Pinching pennies is never fun, but cutting costs can be good stewardship. While acquiring technology can be expensive, some computer tricks can save you time and money. Using technology wisely can actually help cut costs for your church.
Trimming "tree" costs
It's safe to say that most churches spend thousands of dollars in printing, paper and postage costs each year. This is one area where technology can greatly reduce expense. Consider these cost-saving measures.
- Do away with weekly bulletins, and use your overhead projector to display announcements.
- Save on printing, paper and postage by asking congregants to opt-in to receive emails and texts instead of postal service-delivered newsletters.
- Include a computer or tablet at your welcome center or greeters' table. Ask tech-savvy volunteers to help guests fill in visitor information using online computer forms available on your church website or church app.
- Use services such as YouVersion instead of printing notes or outlines for the congregation to follow.
- Don't buy new hymnals or print lyrics. Project your lyrics (as well as notes and outlines) onto a big screen.
Find the freebies and discounts
Computer programs can be expensive, but one of the easiest ways to save money is to take advantage of UMC technology deals and discounts. There are lots of low-cost or free web-based tools for ministry. Do a little digging, and you will find that for almost every "for purchase" program there is a free alternative.
So, before you pay an exorbitant amount of money for new software programs or apps, try searching the internet for free software, office and ministry tools and other freebies to grow your ministry. Here are a few free options to consider.
- Get free access to premium apps via Google for Nonprofits.
- Linux: an operating system that can be installed on older (think donated) computers. While you're at it, check out the free software available for Linux.
- Lyricue: an open-source application that can be used to display and edit song lyrics, notes and videos on a screen. (Be sure to follow the law when using editing or projecting copyrighted material.)
- Libre Office: a free office suite.
- Create stunning images with free Photoshop alternative: GIMP.
Cut communication costs
Phone and internet bills can be a substantial expense for churches. Here are three ways to save money in this area.
- Negotiate. Pick up your phone and talk to a customer service representative. Discuss payment options and lower-cost plans. Ask for discounts. Talk to your provider about waiving "hidden fees" like monthly equipment rental charges. Know the latest promotional offers and new customer packages. Encourage the company to give you at least as good a deal as they are giving new customers. Say, "What can you do to help us lower this bill?"
- Regularly review your church's cell phone and internet plans. Make sure you are not paying for more coverage than is needed or paying for unneeded and often unused "extras." Consider how much internet you really need.
- Check out VoIP technology (such as Skype, Rebtel and Google Voice) and learn how you can use the internet for your phone service.
By the way, if you get frustrated wading through computer-generated answering services while trying to reach a person, check out GetHuman.com. This site can give you the approximate holding times for most companies. In addition, it often has information to help you discover what numbers you need to push in order to speak to a person.
Don't buy books
Pastors, church leaders and church teachers often need a variety of materials to study and prepare for sermons and lessons. But books can be costly. Instead of forking over big bucks for items that will be read once and then sit on a shelf, try finding great books for little to no cost:
- Establish an inter-church book borrowing program. Contact other churches in your community and ask if they would be willing to participate in an inter-church book borrowing system. Create a list of "loanable" books that your church has, and ask each participating church to do the same. Make sure the name of the loaning church is clearly visible on the books, and establish parameters as to how long the books can be borrowed before returning. Ask the churches to email their lists to each other. If this seems too complicated, simply send an email to other churches in the area asking if they have certain resources when the need arises. It's worth asking.
- Use the local public library. There are many great ways to use your library, and many aren't about books. Even if your public library doesn't have what you need, most libraries are willing to request interlibrary loans. Librarians can help you fill out a request form. Then, they will search for the book at other libraries, request to borrow it and have it mailed to your local library where you can check it out. Many libraries also have websites that include databases, specialized search engines and e-books. Take advantage of all the services your library offers.
- Check out e-books, which are often less expensive than hard copies. In addition, many authors and publishers run periodic specials where certain titles can be downloaded for free. Sites such as openculture.com and gutenburg.org list hundreds of free titles. Hongkiat.com also provides a list of websites that offer free book downloads.
- Look up religious resources online. You can find free church downloads, sermons, media and more. Many commentaries, Bible dictionaries and other research tools (such as the The United Methodist Book of Worship) are now available for free at sites such as studylight.org and biblegateway.org.
- Explore whether you really need to purchase printed Sunday school and Bible study materials. Many publishers, including Cokesbury, offer digital alternatives that are often less expensive than the print versions.
Balancing the budget can be difficult, so you just have to get creative to cut costs. Here are a few more ideas on how to use technology to save dollars.
- Little expenses can add up quickly. Use your computer or smartphone to search for coupons to save on basic cleaning and office supplies. RetailMeNot, Cellfire and Couponssherpa are three of the many online couponing sites that can help you find and access the best deals in your area.
- Save money on gas for your church van or other church vehicles. Check out the Cheap Gas! app for iPhone or iPod or GasBuddy.com to find the most inexpensive gas in your area.
- Ask for donations of technology hardware or buy refurbished electronics. Many businesses and individuals have old computers, smartphones, and tablets that they would be happy to donate to a worthy organization. Ask tech-minded volunteers from your congregation to help clean, repair and set-up the equipment once it has been collected.
- Look into energy-efficient measures that you can take to save money within the church building.
Save money using technology and save money on tech. It's not as hard as you might think.