Creating a Church Handbook

Every church has a group of people who know everything about everything. They’re the people who built the sound system, designed the children’s curriculum, manage the church. They’re the kind of people you got to love. They wake up earlier on the weekend than during the week, just to make your church work. They are the glue that holds your church together, and often you can’t have a normal service without them. (As an aside, just take a moment to send them a thank you card right now and show your appreciation.)

Unfortunately for us, these people occasionally get sick or go on vacation, and those are always the weeks when everything that can go wrong does. When that happens, you have one of two choices: either you can let everything go wrong, or you can rely on something like a church handbook. A church handbook is intended to give you a central place to access all the information needed to maintain effective church management even when key people are out of town. And, the very act of making a document like that will serve as a training for other members, so the odds of everyone who knows the system being out at the same time go down.

Good topics to include in that handbook would be:

Burglar / fire alarm activation and deactivation instructions

This includes both the basic info such as how to arm and disarm daily (don’t write your code in the handbook, that defeats the purpose), but it also includes the more complex aspects such as what to do if the alarm goes off in the middle of the night. Is there a code you need in order to discus the account with the monitoring company? Are there any ongoing issues to be aware of, such as frequent false alarms due to bugs landing on the motion detector? Should the alarm company dispatch the police right away, or is it better to let someone drive over and take a look, in case it was a bug? All this needs to go in the handbook.

If you have any procedures for what to do in case someone is working at the church alone and the alarm goes off, but they didn’t trigger it, then also include those in here. It will be a good chance to think through the safest response and to communicate it to people who might be working late.

Designate who does what in an emergency

Assign both the who, and also think through the what. In an emergency, it’s easy to forget one of the many things that needs to be done. If you give out assignments, people just have to remember one thing to do, and you have the chance to think of everything while you’re calm and clear-headed.

Of course, also be sure you set up your assignments so there’s some redundancy. The main purpose of this handbook is to prevent disaster if someone is on vacation, so if your assignments have no overlap, the advantage is lost.

Include diagrams of evacuation routes (keep in mind that different emergencies require different plans, so include a variation for each of the following that applies to you: fire, bomb, burglary, violent intruder, missing child, tornado, hurricane, tsunami, earthquake, flash flooding). Outline the specifics. If a child goes missing, how will you notify everyone? What response will you take? Etc.

List out safety regulations and procedures

List out any rules governing child check-in. Under what conditions can a child not check-in (a common example would be that children with vomiting or diarrhea can’t check-in). If you issue check-out receipts and a parent loses theirs, what do they have to do to prove they have custody rights and can pick-up the child?

What is the procedure if a suspicious character comes to your church? How do you determine if they are simply coming to church, even if they have had problems, versus being a threat to the safety of others and not really interested in worshiping God? If they must be escorted out, what is the procedure for that?

Include a diagram of your sound / lights / media set up

The form this takes will vary, based on how well the average member of your media team understands the set up. It could be something similar to an electrical diagram, showing where each piece is and which cable connects where. Or, it could be a written explanation that describes the purpose of each cable.

Either way, the idea is the same. If something goes out, you need an easy way to find the common denominator and, thus, the problem.

List out the equipment you use

This is in case something breaks and you need to get it fixed. Include both the model number for big items, in case you need to search for a part, and include information on any special bulbs, paints, etc. that you might need.

Create an index of common problems you’ve had in the past

This will make troubleshooting go much quicker. List out any cables that often come lose and describe what happens when they come lose. Describe any trick needed to make the janitor’s closet door unlock, etc. Don’t forget to include common user errors.

Have the key people in your church describe everything they do

This could threaten to turn the manual into a book, but you don’t have to print everything they say. The purpose here is that, often, key people tend to take on new jobs automatically as soon as they come up. In many cases, they don’t think to ask anyone for help, and no one else even knows that the job exists. Your key people may even get so used to doing the job that they themselves forget it exists and they never remind their stand-in to do it. But, if you make people think about the jobs they do and describe them, you’ll find out about these hidden tasks.

Write instructions for using the church’s management software

This is another area many church leaders forget about, because so many people enter all the updates on Monday or Tuesday and forget that this is linked to Sunday service. But, if you don’t keep up with this, it’ll pile up on you real quick. So, get your leaders to list out what tasks they perform and how to do them, list out where each piece of information goes and any special filing system that applies, and list out any materials like how-to videos from your church management software provider that might help the people filling in figure out how to use the system.

You should also include information on what the tech support for your church management software includes. Can you call it with a question about how to perform a task, or is it just for the times when your system doesn’t work? Does it include any reports the company will custom build for you? What information do you need in order to access tech support? And, finally, does your software charge monthly fees that need to be looked after if your key person is out for an extended period, or do you have a church management software that only charges a one-time fee?