Consider this scenario: Your average weekend attendance used to be 200 people. That’s changed over that last few months to 500 people. As you rejoice over this growth, you might be feeling the pressure of supporting a growing church.
The process for following up with first-time guests is cumbersome. Communicating with various groups within the congregation requires someone to know all the parents or all the volunteers at the 9 am service, etc. It takes your team several hours to get contact information to small group leaders after a small group rollout weekend.
Your staff is feeling the strain and you suspect it’s time to leverage better technology to make life easier. You’ve heard of church management software (ChMS) and you’re ready to get something setup right away. Before you buy anything, consider that even the best software is only as effective as the processes people follow when using it. In other words, technology isn’t a silver bullet.
You can easily waste time and thousands of dollars on software that isn’t the best fit for your church if you don’t evaluate your processes first.
Hearing about a popular to-do list app and installing it onto your phone doesn’t make you more productive… if only it were that simple. However, if you evaluate your current work habits, decide where to make some changes, and then use the app to help you implement those changes, you’re likely to see your productivity increase.
The solution wasn’t obtaining new technology.
The solution was changing your processes, then using technology to make those changes easier to maintain.
That’s what you’re dealing with, on a much larger scale, with your church.
How can you evaluate what’s working and find the best technology solution? Here are five key steps:
Step #1: Write down the steps involved in each process
Examples of processes include:
- How you collect contact information from first-time guests
- How you follow-up with first-time guests
- How you receive tithes and offerings
- How you check-in children on Sunday morning
Each staff member probably has a few processes they’re already managing. Ask your staff to document how they complete each process. This sounds like a laborious task, but it’s something they can quickly jot down as they’re doing it.
Step #2: Evaluate each process
Talk with your team and ask a few questions:
- What’s working? Are we getting the results we want from this process?
- What isn’t working? Does it require three people and two hours to complete the process?
- How could we improve the process without using technology? Have we created too many steps and now need to make this less complicated?
- How could we improve the process with the technology we already have? Would a simple spreadsheet work for a while?
This should help you decide which processes need technology to make more them more efficient vs. which processes you need to fix before introducing a technical solution.
Step #3: Consider how to leverage technology for each process
You can use spreadsheets to keep track of visitor contact information for a while, but as your church grows, you’ll need a tool to make things easier for things like:
- Adding and updating contact information for visitors and members
- Children’s check-in
- Attendance – weekend services, small groups, and events
- Donation records – track donations by individual and produce tax receipts
“Church management software is designed to simplify the administrative tasks so staff can focus on ministry, but it’s not a “magic ministry pill”. Keep in mind that ChMS can’t repair broken processes; it can, however, help you optimize them and facilitate discipleship.” – John Connell & Emily Kantner via ChurchExecutive.com
Step #4: Research available solutions
Now that you know what you want technology to do for you, you can start evaluating software.
Here’s what you need to evaluate:
- Functionality – Is the software capable of doing what you want it to do? Can it scale with your growing church?
- Cost – How much does the vendor charge to help you set up the software? Is there an initial purchasing cost plus annual/monthly fees? If so, what are those amounts? Are fees based on the number of users, number of people in the database, or some other criteria?
- Vendor – Research each vendor and find out if it’s a larger company that bought out the vendor that created the software. Does this vendor have products in the non-church space or are they solely focused on churches and non-profits? How long has this vendor been in business? What do their current customers say about the product and the vendor’s customer service?
- Compatibility with other technology you already use – Is the software compatible with both Mac and PC users? If you don’t plan to use it for your church’s accounting, can the software send data to the accounting software you already use?
Also, contact other church leaders and find out what system they use. Steve Caton, formerly with Church Community Builder, offers this advice:
“Don’t just depend on the reference list provider by a particular company. Call the churches that you think understand how to leverage technology to enhance and improve ministry processes. Ask them which solution they are using and how they made their decision. Be sure to drill down on this last point. Many times, churches make decisions with poor criteria and end up learning a lot about what they should have done differently. Ask them to share that with you.”
Step #5: Determine your budget
Once you know what each vendor charges, it’s easier to develop a realistic budget. Consider what your church can afford to spend in the first year, which will be the most expensive. In addition, determine what you can afford to spend each subsequent year. Keep in mind that you may want to invest in training for your staff – not only in the first year but also going forward as the vendor adds new functionality or makes a significant update to the tool.
Selecting the best software for your church requires careful consideration of your current processes, how you want to use the tool, which vendor is right for you, and what this investment will cost. Take your time with this decision. While it may feel like you’re drowning without technology to help, you’re better off with manual processes than expensive software that doesn’t work for your team. This decision is one you’ll live with for many years. It’s worth the investment of time and energy now to make the best choice for the future of your church.
So What's Next?
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