Planning Center API- What You Should Know

I get SOOOO MANY questions about the Planning Center API that I thought I would take a pause from my normal hints/tips articles and talk about the Planning Center API.

Note: This is not a technical explanation of the API. This is for non-programmers-possibly even non techies. If you’re a programmer, you will not see any code snippets here. If you’re a nerd like me, I am using some terms slightly inaccurately for the sake of clarity for those who don’t know the world of programming.

What is an API?

In nerd speak, API stands for Application Programming Interface.

Not helpful?

Let’s give you a very practical example.

In my app, Clean My PCO, any time somebody enters an address into a PCO profile, 3 things happen:

Thing #1 – Planning Center says to Clean My PCO, “HEY! Somebody just entered a new address. Here it is.”

Thing #2 – Clean My PCO says to the United States Postal Service, “HEY! I have an address. Can you check it against your records and see if it exists? And if it does, can you give me the proper formatting?”

Thing #3 – Clean My PCO says to PCO, “HEY! Thanks for giving me the address. I asked the Postal Service about the address, and they said that it should be written this way. Please update the profile.”

(Like that Cat in the Hat reference? You’re welcome!)

How are Planning Center, Clean My PCO, and the United States Postal Service able to talk to each other? You guessed it (maybe)…by using APIs.

An API is just a bridge between computer programs that allows them to talk to each other. You can’t know everything about everything, so you rely on others to fill in your knowledge. Computer programs can do the same thing. If APIs didn’t exist, every computer program would have to “reinvent the wheel” over and over.

The cool thing about these APIs? There is free data that computer programs can use without having to build it themselves. Can you imagine if every programmer that used addresses had to build a database of every postal address in the country?…and keep it up to date?

You may think that the government has some problems but I’m here to tell you that things like the National Weather Service, the Postal Service and other sources of free and valuable data are things the government does very well. (ending political commentary now.)

Does Every Program/App Have This Kind of Thing?

The answer, sadly, is no. Programmers must create the programming for APIs to work. It’s a significant amount of work and since APIs are relatively new, older programs and apps may not have the capability. In fact, many church database programs do not have this ability.

Planning Center does and that’s one of the reasons that we love PCO. The API will allow people like me to create slick add-ons to PCO that PCO wouldn’t otherwise do. In fact, PCO is counting on this happening. That’s why they made the API.

Fun fact…guess what powers those apps running on your phone? APIs! Without APIs, your phone apps would grind to a screeching halt!

What are Examples of How PCO Uses APIs?

Besides the example above, the most well-known examples are Mailchimp and Stripe. If you read my article from last week, you learned how to use Mailchimp to supercharge your e-mail campaigns. PCO and Mailchimp talk to each other through the API.

Example #2- Stripe. PCO Giving uses Stripe to process payments. Tithe dollars never pass through PCO. Stripe and PCO are connected by an API.

How Does the Planning Center API Help Me?

Great question…because the API opens nearly limitless possibilities. It allows people to think of things that PCO hasn’t thought of or doesn’t have time to create.

You know all those things that PCO doesn’t do? PCO can do nearly all of things on your wish list through the use of the API.

Another real-world example: In my church, we love data. We analyze data like big companies do. You probably know that reporting in PCO isn’t robust just yet so using the API, we have all kinds of different reports. Here’s a few examples:

1.) Attendance reports including tables that run specific calculations and line graphs that show historical trends and overlay the 4-week moving average.
2.) Heatmaps that show attendance by zip code.
3.) Giving charts/graphs that analyze trends.
4.) Percentage of youth that checked in that don’t have parent contact info.
5.) Overdue workflow reports that show the staff member, number of workflows overdue and the names of the workflows.

The API means that nearly anything church leadership wants to see, it’s possible to build it.

The Bad News About the Planning Center API

An API isn’t all or nothing. Companies decide what they are willing to grant access to within their app. PCO, for example does not have an API for Registrations and there isn’t access for some parts of other PCO modules.

In other words, just because PCO does something doesn’t mean that programmers have access to it. Sometimes an API allows a programmer to “get” data from an app but it can’t write data. In other words, it can receive, but not send.

Other apps are far more limited than PCO. Some charge a lot of money to use their API and others don’t have an API at all.

Is Planning Center lacking a feature you desperately need? I’m available for custom API programming. Contact me here.

There are also various qualities of the API programming. Some APIs aren’t reliable or the app programmers didn’t create quality documentation so it’s not worth a programmer’s time to try and figure it out.

We’re blessed that Planning Center has not only written quality API programming that gives us access to most of PCO, they wrote quality documentation so it’s relatively easy to use.

There’s one other piece of bad news. The API is probably a 9 on the nerd chart meaning, unless you’re a programmer, you can’t quickly and easily use the API. You will need the help of a programmer.

What To Do Next

More and more churches are signing on to PCO and as that happens, expect to see more people like me creating apps that enhance the power of PCO.

Until then, if you have access to a programmer, tell them about the Planning Center API. They can read the documentation here.

Check out PCO’s Integration page for apps already built using the API.

Finally, take a look at Zapier. You can connect PCO to any number of apps you already use.

Wrap Up

You’ve probably heard the term “API” when reading message boards and you may have stumbled upon it while reading PCO documentation.

This is powerful technology that will make PCO even more powerful. Now that you know what it is and where to look, you have access to a growing menu of other ways to use PCO in incredible ways.

Want to Know
When We Post a New PCO Tip?

Enter your e-mail below and we’ll send you the link.