Located in Fairfax Station, Virginia, Christ Church is one of the fastest growing congregations in the suburban Washington, D.C., area. Managing rapid growth presented numerous challenges to the church’s leaders, and safety is always top of mind.
“In August 2015, we moved from a small church on a five-acre site to a 50,000-square-foot building on a 25- acre campus,” explains Debra Merrill, executive director at Christ Church. “We knew that moving into a facility this big was going to require a concerted and intentional approach to safety and care. It started out with a concern about security; this was a move to a big building off a major road where you can’t see everything at once. With all the events going on in the world today, we knew we had to do something better about security policies.”
Organizations spend thousands of dollars every year maintaining a compliant library of safety procedures and protocols and developing emergency action plans that can impact the safety of the employees and the ongoing running of operations. Often, these plans are stashed away or are only accessible to a limited group. “My concern was that we would be like every other organization, developing safety policies that would be in a binder on somebody’s shelf and do no one good in a time of crisis,” she says.
Making Safety Live
Merrill assumed her current role in June 2014, about a year before the church made its move to larger quarters. “Early on we knew we had to do something from a training perspective to make the safety policies living documents,” she acknowledges. “At the time, my husband was playing golf with a client who was using software from SchoolDude, FacilityDude’s sister company. When he told us about it, we started making some inquiries. We liked what we found: flexible, configurable software that could take safety off the shelf and put it into the hands of the people who need it.”
Developing Apps with Safety Center
Christ Church acquired the solution in the fall of 2014 and wasted no time in customizing its functionality to meet their needs. “We immediately interviewed various groups of staff and started building a staff application that we call the Christ Church Staff App,” notes Merrill. It provided all the safety functionality the church needed from a staff perspective. “We leveraged some of the public plans available—there was great information out there—and then customized as needed.”
The church then realized they needed a different application for volunteers who may be involved in safety. “We’ve got preschool teachers, greeters, ushers, our Welcome Center—a host of people who need to know what their role is in safety,” adds Merrill. So they developed a second application for the volunteers that they call the iServe App that basically provides the same information in the Christ Church Staff App but from a volunteer perspective: how they interact with staff, what they’re allowed to do, what they shouldn’t do, etc.
After working on the iServe App for a time, Merrill and her associates realized that Safety Center wasn’t limited as a safety tool. “As we are growing, one of the challenges in volunteer management is inconsistent training,” she says. Was training being attended? Had volunteers been trained by someone who forgot to tell them something? “We wanted consistency in the volunteers, so we started creating events in iServe that were not safety-related but rather focused on training.”
For example, if someone at Christ Church volunteers for the parking team, they are given the iServe application with all the requisite information about their task: maps and flow and everything else needed to execute their work. So the app also works as a self-training tool.
“Whenever we change a procedure (e.g., how we make the coffee), we put it on the app and it rolls up to everybody,” explains Merrill. “We have a million ideas of what we can use on the app because it is a framework that was originally created for safety but can be used for anything where you need information consistently delivered, just-in-time, to a wide variety of people. Using their smartphones and updating from one source simply makes sense. We stay within the values of 18 events and multiple apps; working within those confines you can do all kinds of things with Safety Center.”
She cites how communion is managed at the new facility as a perfect example of this ability. The Communion flow in a brand new room with twice as many people proved to be a challenge when Christ Church moved into its new facility. “For the first month, we went through trial and error,” she explains. “What we had originally put on the app didn’t work well. So we met and refined it, documented it, made a new map, and quickly deployed it to our 30 volunteer ushers. This was done easily. In the ‘old world,’ we’d have to call 30 people to a meeting and do training; they don’t have time for that. Especially in a church environment, where all your customers or clients are volunteers, you have to be very careful about how you use their time. With Safety Center, we were able to make adjustments and get them on the app; everyone read it, so they were more informed and ready than they would have been otherwise.”
Providing Comfort in Anxious Times
Knowledge can be a comfort, and Safety Center gives Christ Church staff and volunteers the exact information they need when they need it. “Unfortunately, but understandably in light of recent events, we’ve been conducting training for active shooters,” says Merrill. “Safety Center is proving to be a comfort during this exercise.”
Not only can Christ Church users count on the instructions from the solution, it lets them know who has done what during the event (i.e., they don’t have to wonder). They go to their rooms, push the button on the door lock, get away from windows, and take all necessary cautionary action. “We’ve also added an event called ‘Building,’” says Merrill. “We hooked up all our cameras to the app, so you can be in a closet and still have eyes to all 26 cameras in the building.”
Merrill says that two new Christ Church apps are currently in development: the Hypothermia App that provides information to those involved in the church’s work with hypothermia shelters, and the Child Safety App for those involved to be aware of and able to administer protocols related to child safety, from nursery through grade 12.
“You become very much a social service agency when you’re in a church with 150 young people,” reflects Merrill. “The hypothermia shelters are run through a government agency, so there are rules and regulations that need to be followed. In these areas, we need training and consistency, and Safety Center will be an invaluable tool in helping provide both.”
Merrill adds that working with FacilityDude as they continue to leverage Safety Center has been wonderful. “We have driven the system pretty hard,” she says. “Our customer support contact has been very responsive; he’s been a great help to reach the developers and get us technical information and answers to questions. We’ve given input on enhancements to which they’ve been very responsive and open. That’s a mark of a good software company.”
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