The Officeless Office

Imagine a scenario unfolding as you watch.  In many ways, it’s familiar.  A church receives a phone-call which is fielded by the secretary, the secretary determines that the call is relevant for the pastor and asks if he or she is free to take the call, after determining that the pastor is able to take the call it is transferred to the pastor’s phone.  It’s an everyday occurrence, one which happens in churches nearly every day.

Except in this case the call was fielded by the secretary while running an important errand, the pastor was notified of the call via text-message, and it was transferred to the pastor while he or she was at the local coffee shop.  In fact, this church doesn’t even have a POTS line at all.  Thanks to emerging technologies, their church office is location agnostic.

This is possible due to the emergence of Google Voice (formerly Grand Central) as a viable replacement for a POTS line.  Google Voice allows users to direct calls to any number of phones they want (or even to Gmail).  When a number is placed to a Google Voice number, any defined phone number for that account which is currently active will ring (and phones can be activated by a schedule).  This means that “office” calls can now be pushed to users just like any other data.  This, however, only scratches the surface of what Google Voice offers.  I addition to call routing Google voice gives users free texting, call recording, conference call capabilities, call transfers, and transcribed voicemail (which is e-mailed to the user’s account).  In addition to this, users can both make and receive calls via the Gmail web-interface.  Incoming calls are free, outgoing calls will be free through 2011.  These features, when combined, can actually free a congregation from actually needing an “office.”  The benefits of having an “officeless office” are many.  Below is a sampling.

  • Heating and cooling bills can be reduced because the building doesn’t need to be heated for one or two people to work.
  • Electric Bills can be reduced as office equipment isn’t running.
  • The pastor is freed-up to do ministry “out and about” without feeling like he or she is “missing anything” back at the church building.
  • The church secretary can work at home, and even remain “at the desk” while running personal or congregational errands.
  • Voicemails don’t fall through the cracks, because notifications show up in the email inbox of the secretary, pastor, or both.
  • Transferring “office” duties when the secretary is on vacation requires access to the internet, rather than the Church building.
  • Calls can be scheduled to immediately go to e-mail after “office hours.”
  • Free texting provides a church with a way to reach out people in the congregation without the intrusion of a phone call.

As churches continue to struggle with funding the use of their buildings it may be that having an “officeless office” may free up a struggling congregation with some finances and flexibility to do ministry.  It’s a radical step, and even Central isn’t ready to make it just yet, but the possibilities are… intriguing.

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3 responses to “The Officeless Office

  1. The perception behind (financial) giving (tithe/offering or however its termed), has its basis in those gifts being given so that the building and its support staff are maintained. If these kinds of tasks are offloaded to Google, etc., should the congregation member feel a greater obligation to throw their support to the companies providing these services as well as the ministers? Or, is there some kind of understanding that this kind of interaction would still be considered “tools” that the community would consider to support in the same – just them broadening their scope of what aspects of “temple life” is supported?

  2. I think that’s actually a bad basis for the tithe/offering/giving – and one which causes no end of headaches as “good givers” all too frequently demand greater considering for their wants. The tithe is for the support of the ministry – part of which might be to support a building and staff.

    Your question is interesting, though. With Google Voice I don’t feel compelled to offer part of the congregation’s income to Google as their monetizing the service already without it. A large organization that falls into the “paid” version of Google Apps , though, would obviously have to pay (or, pay through the web-hosting company if they have a deal with Google to allow acces to Google Apps on their hosted domains).

    With other tools, I do tend to think some money needs to be sent out. I use MobileJoomla for both ABCNJ and Central’s web-sites – on ABCNJ’s we’ve taken the ads off, but I’ve left them up on Centrals. The big difference is the ability/desire to donate to the developer for his hard work. We use NeoOffice at Church and SHOULD be donating some to that work (I keep meaning to bring it up in the budget) – but I do try to submit bug reports and offer support when I’m able (as a good Open Source user should).

    Good question!

  3. coffeezombie

    It seems to me that, aside from the practical use of the money (i.e., the money going toward funding the building/minister/whatever), the main reason for giving a tithe as a sort of “thanks offering” to God for his providing for you (since, even the very ability to work in whatever way you do is a gift, and, if you’ve ever been laid off, you know that your job is dependent on much more than simply your hard work). So, in the end, it’s not a question of where the money is going, or to whom–that’s between your pastor and God–the tithe is about giving thanks to God in a real, physical way.

    As to Google Voice, I agree with pretty much everything said in this article whole-heartedly! Also, isn’t there a way that an incoming call can be transferred from one phone to another within your GV account? If so, it seems that this would be a good way to kind of emulate the “let me transfer you” aspect of the old way.