Evaluating Church Management Software

October 19, 2010 — 23 Comments

It seems like most churches are either dissatisfied with their current software or are looking to make their first purchase of major church management software. I want to spend several blog posts talking about the different options that are out there and giving you a few questions to think about. To start off, we need to define what church management software is. Here’s a starting definition from Wikipedia

it is a specialized software that assists churches and other religious organizations in organization and automation of daily operations. These packages typically assist in the management of membership and mailings, fundraising, events, and report generation.

In order to better understand how software can help the day to day operation of your church, I think it is good to think about your current processes. How do you follow up with visitors? How do you do reports? How do you handle communication? Software solutions can help you automate and improve these and they also help improve the communication of your staff and leadership team. If you are currently evaluating software, I want to give you a few questions to think about. There is not one solution that is right for every church. You will need to spend time analyzing your biggest needs and developing your goals for the software.

Questions to Think Through

  • Do we want a system just for leadership or for everyone in the church? Do you want everyone in the church to have access so that they can lookup addresses and find and share information, or do you just want leadership to use the software.
  • Do we want a server based solution or a web-based solution? Many older software solutions are based on maintaining a server with the software at the church. All information is stored in-house, and you need access to the church network if you want to access the system. Newer software solutions are based on storing information on servers hosted by the software company, so that you can access the data from any computer at any time. You have to decide if you trust the privacy controls that they have in place for your data.
  • Do we want to create a new online community for people in our church, or do we want to utilize existing online communities? Neither is wrong or right, they are just different. Some software solutions enable you to create a protected online community, while others integrate with services that people are already using like Facebook and Twitter.
  • How do our current processes fit into the software? If you have good systems in place, you don’t want to change the way you do things because the software isn’t flexible. Visitor followup and assimilation is a good process to think through. Will the software make your life easier or harder?
  • Do we want to utilize the software for tracking attendance for youth, children, small groups, worship services? Many solutions offer check-in or barcode attendance tracking. If you have this information, how will you use it?
  • Do we need to track giving and contributions? What about all bookkeeping? Several software solutions offer this built-in, while others integrate with your current accounting software.
  • Do we need to integrate this into our current website? Online giving, small group directories, and event registration are all possible with the right software.
  • Do we need mobile access? How connected is your church? Is smartphone access important? Specialized apps and mobile websites can help people access the information from anywhere.
  • What is our budget? This will automatically eliminate some of the solutions
  • Do we need a better way to communicate with leaders and church attenders? Some solutions excel in communication, while others neglect it.

As you work through these questions, you can start narrowing down your possible solutions. In the next blog post, I’ll share my thoughts about the future of church management software. But for now, I want to list some of the solutions that you can research.

Church Management Software Solutions

Web-Based Small Group and Communication Solutions:

  • SoChurch – A new communications control center with great pricing
  • MemberHub – A group communication tool with membership management built in
  • ChurchTeams - Allows you to manage and lead your small group ministry more effectively
  • Groups Interactive – Specializes in integrating with your current website to improve your small group management

Community Based Solutions:

  • Church Community Builder – Church Management Software that specializes in building community within your church
  • The City – The City is a web-based communication and administration platform for your church that builds community

Do Everything Church Management Solutions:

  • Arena – One of the best solutions for larger churches
  • FellowshipOne - A powerful solution geared to churches of all sizes
  • BVCMS – A free open-source solution for church management
  • ACS Technologies – A server based system that does everything
  • ConnectionPower – It specializes in visitor assimilation but has additional modules for everything else

What questions or solutions would you add to the list?

Mike

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I am a former design engineer who now pastors Cornerstone Community Church in Galax, Virginia. I'm passionate about following Jesus and I love technology. I've been married to Jennifer for 18 years, and we have three awesome kids, Emma, Luke, and Drew.

23 responses to Evaluating Church Management Software

  1. Rodney Christman October 19, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    What is the difference in these and Power Church. Im about to invest in a church management program and only know about Power Church. My main need is attendance, birthdays, anniversaries, profiles, with the capacity to do more as I learn.

    • I’m not very knowledgable about PowerChurch, but I do know it is a server based solution. In other words, you install it on a computer and you only have access to it from that computer. They do offer an online version that you can access from anywhere, but the cost seems pretty high for a smaller church. It offers similar functionality to the packages listed above. For the features you are talking about, SoChurch might be a cheaper solution.

