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Hunting for the Right Check-In System

Figure out what you need

Security / The Basics //

If your church has any kind of organized children’s ministry, it needs a child check-in system. Child check-in systems aren’t just for mega churches, either; they’re for every church, no matter the size. It’s easy to think about children’s ministry in the confines of our own church fellowship; after all, you know all the kids, their siblings, and parents. Why would you ever need to make a children’s ministry so … so … so formal?

First of all, a child check-in doesn’t have to be “formal.” It’s only formal and awkward if you make it that way. Attitude and approach makes all the difference. If you’re feeling uneasy about initiating a child check-in system in your church, don’t. The number one reason to have a child check-in system is to protect children. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what it all comes down to. Who would be against that? There are also many other benefits that come along with a child check-in system, which is always a bonus.

Benefits

When someone visits your church, there’s nothing that says, “We care about your children” more than a child check-in system. Your children’s ministry can show how much it cares about keeping kids safe in a very practical way. Visitors will feel more relaxed and at ease, not to mention regular church members who will find a child check-in system to be far less cumbersome than they may believe at first. There is definitely a persona that comes along with a child check-in system, and it’s a positive one! It can also make reporting easier and childcare management more efficient, just to name a few other benefits while we’re at it.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Now, if you’ve already been convinced that your church needs a child check-in system and have begun to look around for one, chances are, you’ve felt overwhelmed. I’ll never forget when I first started looking into these; I closed my web browser window and didn’t begin researching it again until a week later. It can be very overwhelming!

A child check-in system blends a lot of different elements together. It involves technology, usability, management and … children’s ministry! That’s a lot to take in! Plus, you’ll find a lot of options, a lot of services, and everyone is more than ready to take your money.

Let’s take a closer look at the different options you’ll want to consider, so you can prioritize your needs before looking at any child check-in systems.

Integration

Child check-in systems are often a part of a broader church management system. Many of these services offer church membership administration, financial reporting tools and more. These church management systems often include a child check-in (or “event check-in”) as one of the options that can be added for an additional cost. If your church is already using a church management system, you will want to consider this as an option. There are certainly advantages to tapping into your church’s current church management system for membership data and attendance reporting.

If you’re not interested in integration or your church isn’t currently using a church management system, there are plenty of stand-alone child check-in solutions. Plus, there are integrated check-in systems that can operate completely autonomously, giving you the option to adopt a church management system in the future, or simply remain as a child check-in.

Hardware

No matter what child check-in system you decide to use, hardware is a consideration. Even if you have a computer you can use, chances are, you’re going to be making some kind of hardware purchase when investing in your check-in system.

First, when a church member approaches to check their child into the children’s ministry, there is usually some sort of recognition that occurs, whether it be keying in the last four digits of their phone number via touch screen (or computer mouse and keyboard), using a barcode scanner to scan their personalized barcode tag on a keychain or card, or a fingerprint scanner. These input devices can usually be purchased directly from the child check-in system provider and are often options that can be chosen. Would you prefer touch screen or a scanner? Both? You not only need to consider this in the cost of the system, but also what you think would work best for your church.

After a parent has checked in, most child check-in systems print out a label. Label options vary from system to system, too. Can you print extra labels for diaper bags and bottles? How about special instructions? These are some of the questions you should be asking when it comes to printing. Also, be sure to price out printer supply costs, and figure that into your sustaining budget.

As the age of mobile computing is taking the world by storm, more and more child check-in systems are offering their system on computer tablets. This can be helpful if you have someone assigned to aiding newcomers in the sign-up process. Imagine assigning someone to look for newcomers and asking if they need help checking their child into the children’s ministry program? It can also be a great tool for children’s ministry directors or team leaders who may need to quickly see which classroom a particular child is in, or even how full the classrooms are. If you want to take advantage of any mobile device technology in your child check-in system, find out what kind of mobile app options they have, and be sure to figure in the cost of a mobile device, also.

