As the world becomes increasingly connected, and cybersecurity needs more prevalent, there may be one place your MSP is still overlooking: churches.

There are over 400,000 churches in the United States. Most churches (apart from Amish ones) need some level of IT support. Smaller churches will have email for the staff and that’s it. As you go up the size spectrum for churches, IT needs inevitably become greater. When you get into megachurches or churches with multiple branches, their tech needs rival that of a small college campus.

Nick Nicholaou, the founder of Huntington Beach, California-based Ministry Business Services (MBS), has about 100 paying church clients throughout the country. He says that of the 400,000 churches across the USA, nearly half need some level of connectivity. The IT needs could be storing data in the cloud, or help supporting and protecting emails, voice applications, and the internet.

The megachurches (and many smaller ones) stream their services online or have some data component. Churches also may store payment information from tithing, mission donations, or sensitive counseling notes, which could be protected under the same rules as HIPAA. In other words, churches have as much data to protect as other places. An MSP could be just what they need to fill the void.

Obstacles to overcome to reach churches

“Most church staff don’t have the patience to deal with church technology intricacies,” admits Nicholaou.

Then there is the issue of cost. Nicholaou tells us that it makes more financial sense for a church to outsource its technical needs. Engineers and IT specialists are in short supply, and the cost of keeping a full-time person on staff is often too much.

“It costs them significantly less to outsource management,” notes Nicholaou. Churches can get the most bang for their buck by having someone on staff who deals with fundamental IT needs while leaving the nuts and bolts to an MSP. Most of the time, a mid-sized church has minimal tech needs, like the printer not working or a router being unplugged. Calling in an MSP for things like that can get expensive.

From a cybersecurity standpoint, churches often get hit with ransomware and phishing attacks, observes Nicholaou. Because churches tend to be places of kindness and predisposed to offer help, they may be more vulnerable to phishing attempts that ask for money to be sent somewhere to someone supposedly in need. Beyond the basic protections that an MSP can offer, there also needs to be staff training.

“Set a policy that ensures the church never fills a monetary request unless it is face to face. Never by email, text, or telephone,” advises Nicholaou.

MSPs can serve churches in a different capacity

Pastor Michael Isaacson of First Presbyterian Church in Middletown, Ohio, outsources his church’s limited IT needs to a local MSP, but some of that work is pro bono. MSPs have opportunities to offer value pricing to churches, depending on their needs.

Lexington, South Carolina-based Harvest Church has three campuses in South Carolina, with about 800 members spread across. Tim Cook is the church’s IT manager, and he divides duties with an MSP. He takes care of as much as he can on his own, and they outsource the rest.

Cook entered the world of IT through a different sort of route:

“I came in completely green, with zero “real” IT knowledge — just a love of computers and IT stuff. I was hired full time because I also took over grounds maintenance and helped on the worship team,” details Cook.

Cook says the church has some of the same cybersecurity needs that you’d find in other small businesses. The emphasis has shifted over the past decade from blocking to educating.

“We certainly have all of those “blocks” in place, with firewalls, spam filters, antivirus, etc., but we’ve found our best line of defense to be a staff that is “in the know” about what red flags to look for, and what you shouldn’t click on or open,” describes Cook. His church was recently hit with a significant, targeted phishing attempt.

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“Thankfully, most of the staff spotted the flags immediately, but I was reminded of the need to KEEP educating everyone since we had a close call with a newer staff member, who hadn’t been through any training,” recalls Cook.

Office365 has helped him learn a lot of do-it-yourself techniques from working with MBS.

“We moved everything to the cloud, eliminating the need for local storage (including backups), which opened the door to eliminate servers. I’m wrapping up the final details so we can finally shut our servers down permanently,” states Cook. These streamlined processes will save the church money.

“We will save around 90 percent once we switch everything over. MBS will host VOIP and Spectrum will provide internet service. It’ll be amazing,” proclaims Cook, adding that headaches will be fewer and costs will be less, as it won’t be as “ungodly” expensive.

“We still use MBS for the technical stuff — especially firewall or switch issues,” notes Cook.

Churches can be a valuable client for a local MSP, but you’ll need to tailor your services and price them in a way that works for both of you. If you can do this, your MSP will hopefully have a divine new source of clients.

Ready Set Managed

Photo: Maleo / Shutterstock

Kevin Williams

Posted by Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams is a journalist based in Ohio. Williams has written for a variety of publications including the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, National Geographic and others. He first wrote about the online world in its nascent stages for the now defunct “Online Access” Magazine in the mid-90s.

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