  2. Mike, thanks for mentioning SoChurch. I think you encourage people to ask some very critical questions–definitely questions which will help determine the route a church or ministry should move toward.

    Also, I want to thank you for re-affirming the pricing structure we have. We’re very excited to offer an elegant, robust communication solution for churches that have very limited budgets, while being able to scale up for larger churches at the same time.

    Keep up the great writing.

    • Thanks for adding your comments. I have been watching SoChurch since the early announcements and it looks very promising as a way to simplify church communication. I think you’ve hit on a much needed market within the church. I plan on checking it out and writing more about it in the future.

  3. Hi Mike, Thanks for the great post! You’ve done a better job here at unpacking ChMS software than many of the printed publications that target churches :-)

    I think the first thing to decide for your church is whether or not you want to have to install software on a server and desktops. For most people today, being tethered to their office computers is more of a problem than a solution. Although some solutions do offer web-based access and even mobile access, there are some huge advantages from an accessibility and IT standpoint in going with a web-based solution.

    I’ve worked personally with a number of the providers on your list above. Many are good. Most recently, I’ve worked with the folks at Church Community Builder. Aside from the fact that I work with them, I also head up my church’s technology committee and oversaw the process of our church trying to make a decision on a new ChMS solution (something that would handle everything but accounting). After a very arduous review process, our very non-tech savvy “boomer generation” church secretary advised our team that CCB won the race hands down.

    Although it’s taking our church a very long time to roll things out, its incredibly encouraging to see people who didn’t think technology could help now realizing that having a child check-in system, private online community, and unified system for communications is the way to go.

  4. Mike, thanks for initiating this conversation. I think you have asked some of the critical questions which need to be considered in the ChMS decision process.

    It’s nice to see that you are coming at this from what seems to be a very objective standpoint. I think it will be very helpful to those who read it. The ChMS market grows more crowded and confusing every day with new players entering the fray and new solutions emerging which do some of what a ChMS needs to do but not all. It can get a little overwhelming trying to sift through all the players and find the RIGHT solution for the unique needs of your ministry.

    The only thing I would add to your list would be a series of 4 strategic questions that will surface what we at CCB refer to as your “ministry objectives”. While functional requirements are important, we believe that it is critical to be sure technology aligns well with the overall direction and mission of the ministry.

    1) Sustain. What are the things you do well that you want to maintain? This might be a list of ideas like Guest Assimilation or Small Groups.

    2) Improve. What are the new ministry objectives that you want to improve… this year, in three years? Many churches’ goals often involve topics like stewardship, community/connection, volunteerism, etc.

    3) Remove. Are there any things in the church that we would like to get rid of? Sometimes there are processes “we have always done” that don’t add any real value anymore. It is likely they were a good idea at the time, but that time has passed.

    4) How will you know? What are the key benchmarks you would like to reach? These might be numerical measures like attendance rates, giving, community service, small group participation, or more subjective measures.

    The answers to these questions should be super critical to a ChMS decision process because they help you understand how technology needs to empower specific ministry goals and how success will be measured. They also help to foster leadership buy-in throughout the journey and prevent the process from becoming completely driven by an IT perspective.

    At the end of the day, good technology implemented poorly doesn’t help anyone. These questions can go a long way towards ensuring success once the excitement of the change wears off!

    • Steve, these are great questions. Thanks for adding to the conversation. I spent a lot of time looking at CCB and was definitely impressed. Our church ended up going with another service, but I have recommended CCB to several other churches. I also agree that implementation is the key to being satisfied with the software. I think that is why so many churches are dissatisfied with their current systems. The software is either too hard to modify, or they haven’t been trained and educated on how to customize it. Thanks again for your comments.

  5. Don’t forget to mention Ministry Platform in your line up. This is a server hosted, web based ChMS…So it’s both…web based and hosted on your own server. http://www.thinkministry.com

  6. Mike, fascinated with your analysis and your engineering background. That got me thinking about Church Management from an engineering perspective. Building software is not like building an edifice. Software is malleable and that feature ought to be taken advantage of.

    The approach we took with BVCMS was to let usage define the software. In other words, we did not try to sit down and design the entire system in a massive specifications document then spend a year or two coding it. We took the agile approach of having users involved with actually using the product from the very beginning and defining the software through usage and opportunity. It is a just-in-time approach.

