Google Apps and Grace Family Church

As the I.T. Director for Grace Family Church, I am charged with determining the best path for us with regards to which technology best suits the needs of our vision, users, congregation, and budget.  Keeping that in mind, I began to look at our current email solution: Microsoft Exchange 2003.

Knowing that Microsoft recently released the 2010 version, immediately I saw we were behind in the technology.  In researching the new version, I saw that the only option to run Exchange 2010 was on a 64-bit capable server. Hmmm… I didn’t have one of those, nor did I have a VT capable server on which I could run Exchange 2010 in a virtual server.  That meant I would need to purchase a new server.  I also would need to purchase all new licensing for Exchange 2010, including new Client Access Licenses.  I know for a non-profit that the cost of the licensing is relatively nothing compared to the public sector, but it is a cost none the less.

Doing a little more research I found that Google gives the Education Edition of their Google Apps product FREE to non profits.  Ok – that got my attention.  What I also liked about Google Apps is that it runs in the “Cloud”.  In other words, it is hosted on Google’s servers, not mine, and therefore reduces some of my day to day overhead.  Since we already run our Church Management System, Fellowship One, in the Cloud, this seemed like a logical step to at least test Google Apps for Grace Family Church.

I am also a part of an close knit organization called The Church IT Roundtable (CITRT).  This organization is made up of Church IT Professionals and volunteers who make up the IT Staff for their respective churches.  On their Wiki Site is a page dedicated strictly to the discussion of Google Apps and it’s pros and cons.  Check it out! By the way,  if you do Church IT in any capacity, YOU NEED to be a part of this group – It’s a FREE and invaluable resource of friendship, advice, and professionalism!  Check out the main page here.

Moving on, the decision was made to move forward with Google Apps.  The setup process is extremely simple and Google even gives you a step by step tutorial within the management interface on how to set it up and get it working properly.  I have been able to do ALL of the setup myself.  Google provides excellent tools to assist you with the migration from Exchange to Google Apps.  I am  also using the Google Apps Migration Tool which makes moving users a piece of cake.  The Google Apps Directory Sync Tool also makes it simple to keep your users sync’d between your Microsoft Active Directory and Google Apps.  This blog post of mine explains how I use it and also how I was able to get user passwords to sync too.

What made this move good for us is that we were NOT using all of the features of Microsoft Exchange.  Let me be clear also – Google Apps is not a Microsoft Exchange equivalent.  While I can see this happening in the future (Google is continually improving Google Apps), it’s just not a full replacement yet.  For us the move made sense.  For your church it may not.

What do I like so far?  These are just few things I like.

  1. Google Talk – This is Google’s Instant Messaging (IM) platform which allows for text, video, and voice chats.  All of our users are now on the same IM platform.
  2. Google Sites – This allows you to create simple websites that can be used for Intranet purposes or even Internet purposes.  I was able to quickly create a Google Apps Tutorial website for my users where they can quickly learn the ins and outs of using Google Apps.
  3. The Web Interface – While it may not be the prettiest screen to look at, the interface is extremely functional.  I LOVE the conversation view of email messages.  I am using the keyboard shortcuts to compose new messages, reply, and add labels to messages.
  4. Labels – This is Google Apps version of Folders in Microsoft Exchange email.  The best part here is that you can easily apply multiple labels to an email message to make it easier to find later.
  5. Calendar – I’m finding the ability to overlay multiple calendars from different places over the top of my calendar extremely helpful.  Calendars are also easily shared between users in order to make overlaying calendars possible.

Also – Google Apps might be a good solution for you if you need to provide email addresses to your volunteers but not give them access to your exchange server.  You can setup your domain on Google apps but not “activate” it for email, docs, talk, etc.  You then add a subdomain to your Google Apps installation where you would create user accounts for your volunteers at an address like stevew@volunteer.church.org.  Just an idea…

Enough of my rambling – I hope you find some of this information helpful or at least somewhat informative.  If you have questions, leave a comment – I’ll do my best to answer you through the comments (smart remarks are welcome too).  Or if you’d like to converse in more depth over the phone, let me know!

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One Response to Google Apps and Grace Family Church

  1. Jeff Suever says:

    Good post, Scott. It was because of our conversations that we went Google as opposed to Live@edu. We are using Google sites and docs for our budgeting process and it has saved us a lot of time.
    I think you hit the nail on the head with the comments about “not using exchange to its capacity”. We found that with Outlook as well. Most of our people do only the most basic of tasks with email. No embedding tables, limiting forwarding, receipting, etc. Gmail interface with chat has been convenient for our admin staff.

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