If your church is in the market for church management software, you’re probably overwhelmed by the wide variety of solutions out there. From open source options to paid solutions, you’ve got a lot of information to wade through.
But before you dive in head first, consider a few questions:
1. What are you trying to accomplish through a ChMS?
Consider your ministry goals and the processes that you’ve established in order to meet them. If your church hasn’t already determined these important factors, you may need to take a step back—name the things you’d like to accomplish and determine the steps you must follow to do so.
Church management software is designed to simplify the administrative tasks so staff can focus on ministry, but it’s not a magic solution that will fix every problem your church faces. Keep in mind that ChMS can’t repair broken processes, but it can help you optimize them and facilitate discipleship.
2. What are the details of the switch?
- What are you switching from?
Is your church currently using another ChMS, making do with spreadsheets, or just winging it with no real form of organization? Your transition—including data conversion and training—will vary based on what you’re using now. This will also affect your expectations of a ChMS. Do you realize how robust some solutions are? Will you be using your ChMS to its fullest potential?
- What is your motivation for switching?
Why is your church looking to make a switch? Do you want to save time or money? Are you unhappy with your current customer service or lack of new updates? Do you want to work with a well-established company that understands ministry?
3. What features and functions do you need?
Not all church management software is created equal. Each will have its strengths and areas for improvement, and each church will have different needs. Who will be using the software and what will they rely on from the data you put into it? Based on your ministry, you might prioritize reporting capability above resource planning. You might need a tool with strong contribution or event management capabilities. Determine what functions your church must accomplish through a ChMS and what features aren’t your highest priorities but will stay on the wish list. Not sure what to look for? Download this feature checklist to get started.
Beyond the basic features of the software, you might also consider:
- Is it easy to use?
- Is it cloud-based or locally-hosted?
- Can it integrate with your website, mobile app, or check-in kiosks?
- Is support available?
Once you know what you’re looking for, you have options:
Open source software
Although open source software might be right for some churches, don’t forget to consider some of the associated costs that come with a free solution.
- The software might not be as robust and offer all the features of a paid solution—or be as efficient.
- The solution might not have been fully tested, so all the bugs haven’t been worked out yet.
- The amount of resources spent on bug fixes and future development is typically limited.
- Training and implementation resources may not be available.
- Support might not be available—especially without a fee.
- Security issues are often a concern.
Most ministries have limited budgets, but that doesn’t mean they can’t afford church management software. Paid solutions typically offer stronger support, greater longevity, and more advanced features. Still not sure which route is right for your church? Check out this comparison of open source and proprietary software.
Making the final decision
Once you decide the tools and features that your church will need, you should be able to narrow down your list of prospects to a handful of providers. You’ll likely have some phone or email correspondence with them, then schedule demos with those that make the cut.
ChMS providers should be able to connect you with references—other churches in your region, of the same size, or in the same denomination—that face similar challenges in ministry.
Get your entire team involved and take the time to consider your options. You don’t want to make a hasty decision because you could end up putting in more time and money when you need to shop around again next year.
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