Today’s headlines are fraught with reports of missing children, child custody disputes, and children’s food allergy dangers. These issues of safety and security aren’t limited to schools and neighborhoods — they’re also a very real concern for children’s ministry.
Today’s parents are on heightened alert, and churches aren’t exempt from predators or medical emergencies. Because of today’s uncertain and unsafe culture, families are hesitant to leave their children in the care of others when they don’t feel the environment is safe and secure.
Your church can alleviate families’ fears and anxieties by using a check-in system that’ll help you keep the children in your care safe and secure. Whether your church is big or small, it’s imperative that you help the parents and children you minister to feel safe and secure so they can concentrate on why they’re in your church — to worship and learn about Jesus!
That may feel like a big assignment — especially if you aren’t that familiar with secure check-in systems or don’t know what to look for in one. Rest easy: We’ve created a nuts-and-bolts guide to help you understand the components and options available in most check-in systems today. Use this information to help you assess your ministry’s needs…and then before you go shopping.
Download a quick reference guide.
As you consider the many quality check-in systems available, it’s key to first assess the basic type of system your ministry needs. Components are the core of each system, and they’ll likely influence your purchasing decision based on whether they mesh with your ministry’s specific needs.
• Web-Based-Some systems are web-based, meaning all data and programs are maintained on secure servers remote from your church. These systems can be updated automatically and frequently (daily or weekly) via web updates and may even offer access to parents at home.
• Software-Based-Other systems are software-based, meaning you purchase software, install it on your church or children’s ministry computer system, and maintain it and the data on your church computer system. You install updates as they’re available and released from the provider. Major updates typically mean you’ll need to buy a new “version” of the software.
• Tech/Service Support-Support is available at a variety of levels. Some systems offer limited support (Monday through Friday, 8 to 5), while others offer round-the-clock support. Support can come in the form of connecting to a troubleshooting specialist on the phone or going online via email or links to troubleshoot common problems. It’s important to determine what level of support your ministry needs and to ensure that you fully understand what each system offers. Additionally, determine whether support serv-ices are included in the system package price or if you’ll pay each time you need support.
• Online/Video/In-Person Training-Most systems offer some type of training on how to use the system. Most purchasers agree that this training is indispensable and worth it even if you have to pay extra for it. Determine what type of training is offered at what price, and whether it includes training for just you or for your team as well.
The check-in process varies greatly between systems, so evaluate your current process and how well it’s working or whether you have flexibility to adapt. It may be as simple as rearranging your registration area or more complex, such as adding computers and kiosks. Here are options to consider.
• Attendants-Some systems require ministry attendants to check in kids.
• Fingerprint Scans-Fingerprint scans allow authorized adults to check in and check out children with a simple scan of the finger.
• Self-Check-In by Parents-Kiosks or computer stations allow parents to check in and check out their children using passwords, PINS, or identification numbers.
• Barcode Tag/Proximity Card-Key chain or wallet cards include a barcode that recognizes a specific family at check in and check out. Some cards must be scanned, but a proximity card only needs to be brought close to the base to read the information.
• Touch-Screen Monitor-Computer screens are equipped with a touch-screen system so parents or check-in attendants can quickly access family information by inputting a snippet of information such as the first three letters of the family’s last name.
Name tags are a key aspect of the system because they’re most visible to families and the ministry team. Name tags can be as simple or as complex as you’d like them to be. As you evaluate the name tags offered by each system, determine whether you want it to include the following items to help secure your process.
• Allergy Alerts-Allergy alerts printed on name tags allow volunteers to readily view this information, reducing mistakes that can lead to allergic reactions. You (or parents) may prefer to keep such information private, communicating the allergy details in another manner.
• Security Numbers-Some name tags have a visible security number that must be matched by any adult attempting to pick up the child. Or, you can flash the number on a screen in the adult worship center if you need to summon a parent.
• Twin Tag for Parent Pickup-Twin tags usually print “on the spot” and have unique information, such as a security number, names, or other codes that correspond from one tag to the other. Parents must present their tag, have it matched to the child’s tag, and then can retrieve the child.
• Photos-A current photo of a child on the parent pick-up tag can help volunteers easily identify authorized adults.
• Child’s Group or Classroom-Another option is the ability to print small group or classroom information right on the name tag. This is especially helpful in larger settings and with visiting children.
• Customizable (for church logo)-One unique function is to customize name tags with your church or ministry logo.
