericanChurch have been superb. I didn't realize how easy this would be."
Ease wasn't the only thing that worked for St. John's. Bonnie reports that even with horrible winter weather that caused church cancellations, collections for the first two months in 2010 was up over their budgeted amount by nearly 20%. "Many people just mailed their envelope to the church," she says.
The future of the church
Most ministers agree that the future of the church rests on the shoulders of the youth. They understand that it is vital to the strength of a community to involve the youth in ministry as well as stewardship.
For decades, ACI has understood the need to introduce the concept of stewardship to young, impressionable Christians. There are numerous options for youth and teen envelopes, including one of the most popular, the Bible Trivia series features different questions from the Bible with the answers printed on the envelope.
Other children's envelope options include Color Me Giving for younger children, the S.S. Noah series and an Stewardship Beginnings that discuss time, talent and treasure.
The digital age
As the Internet becomes more readily available via free WIFI networks and lower costs for broadband access, it became feasible to invest in Web-enabled applications that people are asking for.
For those who aren't interested in writing checks and dropping an envelope in the collection basket, ACI implemented an electronic giving solution. ACI Online Giving option enables church members to make donations and track giving history.
Customers are also able to log on to the ACI portal to re-order products, view billing and manage other day-to-day functions. This streamlined way of doing business has enabled church and school staff members to work from home or on the road, improving productivity and cutting down on administrative overhead.
One of ACI's more popular electronic solutions, Online List Manager (OLM), is a free service for its customers. This online database makes it easy for the user to keep member records up-to-date, while maintaining address information. Because changes are real-time, scheduling, sorting, ordering products and other administrative tasks are streamlined. The bottom line: less time on the phone and improved, accurate communication with church members.
ACI also builds Total Address Quality (TAQ) into their mail services. TAQ is a mailing process designed to improve name and address data quality, lower costs and increase overall delivery accuracy. ACI uses several tools to scan, cleanse and modify address information into a format acceptable by the U.S. Postal Service. TAQ is standard for customers who use AmericanChurch mailing services. ACI also offers Address Data Services, a fee service which provides mail list certification for churches and organizations that wish to do their own mailings.
Beckie Baker from First Baptist Church in Pompano, Fla., says she is pleased with TAQ and OLM. "I receive address changes made to our mailing list. It really helps...because this is information we normally wouldn't have gotten until a piece of mail was returned. This saves us on the cost of returned mail," she says.
For Linda Meadows, ministry assistant at Living Water Baptist Church in Longs, S.C., OLM is easy to use and understand. "The ease with which I can input, revise and delete data is amazing," she says. "It is actually one of the jobs that I look forward to handling each week."
"The reports are helpful to the day-to-day operational activities as well," she adds. "It's perfect for the needs of our church."
ACI continues to offer printed products, envelopes and newsletters (although some are electronic) all designed to help ministers stay in contact with the people in the pews.
Pastors, church leaders and their staff understand that consistent, open communications are the foundation of creating and maintaining a vibrant church community. All ACI products and services are designed to reach members on a personal level.
ACI has products and services that bring communities together using education programs and other pertinent materials that can highlight volunteer opportunities and foster an environment of inclusion.
In 2009, ACI introduced Engage outreach mailings to bring new people into the church and Inform! newsletter service to keep in touch with members.
Engage is a list, print and mail service that helps a church reach out to new movers or specific groups of people. Churches can request target mailings to appeal to the group of people who would most likely respond to their invitation.
Churches who use the Inform! newsletter service are able to keep active and inactive members informed of church life activities and reinforce teaching. Many churches have used Inform! newsletters formatted as regular financial or stewardship activity reports.
The bottom line
Whatever challenges a church or organization is facing can be addressed with timely communication. From envelopes to online giving, ACI excels at delivering technologically advanced, well thought solutions to bring churches and their communication efforts to the next level in a way that engages church members, saves time and money.
For more information, contact ACI customer service toll-free, 800-446-3035, or visit the Web site, http://www.americanchurch.com/.