There comes a point in the life of any app where it's important to take a step back and think more widely about parts of the application are working well and which concepts need to be improved. The older an app gets, the harder it becomes to do meaningful course correction. As we approach the one-year mark for Planning Center Groups we want to make sure we're continuing on solid ground.
Our product team is listening closely to your feedback, both in the form of support tickets and in our community Slack channel. Here are some of the more foundational changes we've been working on and what to expect in the coming months:
Consolidating & Simplifying Group Settings
On the "admin" (orange) side of Groups, group settings exist on every tab. As the number of settings has grown over time, those righthand sidebars are getting out of control. We're going to pull them all together into a new tab called... wait for it... Settings.
Currently, we have this idea of setting "inheritance." This is the idea that if a category of settings is left alone, it will inherit the setting from the group's Group Type. For example, if you have a standard group description for your small groups, you could edit the group description on the Group Type, and it would change the description for all groups of that type which were set to inherit that setting from the Group Type. Did you get all that? Yeah, neither do 94% of group administrators. We looked in the database and there's a small percentage of churches using group setting inheritance. Most groups, eventually, have some setting that's unique to that one group (like the group schedule, the description, the location, etc) which ends up breaking the inheritance relationship anyway.
In place of this over-engineered concept, we'll be switching to a simple "template" model. When you create a new group, it will copy all the settings from the Group Type. And that's it. For bulk-editing group settings, we'll be adding some bulk-editing controls (like we have for making groups public/private or open/closed). We'll add those based on actual customer need though and will be listening to your feedback on what types of bulk actions you want.
Single Interface for Admins & Leaders
This is what we're seeing: an administrator logs into Planning Center Groups like they would any other Planning Center app, and they start setting things up. Life is good! They create group types, setup their groups, and establish group leaders. Now... where do these group leaders go to administer their groups (add members, take attendance, contact their group members, etc)?
Currently, the answer to this questions is not the orange "admin" interface. Leaders have a completely different experience and login process for administrating their groups - the group page. Their group page doesn't understand who they are (even if they're logged into another Planning Center app) until they log in using email authentication. Once logged in, the group page becomes interactive to the group leaders.
It's confusing. It makes it difficult for admins and leaders to share knowledge because they're essentially using different interfaces. And no other Planning Center app works this way. It also means that our product team has to essentially build features twice.
To make things simpler, we'll be adding group leader permissions to main Groups application. This way, everyone uses the same system. Group leaders will be able to do all the things they could before - they'll just do it from the same system the admins do. Admins will, of course, be able to do a lot more within that same system. Group pages will simply be the group's public webpage within the public group directory. We'll still have a login button there, but upon logging in, it will take the leader to the orange "admin" side of Groups.
Email Style Change
The aforementioned changes address the reality that most people (admins, group leaders, and most group members) already know their church uses Planning Center Groups. For some reason, early on, we thought it was important to white-label the system and make it devoid of any Groups branding. Some customers like this, but most have indicated they don't really care. Some have said that it actually adds to the confusion. When we release a native mobile application, it will be called "Planning Center Groups" so we think it's important that your leaders and members understand what system they're interacting with. This is another area where Groups is falling in line with how the other Planning Center apps function. For example, when you get a reminder from Planning Center Services, you can tell it came from your church... via Services.
Archiving Groups & Series Support
The need for group archiving is pressing and we'll be releasing the feature soon. You've always been able to delete groups but, in doing so, you delete everyone's attendance history in the process. You could leave them active, but our system will add those memberships to your subscription level. Soon, all of this will be addressed with the new archiving functionality.
PS: If you were hesitant to delete your groups because of the lack of archiving functionality and you feel like the unused groups put you in an unfairly high subscription level... let us know! firstname.lastname@example.org
Related to archiving, we'll also be adding support for seasonal groups (or rotating groups like classes). One of the surprising aspects about Groups is how often the system is being used for classes. Very cool! We're going to make this easier to track groups that are part of a rotation or a series.
Group Properties Overhaul
Group properties. They're like tags except they're called properties!
We have a bit of an overhaul planned for this long neglected aspect of Groups. First, they'll be called tags (I mean... the icon for Properties is literally a tag). Secondly, they'll be used as the main mechanism by which you'll track seasonal/series groups. More on that later.
After we get these foundational items completed, we'll get back to building the fun stuff. Additional group roles, role-based permissions, personalized attendance reports, and notification rules are all high on our feature hit list. A native mobile app is also a huge priority and it's something we've promised since we launched Groups. However, everyone on this product team wants to do this work on top of a solid foundation.