Volunteer check-in tools are helpful to your children’s ministry for lots of reasons. They allow leaders to monitor when volunteers are actually checking in and out. They help account for volunteer hours served (good to note for budgeting and reporting purposes). Here are volunteer check-in options to know about.
• Disposable Name Tags-Many systems print disposable volunteer name tags on sticky labels.
• Permanent Name Badges-This capability lets you print permanent name badges that you can laminate or slip into plastic holders, reducing waste and giving volunteers a team connection.
• Volunteer Photos-This option lets you include volunteers’ photos on their name tags. You may also be able to include their photos in your database for identification and security purposes.
In some regards, emergencies are the prime reason check-in systems exist. Of course, we hope to prevent emergencies. But when you consider the likelihood that you’ll eventually deal with an emergency, it’s important to know what capabilities your ministry would want or need in that event. Here are options to consider.
• Pager Compatibility-Some systems are pager compatible, meaning that parents check in their child and collect a pager that will alert them in case of emergency. This compatibility can also refer to an onscreen paging system where a child’s number flashes onscreen, prompting parents to return to the child’s class.
• Cell Phone Alert/Call-This option allows the system to send an automated message or page to a parent’s cell phone asking the parent to return to the classroom.
• SMS Text Message-This option sends automated or customized text messages to parents.
Tracking features offer detailed information that can benefit your ministry. You can use tracking information in the moment to determine things such as when to close a room, or you can use it to compile detailed reports about everything from absences to safety violations. Here are basic tracking features to be familiar with.
• Attendance-This function allows you to track kids’ attendance-and absences at your children’s ministry. Some systems trigger a reminder to send a note, call, or visit when a child misses a set number of weeks.
• Room Capacity-This option monitors how many kids are filling your rooms. Once you set the limit based on your adult-per-child ratio and physical room capacity, the system monitors when the room needs to close and will notify users when they try to check in too many kids into one room.
• Visitors-Many systems offer great ways to track your guests. You can not only track how many guests you have, but also gather their contact information, details about their visit (“received a gift mug with ministry logo”), and record their interest in small groups, special events, and more.
• Parents’ Location-Some systems offer the ability to track where parents will be while their child is in your care, such as “sanctuary” or “New Moms Small Group.”
Communicating with families is a key relational and growth tool, letting parents know the latest information, events, and happenings in your ministry. Many systems help with this by offering options such as the following as part of their product package.
• Mail Merge-This option groups families or kids to your mailing needs, such as a specific age/grade, families with preschoolers, or single parents. You can create mailing labels for groups or for everyone in your database.
• Email Merge-This is the same as the mail merge feature but enables users to go paperless and send email blasts to specific groups or all ministry attendees.
• Online Information Updates-This feature enables families to communicate with you by going onto your church website to update family or personal information such as address changes or to add a new family member.
Understanding the pricing structure of the systems you’re considering is crucial to the decision you’ll make. Depending on system capabilities, components, and upgrades, you’ll find a tremendous variety in pricing. The reality is that depending on your church needs and size, you may spend anywhere from $200 to $70,000 or more. Get a solid quote in writing for each system you’re seriously considering. In general, there are two basic pricing structures to consider.
• System Pricing-Many systems sell as a total package-including any software, hardware, and training you’ll need.
• Subscription Pricing-Other systems have you purchase a system based on a subscription format. For instance, you may pay $30 per month per check-in station. These systems typically charge a setup fee that includes hardware and software.
You, your ministry, and your families will all be much happier — and feel secure — if you select a system based on solid homework. The bottom line is that you need to have a handle on your ministry’s needs to adequately assess the many excellent check-in systems available. Know what it is that you’re buying, and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.
Most parents would say you can never do too much when it comes to the safety of their children. The ability to reach parents quickly and the assurance kids are safe no matter where your ministry is hosting programming help parents feel confident and secure. Check out these extras to ensure kids’ safety.
Safe Support-Many computer-based check-in systems can be complemented by a paging system. Companies such as Seeker Communication (seekercommunication.com) and Long Range Systems (pager.net) offer digital pagers that can be matched with a child’s name tag label number. So in a situation such as a medical emergency, volunteers can quickly access the base transmitter to page a parent to return to the ministry area.
Affordable Flexibility-In addition to check-in software, tag systems such as those offered by SafeKids, Inc. (churchnursery.com) are an affordable option for church use onsite or for use when your programs go off-site, such as to a local park. Numbered, easy-to-use adhesive labels include vital information caregivers need while children are in their care.