Church Management Software, or ChMS, can be a great tool to help church leaders do ministry. You can leverage technology to follow up with guests, coordinate volunteers, provide online communities, record donations, manage church facilities, and much more. Fortunately, there are many vendors providing various options for churches. However, the potential downside of all these options is it can be challenging to find the best church management software for your church.
Whether you already have a ChMS and are considering making a switch, or you’re starting from scratch, selecting a ChMS is a big decision. The investment of time and money can be significant, so you want to take time upfront to carefully choose the system that will best support your church. This isn’t the time to just ask a few other churches what they use and go with that one. Nor should you simply go with the highest rated software – it might be great, but for someone else’s church.
Here’s how to select the best church management software for your church:
Step #1: Tell the Story
Pull your team together and ask them about a “typical” week.
- What do they do to prepare for a service?
- When do they select the songs for each service and how do they communicate that information to the worship team?
- Where do they look for a volunteer’s contact information?
- What is the process for assigning volunteers to a specific service, confirming each person can serve at that time, and checking them in when they arrive?
- How do they know who will follow up with last Sunday’s first-time guests?
- Who checks in children and how does that process work?
- For special events: How do people register for the event and purchase tickets (if applicable)?
- If someone needs to reserve a room for a meeting or small group, how do they go about reserving the room?
- Where can a member of the congregation get a giving record printout?
Capture the narrative of your team’s regular routine. Discuss whether the current processes are working well or if some changes are necessary. Once you’ve documented that information, you can compile a document that lists what the church needs a ChMS to support.
This document should go beyond a list of features to see what software will match that list. Instead, consider how your church operates and what processes you’d like software to make more efficient.
Make sure you’ve considered key areas such as:
- Childcare Check-in
- Volunteer Scheduling
- Online giving
- Donation receipts
- Facilities management
- Online communities
- Small group coordination
Step #2: Consider End Users
Which staff members and volunteers will use the software and for what purposes? Will you provide members of the congregation access to update their contact information and view their donation records?
Once you determine who will use the system, consider their unique needs to anticipate what they’ll want from the ChMS. If you already have a church management tool and are thinking about switching, find out what these groups like/dislike about the current software.
Step #3: Research Vendors
Implementing a new church management software involves the initial purchase, possibly a long-term contract, migrating data, training your team, and more. After all that effort, you want this to be a long-term relationship with a vendor you like and trust. That means you’ll need to do some initial research on vendors to see if they might be a good fit.
Here are several aspects of each vendor to research:
- How long has the company been in business?
- Over the last several years, there’s been a lot of merger and acquisition activity in the ChMS industry. Some of those changes have benefited customers while others haven’t. Find out whether a vendor has been acquired by another company within the last five to ten years. If so, search Capterra for reviews on the software. Tip: sort the list to see the most recent reviews first. Scan through the reviews to see if there are any comments about the acquisition and how it impacted users.
- What do people say about the vendor online?
- What’s the vision and mission of this company?
- Do they understand the unique needs of churches?
- Do they work exclusively with churches and ministries? If not, how many staff and resources do they dedicate to taking care of their church clients?
Step #4: Request Information
Now you know what you want the software to handle and what vendors you’d like to evaluate, it’s time to find out if they can meet your requirements.
A standard method for handling this is to send out a Request for Proposal or RFP. This document should include the narrative you captured from your team. Put the story and objectives at the beginning of the document, and then include a list of requirements. Send this to each vendor and ask them to respond to you by a specific date. Send out your RFP to the top 3-5 vendors you want to evaluate.
Some ChMS vendors offer free trial versions of their software online. In those instances, check out the trial version to see if it will meet your church’s needs. You’ll likely receive an email or call from a salesperson for that vendor, so that might be the opportunity to provide an RFP or schedule a more in-depth discussion.
Step #5: Evaluate Responses
As vendors reply, look for indications they understand what your team wants to accomplish using the software. Next, check to see if the vendor can meet specific requirements and if so, how. If a vendor doesn’t seem to understand your processes or can’t meet the most important requirements, eliminate them from the list. Rank the remaining vendors and select the top few to continue with the evaluation process.
Step #6: Participate in Demos
Just because a vendor says they can meet your church’s needs doesn’t mean they’ll meet them in the way you expect. Their methods may not necessarily work for the culture of your church, so you need more than just reassurances – you need to see the software in action.
- Schedule a demo with each vendor and include key staff and volunteer leaders. You need people in the selection process who’ll be responsible for implementing and using the software. They have to live with this choice for years to come, so make sure you get their input.
- Each vendor should walk you through their software and address the key functionality. Allow for 2-4 hours per demo. This includes 1-2 hours for the vendor to demo the software and for questions from your team. The remaining time is for your team to talk about the software without the vendor present, and share initial impressions.
- Rate the demos against your narrative and specific requirements.
- Ask the vendor to provide your team with access to a demo version of their software. Try it out with some test data for a few weeks to see if it really works the way they say it’ll work.
Step #7: Ask Additional Questions
You’ve narrowed the field and seen the software in action. Now it’s time to dig into even greater detail about the remaining vendors.
- Ask how often they provide clients with updated versions and about compatibility with other systems.
- Inquire about the company’s profitability. Do they have the cash flow to invest back into their software? Can they stay in business for the long run?
- Request client referrals from each vendor and contact those clients. Ask about the implementation process and the vendor’s customer service. Also inquire about the training provided by the vendor, what they like/dislike about the software.
- Request pricing and a full explanation of the pricing structure (some vendors charge per church member, others charge based on approximate church size, etc.). Find out what would trigger a pricing change and how the vendor would notify the church about it before it happens.
- Request an implementation plan from each vendor including data migration, installation (if applicable), integration with other software, training, and setup.
Step #8: Make a Decision
This is where you compile all the information you’ve collected and consider your options. Realize that no software will be perfect or solve all issues. However, you need to select the one that is the best fit for the vision, processes, and culture of your church. Choose the vendor you can trust that provides a quality product and service.
Once you’ve made the decision and started working with your new vendor, give careful thought to how to roll out this new tool. Too much change all at once, even good change, can cause friction. Get key staff and volunteer leaders using it first. Once they’ve bought into the new system and become fans of the tool, they can help get others on-board.
A ChMS can be a valuable ministry tool or a tremendous headache. By taking the time in this selection process, you drastically increase your ability to choose a tool that supports the vision of your church.