What do Breeze, Wild Apricot, Toucan Tech and Infoodle have in common?
They are all examples of the names chosen by the developers of specific examples of a – relatively – new type of software, Church Management Systems or ChMS. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this type of software is enjoying a revival, as similar programs have been around for about as long as programmers have been involved in churches. However, the current ChMS solutions are leveraging the commercial sector success of CMS solutions – Customer (or Client or Constituent) Management Systems. Consequently, the underlying technology is very robust. [Note: frustratingly, CMS is also used for Content Management System, a website solution component. Some providers get around this by using CRM for Customer Relationship Management]
The underlying premise being all CMS systems (including ChMS’s) is that collecting all the data about one’s customers (or congregants) that can be accessed by all authorised parties in the organisation. This leads to a number of benefits;
- There is “one source of truth” – if Mrs Smith tells the door greeter that she has a new phone number, then (in theory – humans can still break the system) everybody else using the CMS can access that number as well.
- A centralised solution is also easier to keep backed up (and because it is a centralised solution, it is more critical to make sure it is backed up).
- A benefit for larger organisations is that if the ChMS records details of all interactions, then if a contact makes a call to the office, then it doesn’t matter who answers, the answerer able to bring themselves very quickly up to date with the context and requirements for that contact. In a church context, privacy and confidentiality requirements need to be observed, but the principle still applies, especially for administrative matters.
- ChMS solutions usually support managed communications and automation. Need to send out a reminder for that special Sunday School event? Email the pew bulletin to non-attendees? These types of communications have the potential to make people feel wanted and included but are typically not done because they are too time intensive. CRMs can make this type of communication happen for the cost of a few hours of upfront set-up and some regular procedures to ensure details are captured and kept up to date.
- ChMS solutions can keep track of skills, qualifications and expertise held by members and staff. If a job comes up that needs specific skills or qualifications, you can quickly find out who has those skills. If a qualification needs to be renewed from time to time, you can have reminders sent to relevant people when renewal action is required. You can organise all your contacts into groups so that sending an email to the Parish Council, to the entire congregation, or to Homegroup members are all just a couple of clicks. Most ChMSs will take care of privacy issues for you by hiding everyone else’s email address.
- Safeguarding and protecting the vulnerable – these features have become particularly important during the pandemic. Most ChMSs provide some level of “Check-in” capability to allow you to know exactly who was at a given event, track attendee numbers against a limit and allow follow-up to attendees – whether to say, “Thank you for coming” or, “We’re sorry to advise that one of the attendees has tested positive”, as the case may be. We also live in a society that is increasingly paranoid about the safety of children. Civil requirements for managing children’s groups are becoming increasingly complex and are likely to become mandatory in time. Most ChMSs can offer at least minimal solutions to assist manage these requirements, ranging from Check-in/Check-out capability, recording who dropped off or picked up a given child, restricting who is allowed to pick up a given child, to recording allergies or medical conditions and specific first-aid protocols for individuals. To my mind, it is these types of features that make the most compelling case for churches to adopt ChMSs at the moment.
- Overall, the benefits of ChMS can be summed up as releasing time spent on administrative tasks for missional and relational activities. Churches have a large volunteer work component, but it is decreasing over time, so if there is a way we can shift our volunteer resources from administration to strategically focused activity, there should be a significant benefit.
Modules, modules and more modules! ChMS vendors seem to love modules. The typical product structure is a core module with at least the CRM functions and a number of optional add-on modules (usually at additional cost) providing additional features such as Accounting functions, Donor management, Service planning, Attendance Tracking, Online Giving etc. Make sure you get all the features you need and that you understand exactly what that costs.
International Law. If you are looking at Accounting or Donor management or similar features, make sure that the solution you are thinking of complies with NZ requirements rather than US or EU requirements.
Buy a system with room to grow. Church management systems can help you grow your ministry, so be sure to buy a system that can handle more than your current needs.
Think twice about building your own system. It may seem tempting to build your own church management software to save a little money, but in the long run, you will end up spending more. You will likely not be able to migrate easily to another solution or share data with others if you take this path. Leave the software to the experts and focus on what you do best: building your congregation.