If you would like a paging system, check your options. You can usually find a child check-in system that offers some sort of paging system integration. It varies from mobile apps, text messaging and paging device hardware. Be sure to weigh your options, though. If you already have a paging system, you may want to stick with it. At the same time, if you don’t have a paging system, you may want to consider it, as integrating it into your child check-in system is certainly the way to go.

Software

Check-in applications are going to leverage cloud technology, use an online Internet connection, or a local network. Some systems offer one of these options, while others may offer a combination. The negative of using an online system is obviously connectivity. If the Internet goes out, your check-in system goes with it. There are, however, those that use cloud technology, so even if your Internet connection is lost, it will store the data and upload it later, once the Internet connection has been re-established. Local systems are installed locally and only rely on the local connectivity to function.

When deciding between these options, there are a number of things to keep in mind. The first is back-up systems. If you decide to completely host the data yourself, you’ll be responsible for back-ups and security. Whereas, with an online or cloud based system, the hosting of the data is off-site and is usually backed up by your child check-in system provider.

As stated before, mobile computing is on the rise and numerous systems offer mobile apps. They vary in usability. Some are simply for monitoring, while others can function as primary check-in stations. If using a tablet is an important part of your check-in strategy, make sure you look into the mobile app options.

Finally, in regards to software, when you’re considering your check-in system, notice how intuitive and easy it is to use. There would be nothing worse than acquiring a child check-in system that was cumbersome and a hassle to use. If it isn’t easy to use, no one will want to use it, and that defeats the purpose of having one!

Topography

Because there is so much to consider when investing in a child check-in system, one thing that can easily be overlooked is the church building layout. With all this talk about computers and software, it’s easy to forget about the physical elements. Does your church have multiple campuses? How many floors does your children’s ministry encompass? How many check-in stations will you need?

In the end, these kinds of details need to be considered, as it can affect the cost of a child check-in system greatly, the number of volunteers needed to complete check-in, and where the check-in stations are located.

Shopping

If you do your homework, you’re going to find hunting down a solid child check-in system a lot easier. You need to know exactly what you want before you begin; otherwise, it’s like going to the grocery store without a list and expecting to have everything you need to cook for the next week. Consider all the ingredients!

One thing I really noticed about check-in systems was the pricing. You’ll become aware of a few things. Some systems are a flat-fee, others are based on church size, and the rest ask that you call for a demonstration. Don’t let these differences distract you! Providers who charge based on church size do this so they can offer lower prices to churches that wouldn’t normally be able to afford it. It isn’t a sneaky way to charge larger churches! As for those that ask to call in, don’t hesitate—call! You should know exactly what is needed, so even if you feel pressured to make a decision by a salesperson, you don’t have to. After all, you need to look into some of those other systems, too, right?

Make a prioritized list of the important features and options that you need in a child check-in system. Besides each of these, note if it’s: 1) a need, 2) a want, or 3) a dream. When you’re researching each check-in system, go through your list and check how it fills up your list. This way, you can really analyze each product and compare them objectively, insuring that you don’t short-change yourself and miss an option or feature that you need!

Finally, do not purchase a child check-in system without participating in a demonstration. You need to see the interface in action and have time to ask questions. Most systems are more than happy to offer a demo, and they can easily do it over the Internet. Investing in a child check-in system isn’t to be taken lightly. Would you ever purchase a car without giving it a test drive?

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Choosing a check-in system that will meet the needs of your ministry is not a purchase that you can run out and make in between appointments. Hopefully, you now have some basics to consider … questions to ask yourself … information to gather … in order to make a knowledgeable, educated decision for the best acquisition.

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About the Author

Eric Dye is the editor of ChurchMag (churchm.ag) and media director for the International Human Rights Group (ihrg.org). He, his wife and four kids are currently missionaries to Italy. Eric is passionate about justice, communication and Mexican food.