Online forms for safe ministry

Article   |   09/11/15

Everything else is going online, why not the plethora of forms that the average church uses in it’s day to day functioning – especially for Safe Ministry purposes?

The good news is that there is no real reason why you shouldn’t work at putting your Safe Ministry forms online. It does need some careful thought and planning, but if you choose the right tool for putting the forms online, they can be faster to create than paper forms, and much easier to adapt, replicate and edit, and re-use. And of course as people complete the forms, they are doing all the data entry for you! My golden rule is: never type or enter data more than once!
One of the big advantages in going online for your forms is that the information can be collected in bite-sized chunks. Instead of giving someone a bulky, multi-page form that can feel intimidating to fill out, complex forms can be broken down into screen-sized sections, and conditional logic can deliver seamless skipping of irrelevant sections of forms.

So here are some guidelines and comments when it comes to putting your forms online:

Choose your online forms tool well.
I think it’s a no-brainer: woofoo. Funny name, but about the best and easiest to use online forms tools there is. Yes, it will cost your church a small monthly subscription, but remember another basic principle about onine tools: There is no such thing as ‘free’. If you are not paying for it in a money sense, you are paying for it in other ways (advertising placed on your forms page, the company having access to your data to extract information from).
So please, please do NOT use ‘free’ tools like Google Docs for any forms that are collecting personal information like names, addresses, etc. They are not secure or private and you have no control over what they can use that data for.
Choose a paid service with a good reputation, that will collect and store the data securely and give you total control over that data.

What about signatures?
So what happens if a form needs to be signed?  This is managed in online forms with a well designed notice before a box is ticked to indicate agreement to a set of conditions. What we are after when we seek a signature on a paper form is a clear indication of consent to a set of conditions. So long as we clearly seek the same agreement, the method of agreeing can be a tick box or something similar.
A further step should be to have the form tool capture the time and date and the IP address of the computer that ‘ticks the box’. Most tools do this automaticallly, but it’s worth double checking and storing that information with the rest of the form data.
We will be developing a sample of the notice and conditions in the coming months which can be used and adapted for your purposes.

Using the data.
Online forms tools allow you grab the data for any individual completed form or a whole range of form data in a spreadsheet. Once you have the information in that form, you can manipulate and use it however you wish.
Take as an example a form that has collected amongst other information, health details for youth group members. Instead of youth leaders having to take a whole pile of paperwork with them whenever the youth leaves the site, they need only take a printout of the key information that they might need for that occasion.
Production of such results can be semi-automated with a little effort, so leaders can always have up to date and current information.

Even a reputable online forms tools company can have technical or other failures, so never just leave them to hold important data, download the contents of your forms and archive them securely with the rest of your Safe Ministry records.

What forms to put online?
Examples of forms that churches could put online (not just Safe Ministry related):

  • Volunteer Application forms (safe ministry screening)
  • Youth or childrens ministry ‘perpetual’ information and permission forms (detailed personal contact and health info)
  • Church db membership forms
  • Kids club registration forms
  • Youth group camp registration forms

If you would like further advice about using online forms for Safe Ministry, feel free to get in contact

Neil Atwood
Safe Ministry Representative Liaison