Should Your Church Move to Google Apps?

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles

© 2013 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine 

A common discussion these days is whether a move to Google Apps makes sense. Is it a good option compared to Microsoft Office?

Why is this an Issue?

There are four driving forces among church team members wanting their organizations to adopt Google Apps:

  • Cost.  The cost of Google Apps is free, so from that perspective it can make a lot of sense.  But Google has changed their pricing policy for religious nonprofits a few times; I think the end of the story on using Google Apps in a church has not yet been written.  As of this writing (February, 2013) Google is willing to donate the use of Google Apps to nonprofit organizations with the following restrictions:
    • Less than 3000 users,
    • Registered and recognized 501(c)(3)— searchable in the IRS database; Google does not recognize the equivalence the IRS gives to churches,
    • Does not discriminate on any unlawful basis with regards to, among other issues:
      • Religion,
      • Sex,
      • Gender identity or expression, or
      • Sexual orientation

Many churches do discriminate in those areas, though one could argue that doing so is not unlawful because of certain Supreme Court decisions.  However, federal law and the U.S. Department of Labor do not give churches an exemption regarding those sexual discrimination issues.  Churches who have been transparent with Google regarding them have been denied the free use of Google Apps.

  • Familiarity.  Many younger computer users and home computer users use some of the features of Google Apps, and are thus familiar with them and want to continue using what they are familiar with.
  • Easy Sharing of Docs and Calendars.  The perception that this is a benefit that Google Apps provides that is not available to network users of Microsoft Office apps is not correct if the church’s computer network is fully used.
  • Availability.  One of the reasons some push towards Google Apps is their need to connect to email, calendars, contacts, etc when they are away from the church property.  That is also easily done in Microsoft’s solution.  If it’s not working, it is usually either because of email server configuration settings or poor Internet connectivity at the church; both easily overcome.

Further Legal Implications
While talking with some prominent nonprofit attorneys I asked if signing contracts stating a church does not discriminate in those areas mentioned above could damage its ability to defend itself in a lawsuit.  They said a sharp plaintiff attorney could try to introduce such signed contracts as evidence the church lies about how it conducts itself.  They also said that if they were defending the church, they would try to get the contracts removed from consideration since they are not specific to the case at hand, but there’s no way to predict that outcome.

 Another issue raised by the attorneys was about the likely lost confidentiality of the contents of the emails and docs created in Google Apps.  They stated that Google is not as secure an environment as private servers can be, and the possibility exists that Google could mine the content for Google’s purposes.

Google vs Microsoft Pricing
Microsoft allows churches to qualify for their charity licensing program.  The one-time cost for the items that compete with Google Apps are:

  • Exchange Server:  $158
  • Exchange Client Access Licenses:  $3 per mailbox
  • Microsoft Office Standard 2011 (Mac) or 2013 (Windows):  $50 per computer

If a church wanted these solutions without the IT cost associated with supporting them, there are many who can host them— which would minimize those costs.

Based on Google’s requirements and the demands of integrity, many churches cannot qualify for a free version of Google Apps.  If it’s not free, the cost is $5 per month per user, or $60 per user per year.  That’s already more in one year than the cost of Microsoft Office’s one-time fee!  So what is the further reason for considering Google Apps?  Outsourced IT.

Now outsourced IT is something I agree with.  However, consider whether what Google delivers as outsourced IT is what you’re willing to accept.

  • Unscheduled and unannounced downtime.  Google aims for 99.9% uptime as their standard.  That also means an average of nearly nine hours of unscheduled and unannounced downtime per year.  As an IT services and support provider, I think our clients would fire us if their system was down that much.
  • Who ya gonna call?  When Google is down, there’s no one to call.  At most there will be an announcement on a website or via social media.

I think Google Apps is a solution that is not right for The Church.  Her mission is time-sensitive and integrity-rich.  Many of her internal communications are content-sensitive, and she is the target of many who want to stop her dead in her tracks.  It’s helpful there are secure private solutions, like those provided by Microsoft, readily and inexpensively available.

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Comments (11)

  • Joyce Racine

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    Nick, I recall either reading or hearing that you like to use Google for your “address book” information. Is that true? If so, what is the name of the program? And where do I go to check it out?

    Thanks, Nick. Always appreciate your input.

    Joyce

    Reply

  • Nick B. Nicholaou

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    Hi Joyce!

    I use a Google Android smartphone, but I even have that sync to my Exchange account, which is where I keep my address book of contacts.

    I hope that helps!

    Reply

  • Richard N. Piper IV

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    So if you would not use Google Apps for a Church or Ministry and one say has access to hosting from like DreamHost would you say that one should be using there email hosting with the hosting server and provider?

    Reply

    • Nick B. Nicholaou

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      Hi Richard! I’m not familiar with DreamHost or their solutions, so can’t speak to that. With charity pricing, hosting one’s own Exchange server is extremely inexpensive (one time $160 server license fee and one-time $3 fee per mailbox), so hosting Exchange locally or with a private cloud host is generally what we recommend.

      Reply

  • Scott Marquardt

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    The terms have changed. It’s no longer based on an “unlawful basis” for all categories. Sexual orientation has been singled out as its own line item.

    Reply

  • phyllis

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    I am a church member that supports using Google for non-profits because all your apps in one place, drop and drag with tutorials works well, technical support if you need it, recognized in the market place, why not take advantage of a free service. Yes it could change but anything can; like website host retired his private business. Hooking a lot of different products and servers together can be done with associated costs, dedication of time and talent. Why not use Google for non-profits if you qualify.

    Reply

    • phyllis

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      I am a church member that supports using Google for non-profits because all your apps in one place, drop and drag with tutorials works well, technical support if you need it, recognized in the market place, why not take advantage of a free service. Yes it could change but anything can; like website host retired his private business. Hooking a lot of different products and servers together can be done with associated costs, dedication of time and talent. Why not use Google for non-profits if you qualify.

      Reply

      • Nick B. Nicholaou

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        Hi Phyllis!

        The issue becomes a legal one because of what Google is requiring you to certify that you don’t do in your ministry. If you really don’t do those things, then you may be good to go. But if you do those things, it’s not honest to say you don’t just to save a few dollars per month.

        Reply

    • Nick B. Nicholaou

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      Hi Phyllis!
      I agree that Google has good apps. For many– not all, but many– churches the biggest problem is Google’s requirement to agree to not legally discriminate with regards to employment practices for those with gender identity/ sexual orientation issues that are contrary to those church’s doctrinal interpretations. I’m not trying to judge on either side of those issues, just stating that it is an issue to be weighed.
      Personally, I wish Google and others would stop trying to push the LGBT agenda rather than just offer their solutions across the board.

      Reply

  • Billy Grooms

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    Hi Nick;
    I was discussing this issue with a friend today, and they wondered if Microsoft requires similar “non-discriminatory” agreements with their Office365 product?
    Have you written an article examining Office365 as an option for churches? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about it.

    Reply

    • Nick B. Nicholaou

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      Your question is a good one, Billy. Microsoft has a similar requirement for the charity license for O365, which is also problematic. Microsoft adds the phrase except as allowed by law, but that is a changing landscape. Couple the changing landscape with the fact that the license agreement can be changed by Microsoft at will and without notice… it is a concern for many.

      BTW… the VLA charity licensing agreement does not have social engineering requirements.

      Reply

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