Interview with Mark Kitts

By Brad Dupray

In 1997 Mark Kitts and his family moved to Cary, North Carolina, to work with Steve Larson in planting Crosspointe Church. In his “spare time” Mark wrote a software program to support the church’s ministry. After seven years at Crosspointe, during which the church grew to 1,000 in attendance, Mark used the program he wrote to launch his new company, People Driven Software (PDS). PDS is now used by more than 500 churches across the United States and in 12 foreign countries. Mark is a graduate of Cincinnati Christian University and continues to serve Crosspointe as an elder.

How did you go from programming to local church ministry?

When personal computers were first coming out, I decided I wanted to devote my life to the place where ministry intersects technology. When I completed grad school I worked for a consulting company writing software applications for Fortune 500 companies. In early 1997 the opportunity came up to leave the corporate world and move to North Carolina to help start a church, right in the heart of the “research triangle.”

Did you envision yourself as a church planter?

I never thought I would be a church planter, but it goes to show that God has a sense of humor! We enjoyed the blessing of God in starting this church. We were bumping up against 1,000 in attendance within seven years. Many of the people at Crosspointe have an information technology-related job, so it was a perfect fit for me.

Did People Driven Software come specifically from your work with small groups at Crosspointe?

Small groups certainly had a large influence on my thinking, because they are such a critical assimilation path in most churches. We believed life change happens best in small groups, so we designed processes to help people get into small groups as well as to multiply the number of small groups in a church. But really every aspect of ministry helped PDS become what it is.

Was the church looking for someone to put together a church management software program, or did you just do that on your own?

It wasn’t part of my job description to program software, it was just something I knew how to do well, and I was brewing ideas for at least 10 years before we started planting. Programming helps me relax, and the stress of church planting drove me to programming a lot!

You program to relax? Does that make you a geek, or a nerd?

Both! That’s probably just splitting hairs in terminology.

How did word get out that your program was available?

Jim Penhollow from East 91st Street Christian Church (Indianapolis, Indiana) was on our management team and he would get this report every week automatically e-mailed to him—attendance trends, offerings, baptisms, commitment levels, percentage of people serving in ministry, etc. He said, “This is a whole new level of reporting I’m not used to getting. You have to share this!” He said East 91st wanted to use it with all of the church plants. We had about 10 churches using it before we launched the company. Those 10 churches were invaluable in giving us good feedback to make it a valuable product for the church.

Were you surprised that so many churches were interested in what you had to offer?

Yes and no. I’ve been watching the church software market since college and I’ve had dreams of doing what I’m doing since then. But honestly, the demands of planting a church were so great that it was a back-burner issue. “Job one” was to plant Crosspointe and do it well. It just so happened that the software helped us do that.

But when the time came to explore whether I had something worth sharing, I thought, I’ll just throw it out there on the Internet, run a few magazine ads and see what happens. From there it just really took off. It reached a point where I had to choose whether to be a full-time pastor or run a software company. I saw I could help hundreds of churches instead of just one, so the choice became very clear

Why would a church need church management software? Thirty years ago something like this wasn’t even possible.

There’s been an enormous paradigm shift in our culture. It’s more than just having “tracking software.” People are now expecting to interact with the organizations they are affiliated with 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through the Internet. For example, I can log in to my child’s school and see his assignments and grades online; I can pay my taxes online; I can shop online. Our culture now expects most organizations to interact with them online, including the church. The church is about connecting people in community. It’s about providing resources to help them grow as Christians. It’s about supporting the church financially to make sure the kingdom can grow and expand. All of this is now possible, which allows a church to expand its reach exponentially with less labor and lower cost.

When you were developing the software, what was one of your key discoveries?

One of the big discoveries was with the power and speed with which I could serve more people with fewer resources. Here’s a simple example. It used to be that if you wanted to communicate something to the church outside of Sunday services you would write a letter. It might take hours to compose a letter, duplicate it, sign them, fold them, put them in envelopes, lick stamps, put on labels, and drive to the post office—terribly time-consuming and expensive. Now, I can write an e-mail, hit the send button, and have instant communication with hundreds of people at virtually no cost and without the aid of an administrative assistant. This allows me to touch more people more frequently, and get immediate feedback.

And there certainly is a level of interactivity that wasn’t there before.

Yes, people can see my message on the Web and respond to it anytime they want to. They can express interest in serving in a ministry or joining a small group, or register for an event, all via e-mail. I don’t have to rely on an administrative assistant to collect all the responses. They get sent directly to the leader in charge of whatever ministry. All I have to do is monitor the results and disciple the leaders!

What areas were churches missing?

I think there is a big disconnect between what a church says they value and what they actually do. And as a result, many decisions get made based on intuition alone, and you can’t discount that, but how much better would the decisions be if you could back that up with hard data? For example, if one of the core values of your church is that every person serves, then you have to keep track of who is involved in what ministry and regularly monitor it. Our software can track and report on this data via weekly automated e-mail to show you trends and involvement percentages. Then if you begin to see that the percentage of people serving in ministry is lower than it should be, it allows you to allocate time and resources toward recruitment for ministry.

What value does this kind of tracking provide?

It tells you whether you are fulfilling the mission of the church! You need to know how effective you are at reaching people, and that means counting things—no doubt about it. But it’s not just about tracking nickels and noses. It’s about defining your church’s strategic process for discipling people and then putting in place metrics that help you know if you are effective. You can’t “database” spiritual health. The only thing you can database is behaviors, and every church has expectations for them. For example, small group involvement, serving in ministries, giving, and attendance are all trackable behaviors that are key indicators of a church’s health.

Churches can get too focused on the nuts and bolts of “doing church,” can’t they?

Yes. Technology is just a tool. The best technology is simple and transparent—you don’t even realize it’s there, until it breaks! Software will only help you do the things you are already doing well. It is not the ministry itself. No matter how great your systems are, they never substitute for loving people and loving God.

Brad Dupray is senior vice president, investor development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.

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