At Last: Parish Online Registration
by Kathleen Kerns
For the past two years I have wanted to offer our parish parents true online registration for the Children’s Faith Formation program. By that I mean no downloading of forms, filling them in and emailing them back, or printing them off and mailing them in to the office. I wanted a form that they could simply fill out online, click “submit,” and they would be done. What could be more convenient for busy parents? I knew the technology existed, but I had never had the time or opportunity to learn and apply it. Enter DDBC and the option of doing a Capstone Project! By selecting to do the Project, I would finally make the time and learn something that the parish could use.
DDBC introduced me to Google Forms. For the simple matter of a Google account, I could have access to all manner of free forms, all of which would be saved in my account online. This meant I could work on my project whenever and wherever I chose – I did not have to be in the office to do this. To begin, one merely needs to go to www.google.com/forms. I selected the “Event Registration” template, which proved to offer all the options for which I was hoping, such as requiring answers to certain questions. Additionally, I learned that we can view the responses individually, in a spreadsheet, or as a summary of all responses with all sorts of graphs and pie charts. We never conducted an analysis of our responses before, so this feature is an added bonus.
Once I had my template, it was time to build the form. To do this, I took our paper forms to be sure we would retrieve the same information. This proved to be a somewhat labor intensive step because it required me to think in a way suitable to the new format in order to make it understandable to the registrant (remember, there would be no one there whom they could question) AND provide all the information we needed. Through trial and error, familiarizing myself with all the options provided in the template, and repeated use of the Preview button, I gradually built a form which would (hopefully) make sense and give us what we needed. Probably the most important thing that I learned was that it had to be written in the exact way that we needed the spreadsheet answers to appear. It was a tremendous learning opportunity, and I look forward to being able to do this in other contexts in the parish.
One feature of Google Forms is that I could send it to myself and others for input. When it seemed complete, I sent it to myself, creating several fictitious families, phone numbers, etc., to test it out. Not only did I learn how to check responses as I sent them in, but that I could delete them so that they would not skew the results. The form was now ready to be sent to others for their feedback. A couple more corrections, and it was ready to go “live.” Church bulletin notices had begun a month beforehand to give notice that it was coming. On July 10 we announced that it was available and two families have already taken advantage of this option! As a result of this project, we have now created a parish Pay Pal account and linked it to the parish website. Parents can now also pay online with a credit card, debit card, or their own Pay Pal account. We are really moving into the 21st century!
Lastly, we are a bi-lingual parish and we try to have all forms and communications in both languages. For this project, I used Google Translator and submitted the responses to a bi-lingual parishioner. (Type “google translator” into your browser and it should come right up.) Also, paper registrations will still be available; a significant number of our parishioners are not comfortable with online transactions. But for those who are there, we are ready for them. If you would like to view the form, go to www.stjosephwv.org and click on the link within the notice about online registration on the front page of the parish website.
As a project, this fulfilled my hopes when I entered the DDBC course. I could have gone in several different directions just for the sake of doing a project. However, I wanted to learn to do something of real use to my current ministry environment. This project has opened the door to future online activity for the parish in a manner we did not previously have. It has been an exciting experience.