ChMS 101: Understanding Why You Should Have a Church Management Software, Questions to Ask When Choosing a ChMS, and a Customer Experience
We’re often asked the question: What is a ChMS? It’s a fair question. Also, it often comes with the question: Why do I need a Church Software?
Based on the frequency of how often we hear those questions, we assume others migh have them as well. Often it usually isn't a direct question. They come hidden within questions like:
- Church software is all the same. Why do you think yours is different?
- Why would anyone need access to our ChMS if they aren't on staff?
- As long as we can record contributions and produce mailing lists, why do we need anything else?
These questions indicate a lack of full understanding about the role technology can play in church, specifically in building community.
Here are some ideas to consider about the vision for church management technology:
- It's more than a database where you store mailing, attendance, and contribution details.
- The more people who can access your ChMS, the more valuable a tool it becomes.
- It should be a lens that allows us to see God's hand in and through our ministry.
- A ChMS helps define the systems that should align with our process or approach to ministry.
How to make the best decision about your church management software
You want to be as prepared as possible when the time comes to make a decision about your next church management software. Whether you’re looking into a new church software because you fully understand the value it can have in your ministry or because you’ve heard about the impact it can make, getting the decision right is critical.
Will your church crumble because you chose one church software over another? Probably not. However, finding the church management software that fits your church’s culture and helps you build the systems and processes your church needs can make a tremendous difference in your ministry potential.
To help you make the best decision, we pulled together a few important posts:
- Identify the why before you ever search for the what. When it comes to making decisions that can impact the future of your church, it’s important to have a solid understanding of where your church is headed and why your decision is going to help move you closer to accomplishing your goals. Before you ever start comparing church software, it’s important to identify why you’re investing in it from the beginning.
- Avoid assumptions by asking the right questions. Choosing a church management software because it’s the cheapest or because it works for another church is a devastating assumption. If you really want to determine whether a particular church software is the best fit for your church. We’ve listed some questions below to help guide you.
- Consider how it will impact your staff and volunteers. More than anyone else, your staff understands the needs of your church and the most critical ministry processes which should be empowered by technology. At the same time, no software, no matter how cool it is, will serve you well if your volunteers can’t access it or easily use it. Choosing a church management software that helps your staff improve the way they do ministry and is easy to use will make sure you have total buy-in for your decision.
- Compare options based on your expectations. What do you expect to accomplish through your church software? Improved connections? Stronger community?
- Understand what successful implementation requires. Successfully implementing your church software requires buy-in from everyone. Once you’ve made the commitment to involve others to gain momentum, here are eight steps you can take to prepare your entire church for a successful process.
Questions to ask when selecting a ChMS
Anyone can create software, right? And some people can create great software. So how do you make a decision that ensures it’s a right fit for you? When a church begins asking the question, “Where do I begin?” I suggest they work through four important questions.
- Question #1. What is the story behind the software?
This question confuses many people because they are not sure why it matters. To them Church Management Software (ChMS) is simply a set of tools to get something done. While that is valid, it is also true that when you select a software solution as comprehensive as a church management system (ChMS), you are hitching your wagon to a train which is headed somewhere. This is especially true with cloud-based software, also known as Software as a Service (SaaS).
Your ChMS should ultimately be an assemblage of solutions to key ministry problems you are trying to solve and opportunities you want to leverage. Those problems and opportunities are not static and unless it came in a box, neither is your software! It will go in a certain direction as it evolves. Do you know what direction that is? Does it align with the direction you are going? What is the "heartbeat" of the company? Who has the ultimate say in what they do, who they serve, how they serve and what it takes to keep the doors open? If you don't think these questions are important, don't be surprised when your software provider ends up someplace you weren't sure you wanted to go.
- Question #2. Who designed the software?
This is important. Yes, anyone can create software. But software that is designed for your niche is most likely going to be a better fit. I’ve been in software for a long time. Some of that time was spent outside the church space. Transportation companies buys software designed for transportation companies. Manufacturing buys software designed for manufacturing. It seems like a simple concept, right? You would ask the guy who mows your lawn to fix your roof, would you?
Churches sometimes think that “any old software” will do or the other extreme is that if it works in this industry then it will work for you. It’s important to know that the people who designed the software understand you, how you operate, your needs, so they can provide a unique fit for you.
- Question #3. What other churches -- like us -- are using their software and services?
I encourage every church we work with to talk with other churches already using CCB that are similar in size and how they approach doing church. This is incredibly valuable. Whatever you “think might work,” shouldn’t be the basis of your decision. Don't say "well Super Hip Mega Church" is using Acme ChMS so it must be awesome". Find someone who is similar to you and understand their experience and how they use the system. This will give you an unbelievable confidence in your decision making.
- Question #4. Will the software fit us, or will we have to fit the software?
You’ll probably hear words like “customizable” and “flexible” as you investigate your options. These are words that mean different things to different people. You never want to invest in a system that forces you to change core systems and processes. Any new system, unless you build it from scratch, has limitations. Often the changes our churches make are because they see a new, better, and more efficient way to do something.
When a solution as complex as a ChMS isn’t able to mold and mend itself to how you do church, that’s a red flag that you shouldn’t overlook. Even if the church you dream of being one day uses it, that doesn’t justify it as a perfect fit for your church.
We hope these questions have been helpful to you. Software can be scary. What gets us excited is when we see churches use technology to accelerate how they build community and make a Kingdom impact.
CCB Partner shares their ChMS decision-making process
It is very rare for someone to be as transparent as Jonathan Puddle has been in choosing a ChMS vendor. We are grateful that the evaluation process ultimately led him to partner with Church Community Builder. Churches rarely approach technology decisions in the way they ought to. Jonathan's approach can serve as a great model for other churches to consider. The approach was thorough, systematic and leadership driven.
Here are a few things that stood out to:
- They prioritized time to build relationships and have meaningful conversations with each of the ChMS providers they were interested in. This allowed them to compare qualitative and quantitative data. We regularly talk with churches about the importance of not only the technology but the company that supports and develops that technology.
- Pastors were included as part of the equation. (Smart move on their part to include potential users in their evaluation.)
In the end, they chose Church Community Builder, and we are thrilled to begin this partnership that will expand our increasing opportunities to serve the Kingdom outside the United States. What blessing! However, what impressed me most was Jonathan's desire to find the RIGHT solution for Catch The Fire, Toronto. That could very easily have been one of other fine organizations in the mix. The point is they didn't simply choose the most affordable, most recognizable, most attractive or biggest option. They took their time, did their homework and developed decision criteria that helped them arrive at the answer which felt most in alignment with who they are as a church. At the end of the day, that is what we all want isn't it?