The Linux Question

Let's review a scenario:

A church is using antiquated computer equipment. Granted, the church is fairly small, but's pretty old. We're talking about early release 2002 or so, still running Windows XP. In fact, it wouldn't be able to run Windows Vista or Windows 7. The pastor and small staff, which is mostly part time, knows that they need to upgrade as they can barely keep up with software that is coming out now. In fact, they aren't keeping up too well with software that came out several years ago.

One of the deacons does some research and finds out that they can get a steal of a computer for $420 from Dell or HP, including Windows 7 and Microsoft Office and church management software will cost another $100. The pastor knows that he needs a computer, the secretary needs one, and the worship/youth leader needs one. Of course, that isn't allowing for one for anyone else who's part time or volunteer, like the missions guy, who keeps having to come in, transfer stuff from home, print out flyers for visiting missionaries, and then take the information back home again.

Suddenly, the church is faced with a cost of $1560, which means cutting some budget item by $130 a month, or at least not take on another missionary. And that isn't including any budget for new monitors (thankfully the old ones are ok), printers, etc. That equipment will just have to keep on truckin'.

Why does technology have to be the limiting factor?

Now a second scenario:

The same small church as mentioned above hears about the possibilities of open source software and Linux. No one in the church has the slightest idea how to use it or what any of that means, but they know stewardship requires them to at least consider it. So the deacon who researched the computer options now does some research on Linux and finds an ad for a small company that will install Linux and office software on the church's older equipment and support the church's tech needs for a few months while they acclimate to the new system, for a fraction of the cost of the new Dell or HP systems. In fact, the company is only going to charge $250 for the entire package.

Everyone at the next board meeting is concerned. No one has ever tried anything other than Windows, although the youth group leader has a nephew with some version of Apple's Macintosh. Everything else seems pretty scary. And is it right to get software so cheap? Nevertheless, the pastor and the staff get together on a chilly Saturday morning at the church where they come in contact with a young man who is the tech representative for the Linux company.

He begins by showing them on a laptop what they could be doing with the Linux system, that it's easy to use, has most of the features they are used to, and can completely manage everything the church needs. Cautiously, and with some anxiety, the church votes to make the switch. And so they do.

Ubuntu Linux OS brings the church's older equipment up to a new level, allowing the pastor and staff to communicate in ways they never could have before, even with the old equipment. OpenOffice provides all word processing, spreadsheets, database, and presentation needs, removing the need for over $100 in purchasing Microsoft Office. Churchinfo, a database manager for churches developed by people for free distribution, covers the church's database needs, although to be fair the church had to input the older information by hand (which allowed them to clear up the rolls). Evolution, the free Microsoft Outlook-type email client, provides email, calendar, and messaging. In a few short weeks, and with very little trouble, the church is not only up and running, but running well. And the money from the budget that they didn't have to spend on new equipment and software is on it's way overseas to help spread the word of God's Gospel.

Is this possible?

Yes. I could do it tomorrow. Most churches don't need powerful systems that cost hundreds (thousands?) of dollars. Linux is a streamlined system that doesn't need the newest equipment to run and tech support, while harder to find, is usually cheap or even free if you are willing to learn a little about it.

Ok, pastors, what is your take? Think this could work? What would it take to convince you?


Dave Faulkner said...


Great post, and very important in terms of good stewardship of our resources.

The situation for (most) British pastors is rather different. Few of us are in appointments where there is a whole load of computers on the church premises. Even in the larger of my two churches, there is only a church laptop which is used for video projection. Because people prepare presentations on their home PCs, and because at least one outside group also uses it, we have a Windows 7 machine. The other church has no official computers at all.

Most British pastors, like me, do not have a church office, but work from home. Therefore it's a case of what we buy for ourselves and can reasonably maintain ourselves without that consuming too much time. That makes the familiarity of Windows or the reliability of Mac OS X (if you can afford Apple's prices) attractive to many. Also, working from home means the computer will probably have to be shared with the family, and when the children are likely to be using Windows PCs at school, that is an added pressure. I do have a Linux partition on one of our laptops at home for me to play with, but getting it to talk to the wifi network, now that's another issue!

In summary, then, from a UK perspective, your vision is excellent and attractive, but it would need backing with a considerable education and information project, sadly.

Don the Baptist said...

In theory you make an excellent point. For small churches like mine it doesn't make much difference. 1. I use a laptop which came with an operating system. 2. We have a computer geek who cobbles all the computers in out library and we run older software.

My point is small churches operate on a very thin margin. We make due with what we have. If we were going to upgrade all our systems this would make sense.

In small churches the bulk of the income is spent in the pastor's salary.

Steve said...

Don the Baptist makes several good points, Dan. For smaller churches, we usually use whatever we can get. I wouldn't be opposed to trying something new, but I'm "progressive" as far as Baptist go. There is always the one person in every church who is "agin' it" just to be agin' it.
Now, having said that...go up the next level to the mid size church and above. Say 250+ in Sunday School. The vast majority of churches use ACS, I did at FBC (over 1,000) and at Clarks River (around 200). Getting church secretaries away from what their familiar with would be the problem. Much like me and Word or PP. Our treasurer and techie at CR brought in Linux and a free Officeisk software that he used on Sunday morning for the Imax, but we never switch church wide.
In my current church, we have two computers, and old dinosaur that the secretary uses running XP and a personal computer that we used in our home before we upgraded, running '98 I think. Mostly I use this PC in the house or the laptop when I get to go to Panera. It is on but I haven't even touched the mouse in a year. So I would be wide open to what you describe.
What I find in pastoral circles is that word of mouth goes very, very far. If you can get into a few churches and they are happy, they'll spread the word.

Best of luck, Dan. Teaching an old dog new tricks is child's-play next to a bunch of Baptist!



Mark n Misti said...

I think it is a great idea Dan! Very cost effective for the smaller Church, and almost everything that they will need is free or at a very small cost. The only thing would be someone to maintain/troubleshoot if they had problems. Overall a great idea though. I have been considering making the switch to Ubuntu at my house as well, but have not done all the research just yet. Great article!


The Navy Christian said...

I must admit I'm somewhat frustrated by this thread. It's not you guys...I count you among my closes friends. I see in your responses a healthy dose of reality that just burns a little, that's all.

I sense from all of you that it's difficult to go with something different than what you're already used to.

Steve, I think you're right. I am going to start canvassing the local area here in Chicagoland and see if someone is interested. There are plenty of users out there...I just need to find someone willing to take the risk.

And by the way, if any of you are interested in giving it a whirl, I'll help you all I can. I know your churches aren't able, but I'm available to help.

As a side note, I would love it if you would forward this post out to other pastors you know as I would like more opinions. Thanks for commenting!

Steve Nuytten said...

Hi all,

I've been using Ubuntu personally for 4 years now. I use OpenOffice to prepare my power point slides for service, my sermon manuscript and any hand-outs. My expense claims are prepared in the OpenOffice spreadsheet (reads and writes excel files).

Open office is so similar to MS Word that our 70 year old volunteer church secretary didn't notice the difference. After 2 weeks of using the office computer on Ubuntu (during my vacation), she wanted to know how soon I could install Ubuntu on her home computer.

Using Ubuntu can extend the life of old former XP computers without any loss of productivity. Staff and volunteers adapt to it quickly and appreciate that we don't have problems with Windows viruses. They also like the increase in speed.