Monday, January 6, 2014

Need To Upgrade Your Church Management Software (ChMS)?

About 2 years ago, I was in a staff meeting and it was decided that we needed to move our church database or church management software (ChMS) to a new platform.  Being the “tech guy” on staff, the project was given to me to investigate and submit a proposal for a new ChMS.  Excited about the challenge I dove in and found myself way in over my head. Here were some of the issues I found:
  • The ChMS market is cluttered and confusing

  • Some systems focused on the ability to create endless reports and queries while others wanted to provide a platform for developing more community within the church and had very limited ability for reporting.
  • Some had a financial platform while others didn't.

  • Contacting some companies invited pushy sales people who obviously worked on commission while others were unable to even call you back
  • Very few sites offered non-biased opinions 
I had to create some criteria for what we needed this software to do to help us be better managers of God’s church. Our current ChMS came from a very large company that had been doing ChMS for a long time. They were very large, very expensive, and seemed to be struggling to provide services for a new lighter web based church staff. So the ChMS we were going to switch to needed to do the following:

100% Cloud Based – this was so critical for us. We did not have the money needed to develop a local network infrastructure. Can you imagine what would happen if your church lost its entire database without a good back up! With a limited staff that has multiple staff responsibilities having an IT guy to handle all backups and data management was not going to work.

Easy Moblie Access - The need for a decentralized office is becoming more real. With part time staff and the cost of office space we needed to have the ability to access the features of the ChMS from anywhere on any platform.

Strong Reporting – Many of the ChMS offer some very elegant platforms for developing online communities. I talked to some pastors who used these types of ChMS platforms and they were always a little discouraged that their membership did not seem to utilize the tool as much as they would like. So we decided we would do what most of the world is currently doing and utilize social media sites to develop community. Also, most of our staff are “numbers” people and the ability to process large amounts of records quickly and intuitively was important

Child Check In – We needed a platform that was quick, and easy on both front and the back end . Some systems require you to upload the data from “check-in” into your database. Our goal was to find a package that interacted with our cloud so the support staff in the office would not need to worry about another step on Monday. Basically we wanted a system that when a child was checked-in the were no other steps that needed to be completed in order ensure that the database had record of their attendance.

Online Giving – Many ChMS companies suggested using a third party like PayPal to manage online giving. We wanted a platform that interacted with our cloud and when someone gave online, they would be able to see the transaction instantly in their contributions statement. PayPal just cannot do that and additional steps could lead to mistakes. It needed to be seamless.

I looked and talked to many different ChMS companies for almost 6 months and narrowed the options down to two. One was a large company that had a great product that meet every criteria and more but was very expensive. The other was a small company that developed out of a couple of very largechurches that had most of the same features as the larger one .  After testing out the different platforms we went with the smaller company because their support was more responsive then the large one and the cost was much cheaper because you purchased the entire ChMS and did not need to pay extra for different modules. 

We launched our ChMS a little over a year ago and the process has been good and bad. Training an entire church about how they can utilize the new software was tedious. I found I needed to be the expert on the software and spent many hours learning the entire program so if anyone had an issue I knew how to get the answer. The data conversion process went as smooth as could be expected when you are dealing with over 5000 records. I did spend weeks tracking down different non-critical issues that followed the conversion process.

However, 1 year later, we have a lean ChMS that is intuitive and does what we need it to do. We have started using many of the advanced features within the software that has saved ministry leaders and support staff considerable time and energy.

So, are you happy with your ChMS, or do you find it not meeting your expectations? Pray about switching to something that will help you do ministry better. A ChMS should not simply be about reports or attendance, but rather about managing records in order to maximize ministry opportunities.  If you church does not have a ChMS or is using Excel, Access, or Word to manage your church’s database, you need to consider making a change.  Your church will never grow larger than the systems your church implements. If your system for data management is lackluster you attendance and member retention probably is also.

Have you ever lead your church to switch or implement a ChMS? What advice would you offer to someone about finding a new ChMS?