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UPDATE: Free version is no longer available, but Google for Nonprofits has been expanded to Canada and other countries. The basic version of Google Apps is free for any organization.** (see note below) The "Education Edition" is also free for churches and other non-profits in the US. Hopefully this will be expanded to Canadian non-profits in the future. Until then, Canadian churches can use the free version or pay for the Premier Edition at $50 per year per user. If you would like to take advantage of this opportunity, the following thorough guide by Mavis Moon will help you understand and setup all of the Google Apps services, including Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sites, Contacts, and Mobile. Below are some questions you might have about Google Apps and her answers, thoughts and suggestions. She is an IT Manager for a Herman Miller furniture dealership in San Jose, CA. Her experience with Google Apps, though, comes from her personal use and from having set it up for her church, San Jose Christian Reformed Church.

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")
  • Calendar
  • 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 ""). 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 protected]" and "[email protected]" and "[email protected]", plus any others you can think of -- committees, teams, staff, etc. You can do the same with individuals, such as "[email protected]" or "[email protected]. 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 [email protected]). 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 "" 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.

Anything else?

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!


About a year ago, the CRCNA switched to Google Apps for all of our staff (in North America and around the world). It's been a great move!

I'm curious, if you're trying to steer your people to your web page, will google apps sub pages take a way from that?
I set up google apps pages for Student Senate stuff at Calvin Seminary the last year I was there, but we didn't have an extensive website like our church does.

Mavis Moon on April 23, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I would agree with others' comments in regards to this. We do not use Google Apps (Sites, Docs, etc.) as a public portal; it's our internal collaboration tool. It's working well for us and getting better as more people start using it.

Our pastor and the worship leader have become very regular users of Google Docs, sharing a document for planning worship together. They even use Google Talk within that so they can chat as they work together.

Our deacons and elders are using it to share some documents. And I am the chair of our worship team and have shared a folder with the team so that as I create meeting notes or run across articles to share or whatever, all I have to do is put it in that folder and the team has access.

Gmail's been useful, too. I've created some groups such as Council, Deacons, Elders and some other teams, plus an "all church" group we use for important communication to everyone.

As someone else mentioned, the calendar is great and I have made that public and show it on our website. I also have all our various volunteer schedules on Google Docs, as public web pages (no last names, emails, phone #s or anything are used), with links to those from our church website. I've also got a link to the home page on the public website so everyone has just one thing to remember -- -- to get to anything they need.

We use Squarespace for our website and it's been a great tool, easy to use and yet full of features and very customizable. You don't have to install any software, and their support is excellent.

Hope this helps!


Both Google Docs and, more commonly, Google Sites allows you create 'public' pages. But I wouldn't use it as a public church website. It's not nearly as flexible as even the most basic blogging tool.

Having said that, we use it for our CRCNA intranet (for staff). Because, for that internal site, we wanted staff to have the most convenient access possible and Sites gives us that (once logged into email, they're automatically logged into our intranet - no need for another login).

In rare situations, we'll also make a Google Doc public and link to it from our main site (e.g. small audience, design not important, constant updates needed by staff who aren't trained in our CMS).

So, as a rule, I wouldn't use Google Sites or Docs as a 'real' website. But in very specific situations, it can fit the bill. Hope this helps.

Nick Monsma on April 23, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I would agree about Google Sites. I created our church's website ( with Microsoft Office Live which has significant limitations, but produced a somewhat attractive website easily and quickly. I've played a little bit with Google Sites, but it seems like more of a headache than its worth.

Google Calendar, however, is an excellent tool for a public calendar, I've found. And Google Docs are always useful when collaborating. (We're beginning to use a Google Docs spreadsheet for our worship schedule so that we all have the same up-to-date information about who is preaching, what the offering is for, etc.)

Thanks for the informative article. I have a follow up -

Can you have the website hosted with a different provider (considering Advanced Ministry CMS) and email with Google (through Apps for Non-profit)?

Thanks and appreciate your feedback.

God bless-Thomas

Hi Thomas,

If I understand your question correctly, the answer is yes.

Do you mean that you'd like to host your church website with another provider and still use Google Apps and GMail? That actually is what we do. When people go to they see our public website. People wanting to log in to their Gmail or Google Apps go to a different address, or use the link I put on that public website.

For both things the domain name can be the same, so your Gmail addresses would have the same domain name as your church's website. When you set up Google Apps, if you already own a domain it will prompt you to do some steps that prove you own and have access to that domain, and then you can use that domain name for your Google Apps and Gmail.

Hope this helps.


You did not mention Picasa. I use this application a lot to post and share photos. You get 1 Gb of free storage, and you can buy more. You can download the Picasa program, and it rapidly organizes all the photos on your computer. You can share all or some with whoever you want, and these can be in high quality. It is better than Facebook in this regard.

Also, a comment about gmail. I use Yahoo mail, and have not changed to gmail because I don't want to change my address. But gmail has a lot less pop up advertising, and is cleaner.

You're right, Picasa is a great program. I am thinking of doing an article on photo sharing and Picasa is right up there. I especially love the way it quickly and easily corrects red-eye. Thanks for bringing it up!

I look forward to spending time on this network. Our church is looking to update our website and I am sure this will be extremely helpful. Thanks!

Great article. One thing I have never been able to figure out is the difference between the free google apps that google offers to everyone and these google applications that you are talking about Mavis. For example, on my person email account I've been using google documents, google chat, and google calendar for years. When google relseased this paid version of google apps I got really confused because all the applications they are offering I already have. I already share files with members of my church using google documents and I share a calendar with some of the church leaders as well. Anyways, if you have any idea what the difference is (if there is one) that  would be great.

P.S. I didn't know you could use google to make a website. I might see if I can use it to complement my church management software site I'm running.

Hey Mavis,


Thanks for the information. It will be nice to finally put that question to rest!



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