This Article is printed in the April 2011 edition of the Adventist Messenger.
Online Technology has not only transformed the way we interact, it has become a vital link to a connection we take for granted. So much of what we do today is dependent on the internet.
In 2002, the North American Division launched an online membership management tool called eAdventist.net. It was first made available for testing by the conferences of the North Pacific Union. Shortly after, eAdventist demo accounts were made available to all conferences throughout the North American Division.
During this time, the British Columbia Conference was the first in Canada to come on board with this new technology. Since 2008, all 58 conferences in North America have transitioned their membership records to eAdventist, and there are now 6000 users, including church clerks and pastors.
To find out more about this online technology, I recently spoke with Brian Ford, Assistant director for IT in the North American Division and Director for the eAdventist team of three individuals, including Rob Garvin and Sherri Ingram-Hudgins.
Brian told me that eAdventist is not only an online membership management tool that can be accessed from anywhere there is an internet connection, but is also a social network type of support system for clerks that has “bridged gaps from the division right down to the church level”.
The conference clerk can answer questions and mentor local church clerks online without having to travel to their district. “A Phone call and an internet connection and you’re good”, Brian said.
eAdventist provides many different reports for the local church clerk and pastor to view, such as: current membership, family groups or even a birthday list. Available to the public without accounts is a tool called, “eAdventist Search”. It is a complete organizational directory of all the conferences, churches and schools of the North America Division and can be embedded into any website.
Esther Kuppers, the clerk for the British Columbia Conference, said, “eAdventist gives us much more accurate information to report throughout the conference. It assists us with decision making as well.” Esther also likes how this system is virtually paperless and that many local church clerks treat this as an important ministry.
Brian says the majority of the church clerks are very positive about eAdventist and have a willingness to learn. One example he shared was about an 80 year old clerk who bought herself a computer for the first time in her life and hooked it up to the internet for the eAdventist system.
She said, “this sounds really good, what kind of computer can I get?” eAdventist told her that she did not necessarily have to do this herself. She could mentor a young assistant and have them take care of the online management. She responded by saying, “Oh No, I want to try this”.
Brian shared an interesting story about a clerk in Savoonga Alaska, located on an island in the Bering Sea. The clerk was very excited about eAdventist because the postal service to them was very slow and this would speed up the transfer process. “Remote clerks were suddenly feeling connected and able to move things much faster then before.”, said Brian.
The eAdvenist database of membership information is being used by many conferences throughout North America to print their directories. Also, every Union Conference in North America, with the exception of the Canadian Union, now mails their paper off the eAdventist membership list. Crystal Steeves, the editor for the Canadian Union magizine told me the eAdventist list is being seriously considered for their future mailings.
You may wonder about the security and privacy of having this type of information online. To address this concern, Brian said the North American Division takes the security and privacy of the membership very seriously. All personal information is password protected and eAdventist is using the same online security that banks use. “Security is our number one priority”, Brian said.
In fact, the membership information is more secure and private now then when it was stored in file folders and personal computer systems at someone’s home. Since everything is backed up on the eAdventist server, “there is continuity in a way that there never was before”, said Brian, preventing hard drive crashes or the loss of file folders and information.
I asked Brian about future plans for eAdventist and he told me that they want to raise pastor awareness and are working on adding tools that pastors and churches can use. A mobile app for pastors and the public is in the works for the near future. “You might see it before the year is over”, he said.