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Before You Buy Church Management Software

3 tips on how an electronic system can help.

Church management software frees staff members to do their jobs more efficiently. They communicate better using one common tool, and they help control the costs related to running a church. Yet it's often hard to know what to expect when considering a new church management program. Here are three tips to consider:

1. Look for how the software improves efficiency

One of the key benefits to church management software is in how it frees staff members to do the work of the church and not spend as much time on the computer. It's important to choose a tool that staff will use regularly, does not have a high learning curve, and actually solves most of your church management issues.

Brandon Ganz, the director of operations at Christ Community Church in Rochester, Minnesota, uses PDSLive Online (recently renamed Elexio.com) because the software works in "real time," meaning it is available anytime. That's helpful for addressing church management issues as they arise, or for Sunday morning tasks that often waited to get completed, such as when staff members enter attendance information.

"Using the check-in system has increased the efficiency of the office staff by eliminating the need to enter attendance information on Monday," Ganz says. The staff also has become more efficient because entering data previously was a manual process, he says.

Andrew Lang, the systems administrator at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis chose Fellowship One (fellowshipone.com) because it offers greater visibility for ministry groups. All of the management tools are in one bucket. The alternative involved a more manual process of Excel spreadsheets or disparate database tools, making it harder for staff to find contacts, plan events, reach out to ministry partners, and just do their daily jobs.

2. Expect greater communication between staff

Church management software helps staff members become more efficient in their jobs and spend more time doing ministry, and this also leads to better communication. The best church management tools become a one-stop shop for information. For example, one staff member might enter a note about a new family attending the church, allowing another to see the note and reach out to that family."PDSLive Online gives our key ministry leaders the ability to communicate with others in their small groups or ministry teams, opt in to the different newsletter and mailing lists, update personal information, and check their registration status and giving," Ganz says.

Ganz says the communication benefits also extend outside of the church office, since the tool runs on the web and staff can access it from home or even when they "go mobile" at a coffee shop or library. He says this access also helps recruit and retain volunteers because non-staff can use the management tools outside the office, too.

3. Think of the long-term savings

Some church management software costs $1,000 or more, and the web-based options charge a monthly fee per user. There is always a ramp-up period with new software as staff members are trained and learn how to enter data for membership roles and track attendance, and perform basic contact management steps. These costs savings might not be noticeable at first—it may take several months to see the benefits.

Yet these upfront costs pay dividends because the staff becomes more efficient. It's important to look at the overall costs, and the overall savings, not just the initial fees.

Bethlehem's Lang says this "big-picture" view is one of the key benefits with church management software: reducing the overhead of a more manual church management process. Interestingly, many churches stick with a manual process—using spreadsheets or even paper documents—because they do not want to invest in a new program that appears to be complex and time-consuming to use. Such an approach may come with its own set of hidden costs, though.

Most church management software, such as Shelby Systems (shelbyinc.com), also provide extra modules for helping churches with online giving. Lang says this has helped control costs since staff can use the church management software as a tool for helping congregants register and pay for events. This also means staff members do not need to handle checks and cash as part of an event. And with online giving, people have another opportunity to give regularly, possibly increasing what gets collected each week.

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  • September 19, 2010

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