Pros and Cons of Slack for Churches

December 18, 2018 Rev. Bill Johnson

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With the rapid-fire pace of web applications today, it seems there’s a new must-have product about every other week. Generally, these come and go and aren’t actually all that new or innovative, so I hope I might be forgiven for largely ignoring Slack when it first launched. It was, after all, little more than a glorified chat tool, and not something our team at CTSFW really needed.

At this point, though, I think I’m willing to concede that I might have been mistaken in my first look at Slack. Over the last few years it’s actually become an indispensable part of our team’s toolkit, finding a niche alongside apps like Wunderlist, Google Docs, and Gmail in the selection of apps that do one thing, do it really well, and don’t try to do anything else.

What Is Slack?

Slack is . . . well, it’s a glorified chat tool. You set up a workspace and invite users to set up accounts and start chatting. Within that workspace, you can set up multiple channels for different teams, projects, or just groups of people who need to have a place to communicate with each other without bugging the rest of us. For example, at the seminary, we’ve got channels for the entire technology team, some PR-related channels, and a channel for all those who work on web-related materials. Users are free to create their own channels as needed and can chat privately with one or more users if creating a channel is overkill for what they need.

Slack also has a solid mobile application, meaning users who aren’t at their desks are still connected and able to communicate with their teams. For the truly geeky among us, it’s also got a solid integration API, so many software packages include Slack plugins out of the box. And if you’re truly an overachiever, you can always program your own to meet your specific integration need.

How Slack Can Fit into a Communication Strategy

But do we really need another chat tool? I was skeptical, but I have to admit that a Slack message fits very nicely in the niche between an email and a text message or phone call. It’s more immediate and urgent than an email, but not quite as intrusive as a phone call or dropping by the office for a meeting. Also, because it can incorporate images, links, and other attachments, you can enrich the conversation by providing visual examples as needed.

One might be tempted to use texting as an alternative, and it’s mostly there, but Slack has two clear advantages over texting, particularly with groups. First, you don’t need everyone’s phone number, so there’s a certain amount of privacy that’s respected by using Slack. Second, because Slack is mobile and available on your desktop, you can type with a real keyboard and stop doing thumb aerobics in the name of improving your career skills.

Pros and Cons of Slack

Slack excels at the rapid exchanges between users and groups that enable companies to make decisions and communicate requirements quickly and agilely. It’s not especially great for in-depth conversations or for pieces that really need a sit-down, in-person meeting. Because it’s entirely web based, it’s great for distributed teams. But don’t rely on the message history for review, because the entry-level plans cap your message history at a fairly low number.

Another concern is that Slack is yet another communication channel. It’s a hard sell to get someone to alter their communication patterns, but Slack does messaging well enough that it’s actually replaced texting for my team almost entirely, and it’s averted a number of near meetings for us, saving us time and doughnuts. You might well find (as we have) that Slack ends up simplifying your overall communication patterns.

Scenarios for Use

So where can Slack fit into your congregation? First, if you have a large staff, using Slack is an excellent way to keep information flowing in the time between meetings. Having channels set aside for pastoral staff, worship planning teams, and even newsletter production can make for a quick and easy way to have discussions that might otherwise require a meeting and the related scheduling nightmares. By keeping the conversations between team members in a single channel, there’s no more searching for that email you know is in there but you can’t remember the subject line or exactly who sent it but you think it was last week but come to think of it maybe it was Thursday. . . .

Another scenario for congregations large and small is in coordinating with key volunteer leaders, particularly between scheduled meetings. So many times, efforts in congregations get bogged down because leaders are only meeting to talk and make decisions once a month. By using a chat tool like Slack to keep key leaders informed and involved in the conversations, decisions can be made between meetings, and team members with different schedules can still connect during the moments when they’re available. This is an interesting model, and one that’s worked well in our office, particularly when coordinating with more than one other person.

One interesting scenario moves from using Slack as an internal tool to using it for external broadcasting of information. An all-congregation chat room, if you will. It’s an interesting thought, but one I’m ultimately skeptical of because it requires congregants to download an app or visit a website to consume broadcasted content. In general with broadcasted content, speak where people are already listening; don’t ask them to listen elsewhere. We already have too much noise in our lives, and an additional communication channel only adds to that. I’d be curious to hear if anyone’s tried this scenario, but my gut feeling is that Slack is strongest for internal use.

Count the Cost

While Slack isn’t a wonder tool that’s going to do everything for you, it does one thing and does it very well. More fun than what it enables, though, is the price point, particularly for most congregational scenarios. Unless you need a longer message history or an extended file storage (you probably don’t), Slack is completely free. You’ll have some limits in terms of message history (the main issue we’ve hit) and a limited number of integrations (more than we’ll ever need), but at that price point it’s pretty hard to argue against the idea that Slack can form a powerful part of your church’s internal communication plan. There’s a lot of fun potential here, so head over to Slack.com and start slacking already.

Join the conversation about Slack in churches as we talk with Bill live.
Wednesday, December 19 at 1:30 p.m. (CT) on Facebook

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