April 05, 2016

Brian Ford and Rob Garvin spend much of an average day in front of luminous computer screens. To the casual eye, their work may not look remarkable. But what they have accomplished during the past decade has touched members throughout the Northwest and beyond — the entire continent of North America. While they share an unassuming office at the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) headquarters in Ridgefield, Washington, their salary comes from the North American Division (NAD). Their efforts have helped create eAdventist, our current standard for digital online membership records.

It is out-of-sight, out-of-mind for most members, yet eAdventist is available to help your local church and conference manage your membership status, keep contact information updated and make sure you receive information such as the Gleaner regularly. When used properly, it saves a great deal of time for church clerks and conference personnel. Not every church is actively using the system, but more are coming online every month.

When was the last time you picked up a dictionary or encyclopedia? Online digital information is so common today it is difficult to remember when most records were kept on reams of paper in file cabinets or volumes on a shelf. Many individuals do their shopping and banking online. Even church tithes are easily paid via electronic applications such as Adventist Giving.

A Bit of History

Little more than a decade ago, that was not the case. Church membership records were largely paper files, carefully protected by long-sacred protocols.

Even when that information began to be transferred and stored to computer hard drives, the information was only available to people in that specific location. Local conference records were updated whenever reports were received — and often the data was significantly outdated or incomplete.

When Brian and Rob first came to the NPUC in 1999, the current NPUC computer-based system was in trouble. With the Y2K issue looming, the system would have needed extensive and expensive renovation. While a temporary “workaround” solved the initial crisis, Brian and Rob immediately began working on a Web-based solution. What they designed would enable the system to allow smooth access to record sharing and updating.

In the spring of 2002, they proposed the initial version to the NAD, with a request to pilot the program within the six NPUC local conferences for the remainder of the year to work out the user interface and any lingering bugs. When that initial period successfully passed, the online system was released to additional conferences.

With any new system, there are “early adopters” and others who hang back and watch. Some local conferences jumped right in, excited about the online service, while others waited to see if it would catch on. Beginning in 2003, Brian and Rob spent a great deal of time meeting with local conference executive committees to help them understand the positive elements to the new online data resource. When the final conference accepted the program in 2008, eAdventist became the first NAD-wide software adoption.

Nancy Lamoreaux, NAD IT director, assembled a virtual team to work on further developments and problem solving. Sherri Ingram-Hudgins, now global membership director for the world church, focused on customer service. The NAD began reimbursing the NPUC for Brian and Rob’s payroll and then took them on as full-time employees in 2009.

A Range of Resources

While eAdventist was initially the domain of conferences and church clerks, recent efforts have expanded it to include tools for pastors and members. This provides additional continuity of information when pastors move. When Pastor A transfers to a different church, any data he or she has imported to eAdventist doesn’t leave. It remains available online to the next pastor. Church and conference record management is simplified, providing easy management of union magazine subscriptions and email list management for e-newsletters. Every feature now and in the future is being added at no cost to local churches or members.

Brian and Rob are currently working to integrate more hands-on management tools for pastors and members. Those will include member login options to allow each person to submit corrections as needed. Local church directories will be accessible to each member via contantly updated online resources and mobile apps. They also hope to finalize resources to allow a pastor to track meeting interests — such as someone who attends a CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program) or Vacation Bible School meeting — and assign a mentor for each.

A note here on access to member information. Pastors and clerks are assigned an account by the local conference. They can see only the information directly related to their church. Personnel at the conference are tasked with monitoring changes and working with those churches not using the online service. The online records are carefully protected with encrypted security measures. In the future, pastors and members can expect expanded mobile accessibility and features.

Brian and Rob hope more Northwest churches will recognize the benefits of this online program. It’s available to all, but currently only 61 percent of NPUC-area churches are actively using eAdventist. For various reasons, some Northwest churches have not yet taken advantage of this online resource.

Who's Online?

  • NPUC — 61%
  • AK — 20%
  • ID — 69%
  • MT — 35%
  • OR — 79%
  • UC — 50%
  • WA — 72%

It's not necessarily an age-related challenge. Rob’s grandmother in Zillah, Washington, was one of the first church clerks to use the online system. At 70-plus years of age, she was still excited to learn something new.