What is Google Apps and why would my church want to use it?
According to Google, Google Apps is a group of applications "that offers communication, collaboration and publishing tools, including email accounts on your organization's domain." The two biggest reasons your church would want Google Apps are (1) you don't need any hardware or software -- no server, no software licenses to buy -- and (2) it's free to non-profits!
The items included in Google Apps are:
- Email (called "Gmail")
- Word processing and spreadsheets (called "Google Docs")
- Web pages and sites (called "Sites")
All of these programs (or applications) are used from the web, or "in the cloud", which is why you don't need any hardware or software. You get to everything just by going to the web.
How would I get Google Apps and how hard is it?
You get use Google Apps for free by requesting it from Google by following these step-by-step instructions. Click the "Get Started" button. The first thing you'll be asked to do is put in your domain name. Your domain name is your church's web address (such as "happychurch.org"). If your church already has a web address, you'll need to prove that you own the domain name, so you'll need to either have access to your domain administration, or get help from whoever does have that access. It sometimes takes 24 hours for the validation process to complete. You may have to wait a day or so and then continue the rest of the process. Once you have the domain name situated, and Google Apps started, you'll receive an email about how to request your free licenses as a non-profit.
If you have someone a little "techie" in your church (whether that's you or someone else), and especially if you don't have a lot of users to migrate, you can probably get Google Apps started yourself. But if you need help with getting started, here's a link to some "Tips & Tricks for Deploying Google Apps". It includes references to companies that will help you get set up - for a fee. Some offer a discount for non-profits. There are also many tutorials online to learn more.
Once you get set up, you'll want to create users -- anyone who will be logging in to use Google Apps. You'll click on the link to manage the domain and go to users and groups to do this. The groups can be very useful. For example you can set up a group called "email@example.com" and "firstname.lastname@example.org" and "email@example.com", plus any others you can think of -- committees, teams, staff, etc. You can do the same with individuals, such as "firstname.lastname@example.org" or "email@example.com. This makes it easy for church members to address messages to the various leaders, staff members, teams or groups without having to keep up on who's in what group or position. This does mean, though, that you -- or whoever is administrating your Google Apps -- will need to maintain it!
I'd estimate that the entire process of setting up Google Apps for your domain, your users and their email will take about 4 hours (that is not including transitioning users and their data from an existing system into Google Apps).
How do you setup these different services?
There are lots of possibilities in Google Apps. First, let's talk about email. You'll be using Gmail but your addresses will be whatever your domain name is (such as firstname.lastname@example.org). Gmail is easy to use and familiar to a lot of people. It provides a ton of space (over 7 GB) and excellent search capabilities (can't get much better than Google search). There's also Google Chat, which is Instant Messaging, and you can install a "plug-in" that will let you use Chat with your webcam to do video chat - like Skype. If your users have existing email addresses, they can forward those addresses to their new church address and start using Google Apps' email.
Even though Gmail is great, you may have some people who want to keep using the email program (for example, Outlook or their Apple email program) and/or email address they've been using until now. That's not a problem, they can forward messages from their "happychurch.org" address to their existing one. When I set up the users in our church, I sent them an email with step by step instructions on how to forward from their new Google email to their own email. I've found that if I send very specific step-by-step instructions, with lots of reassurance and offers of help, most people do what they're asked.
A very useful feature in Google Apps is the Google Calendar. All the users you set up get a calendar of their own and you can set up and share calendars for different users. For example, in my church's Google Apps I set up a calendar called "San Jose CRC" which I made public -- like a web page. That one is embedded on our church website and I keep all our events on it. I also hope to set up a birthday calendar with the birthdays of our members. That one I won't make public, but I'll share it with the Apps users. I made a Facilities calendar for the person who handles our facilities to use in order to keep track of the various groups who rent space on our church campus. I shared my calendar with our pastor and he shared his with mine. (You can decide when you share a calendar whether you want the other person to only see when you are busy or to see whatever it is you actually put on your calendar.) When you go to your calendar, you can overlay any other calendars that are shared with you so that you see not only what's on your calendar but what's on the others -- and each calendar has its own color.
There are lots of public calendars you can select, too, such as US Holidays, Church Year holidays, and many others. You can turn them on and off with just a click. You can send invitations from Google calendars and as people accept or don't, it will keep track of who has said "yes" or "no" for you. Also, Google maps is built right in to the calendar so when you write the address of the event, people can click to get a Google map right from there. People can also subscribe to calendars and have notices sent to them with the events on that calendar. You can even have a "daily agenda" email sent to you each morning listing what is on your calendar for the day.
Google Docs is really cool. In my opinion, Docs and Calendar pretty much ties for the most useful part of Google Apps. If your church is anything like mine, you probably have files and documents stored all over the place. There are paper files in cupboards, peoples' closets, office drawers, etc. There are electronic files on various peoples' computers who knows where? The last person who was the clerk or secretary or notes-taker has a bunch of files on their computers. Maybe, like us, you've tried to centralize things by having all committees or teams send their notes to the Council clerk. We had very limited success with that idea.
Google Docs gives you the ability to take notes, make documents, spreadsheets and so on right on the web. People can log in from any computer and do their work, then share it with whoever they wish (whether the people are members of Google Apps or not). I wrote this article using Google Docs and sharing with the editor. Sharing folders -- not just documents -- is a new feature. This makes sharing even easier. For example, I'm the chairperson of our worship team and every document or spreadsheet I create, I just put it into the folder I've shared with the team. I put the link to that shared folder on a team site I made so that everyone on the team can go to one place for anything to do with our worship team.
A site is a website you can build within Google Apps and share however you wish. You can create various types of pages, such as a page to store files, to make lists, to post announcements, or a regular page you can design however you wish. You can do all the designing with "WYSIWYG" which means "What You See Is What You Get" -- you don't have to know any special coding. You can insert photos, show videos from YouTube on the page, or whatever. If you do know coding and wish to use it, you can do that, too.
Contacts and Mobile
In Google Apps, you are able to create a list of contacts -- peoples' names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. -- that you can share with everyone on the domain. And email, calendar, docs and contacts can also be downloaded and accessed from mobile devices such as iphones, blackberries and so on.
Well, yes, I could go on...but I won't. There's a lot to Google Apps and I've already gone on at great length. And Google is constantly improving -- new features show up all the time. For now, let me say that our church has found Google Apps very useful and we don't even use all its capabilities yet. I don't even know all its capabilities yet! Explore the information available at Google, watch some of the videos, sign up for a getting started webinar and check it out!