Finding the right church management software (ChMS) is no easy task. There are plenty of factors to consider and I have covered many of them in a variety of posts on this blog. However, many people have asked me to simplify and tell them what I think are the most important things to consider. After recapping the hundreds of conversations I've had over a cup of coffee and recalling some of the biggest failures I've seen and heard about, I can confidently state that there are two facets involved in choosing a church management software that are most critical. Everything else you evaluate should be rooted here.
Before you explore features and cost, consider how a new ChMS will impact these two groups of people in your church:
Listen to them! More than anyone else, they understand the needs of your church and the most critical ministry processes which should be empowered by technology. The best evaluations I've seen are the ones where a selected team of church staff, led by a point person with a good grasp of technology, arrive at a solution which meets the churches various needs in a very integrated way. This happens because the staff get a voice in the process and discovers the importance of realizing the best result for the entire church.
Your lay leadership
Make your decision based on what is best for those who lead and serve others in your church. No software, no matter how cool it is, will serve you well if these people can't access it or use it well. Let these people (not the techies) tell you which option is most user-friendly. You need them to use your ChMS a lot if it is going to truly empower a more connected community of people. If they reject it, you're toast!
If you start with these two principles, you will be far more likely to end up with the right church management solution. Another benefit you will see is a high level of buy-in and excitement about the final choice. The whole change process will go much smoother as a result.
A word of caution
If you take this approach, you must commit to it all the way. Too many times, I have seen churches use this approach only to let a finance committee or elder board reject the final choice because of cost. My suggestions will lead you to the best option, not necessarily the cheapest. It is temptingly easy for a board to simply choose the church management software that costs the least. But let’s face it—buying church management software isn’t exactly like shopping for a new lawn mower. Choosing a less effective solution may mean adding an additional staff member to help fulfill the work the software can’t do. Furthermore, if you veto the choice your staff and leadership felt was best, you undermine their trust and confidence. Not good!
When I think about the role a ChMS plays in managing the relationships within a community of believers, I can’t help but consider that an act of stewardship. Stewardship is a priority in most churches—only stewardship goes way beyond money. That being the case, let those who are most responsible for stewarding people be the ones who identify a ChMS that best supports their roles and passions.
What is your experience on this front? Have you taken this approach? Was it a success or a failure?