“Of all the available options, which church management software is best?”
This is a question that we receive at Enable seemingly every day. It is a question posed regularly in online church technology and executive pastor groups as well. Typically, it is asked by church leaders who have come to a point where they believe that their current church management software is no longer meeting, (or in some cases, never did really meet) the needs of their ministry. Along with this question you often see explanatory comments asserting that their current system “is difficult to work with,” “does not deliver on the most basic core functions for which it was presumably designed,” and/or “does not provide me with the data and reports I need to take care of people and do ministry in the way that fits our church.”
Often at this point in the online thread, people weigh in and begin sharing their experience with common applications. For instance, “we use XYZ ChMS and we love it.” Another person will respond “Well we use the same XYZ ChMS and we hate it.” Pretty soon, their searches for software may lead them to one of several software sites like Capterra that rank software using a 5 star scale and each package’s market share as a guide. The conflicting data, reviews, and descriptions of the blizzard of listed ChMS products may leave a searcher even more confused than when they started the inquiry.
What to do, then? Can’t we just get a simple answer on which one is best? The good news is that the answer to this question is available. But the answer does not come with an “easy button.” In order to arrive at the correct answer to “What is the best ChMS?” you must first answer two other questions. Both questions, while straightforward, require some effort.
First Question: Which ChMS is the best fit for my specific church?
The best ChMS for you is the one that best meets your church’s unique functional requirements, regardless of what other options, features or “hot new developments” may sparkle on the horizon. That begs the question, “How does a church go about determining the best fit?” This process is analogous to ordering a custom tailored suit. In order to ensure the best possible fit for the buyer, the suit maker would begin with a series of targeted questions and measurements of the specific purchaser. A similar process can help you determine the fit of a specific ChMS for your church’s unique needs. The questions below can help you determine the needs that will provide the criteria for a good “fit.”
- What doesn’t fit about our current software? Does this stem from an inherent problem with the software or just the way we’ve implemented it? Do we have sufficient and adequate ongoing training to use it effectively?
- What types of things do we need the software to accomplish? Are there certain ministry processes that we need to customize or can we accept a more “off the shelf” process?Are we trying to make the software accommodate certain process that it was not designed to accomplish? (Think, square peg, round hole).
- Where and how do we need to use and interact with the software? At the office? Away from the office? From PCs, Macs, and/or personal devices?
- Who needs to use the software? Staff, volunteers, members?
- How do we need the software to integrate with other applications like websites, payment and giving processors, missions trip planning software, and facilities management systems?
- What reports and dashboards do you need to be able to make ministry decisions, keep your leadership apprised of ministry effectiveness, and better care for your members and guests?
- What truly is our specific staff culture and technology capability? Do we have the staff necessary to manage a highly customized solution or do we need a more turnkey solution?
- How do you need to access training and support resources? Does every staff member need access to support or do you prefer to have a few key staff interface with support? (There are pros and cons to both methods.)
There are many more questions that can and should be asked, but these should provide a good start in evaluating the proper fit, and what for you is the “best ChMS.”
Second Question: “Which ChMS will my staff actually use and stick with?”
Similar to the notion of what diet or workout program is the best one out there, the best ChMS is the one that your whole staff will actually use and stick with.
This means that even if the chosen ChMS is a great fit for your church, if it is too difficult to use, has a training component that is ineffective for your staff, or is not one that engenders universal adoption and compliance, it will not be “the best” for you. Regardless of the fit, capabilities, power, etc. it will not ultimately be a good choice if people won’t use it.
So, beyond the ChMS’s functions, features, and other indices of “fit,” you must also give focus to the onboarding procedures of the software company, the implementation process, the means of identifying and securing custom configuration capabilities, and the ongoing training options, and ease of use. If all of these items work well with your specific church organization and culture, the likelihood of adoption and compliance by your staff increases exponentially.
If these items are not designed to produce a positive and workable experience, your staff will likely look for “workarounds” or other apps that they feel they can manage more easily. You can then end up with what a lot of churches experience: many different staff and departments doing their own thing and maintaining a hodgepodge of disparate applications, data sources and silos that are never really unified. This defeats the purpose of a ChMS system. It means that leadership of the church will not really have the data to provide the full picture of their individual congregants and community that will enable them to serve and minister in an optimal way.
So where does that leave you?
For Enable, the answer to the question that began this post is simply “There is NOT a universal, definitive “best ChMS.” It truly depends on finding a ChMS that is the best fit for you and that your staff will use as their primary ministry tool. Asking these questions can also help you determine if you need a new platform, or simply need help maximizing your current ChMS.
At Enable, we help our clients find their best ChMS solution through an in-depth process of discovery, using end user surveys and feedback from the staff. Our process helps a staff identify exactly what they need from church management software so they can then make the best decision for their church. We reduce the time required to evaluate solutions by helping them identify a short list of qualified candidates, based on their specific ministry needs, models, and processes. We then can provide insight and guidance for evaluating the applications with comprehensive deep-dive scenarios that you can use to test drive the software. Our evaluation tools help the church staff score each application based on their unique functional requirements, so that the entire staff has a voice in the process.
If your church is asking the question “Which church management software is best?” and you’d like help finding the one that fits, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to serve you.