    There are a couple of principles in agile methodology that we adhere to: first, YAGNI which stands for “you aren’t going to need it”. It means that you should not try to plan for and build everything you think of to begin with, because most of those ideas are not well defined enough while you are whiteboarding things. A corollary to this principle is that the secret to success is to fail early and often. Find out early on what is not working and introspect on these things regularly. This requires user feedback through real life scenarios. Be willing to throw things away and start over.

    The second principle is to do the simplest thing that could possibly work. Don’t try to over engineer things, especially to begin with. Not saying to avoid complexity, embrace it. But recognize that starting simple allows the usage and experience of that simple process to drive your next steps.

  7. Hi!

    This is a completely shameless plug, as I’m an employee at Icon Systems, but I wanted to bring your attention to IconCMO, our web-based ChMS.

    Thanks for a solid and objective article!

    David

  8. Hey Mike,

    In my past life I too was a design engineer designing machine tools for the auto industry.

    Thanks for spending the time developing a great resource for others to use.

    I would like to expand the number of ways available to churches to connect to their ChMS to three (actually, it combines both the browser-based option with the desktop application).

    iChurch uses a locally installed application to connect to a web-based server. You can run iChurch wherever there is an internet connection without using a VPN or RDC. In this respect, it is similar to the way Xbox Live or iTunes works.

    The native client/web-based server architecture leads to a far superior user experience because of the features, functionality and familiarity of a local application whilst being far more responsive than a browser-based application because only the data is being passed between the user and the server (rather than both the data and the user interface). Another benefit is you can have all of the modules open at one time and you can jump between them instantly.

    The application keeps itself up-to-date and can even be run directly from a USB memory stick.

    The iChurch app also has browser-based access via miChurch which is used to enable your members to manage their involvement. This includes things like rostering, small groups and new people integration.

    The third application in the iChurch suite is the check-in system.

    We understand that finding the right ChMS to fit with your church is not easy. For this reason we offer a free month’s usage of iChurch using your own data so you can see how it works with data you are familiar with.

    Best Regards

    Steve Gibbs

    • Thanks for the info – I clicked through to look at iChurch at http://www.smartdox.com/ – it looks like another good product. The only downside for me personally is that I’m on a mac. That is another question I probably need to add to the list – the entire mac vs. windows debate. Thanks for sharing about your software.

  9. Excellent post Mike. I’m a little late to the party here, but I wanted to thank you for including MemberHub on this list. Really honored…

    Defining exactly what a ChMS is, seems to have become increasingly difficult for many church leaders. The technologies are changing fast and there are more choices everyday. There are some great people out there trying to help explain the differences b/w all these solutions and this post will certainly help!

    I also want to echo Steve’s comments: “At the end of the day, good technology implemented poorly doesn’t help anyone.”

    Thanks again.

    • Well another shameless plug,from an employee but I was suprised to see that you had left Servant Keeper off the list. A program with over 22,000 ministries and growing.

  10. I am looking for a good Church Managment Software I can integrate into the Christian Social Network I am developing.
    I essence, I need to have access to the source codes and be able to configure or update the codes to tailor the solution to the specific requirements in the social network.
    I do not mind if the Church Managment Software Platform is free or not, all I need is a full featured, user friendly Church Managment Software with adequate suport from the developer to support my team in the integration of the platform to our Social network application.
    Thanks

  11. I am looking for a good Church Managment Software I can integrate into the Christian Social Network I am developing with PHP/MYSQL.
    I essence, I need to have access to the source codes and be able to configure or update the codes to tailor the solution to the specific requirements in the social network.
    I do not mind if the Church Managment Software Platform is free or not, all I need is a full featured, user friendly Church Managment Software with adequate suport from the developer to support my team in the integration of the platform to our Social network application.
    Thanks

  12. Hey Mike! I work for an organization that just developed a web-based church member management system! Check out WCC here.

    We’re offering free 14 day trials for any size churches! We need a little visibility and would love to have us on this blog post!

    • I checked this out and it looks cool but I have to tell you I have spent the last two days in chMS land watching 100s of videos because I can’t possibly try them all and I want to be as diligent as I can with Gods money.

      My point is that you need more video demos. The one you have is barely an overview. In a world with literally dozens of competitors you need to put as much info as possible without having to setup a live demo.

  13. This is a plug for a new Down Under Church Management Software Solution.
    Based in New Zealand http://infoodle.com check it out!

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