The very first step in making the best software decision for your church has absolutely nothing to do with software.
At their core level, church management software systems are simply information tools. As tools, they are helpful only to the degree that they help a church accomplish the ministry objectives that reflect the church’s specific identity and defined strategy. Most churches would agree that their primary mission is the disciple making imperative shared in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). While this mission is universal, it is expressed and pursued by individual churches via strategies that reflect their unique calling, gift set, capabilities, and local geographical circumstances.
Form Must Follow Function
The first step in making a good software decision is being very clear about your church’s specific passion, vision, ministry calling, and ministry strategy. Put another way, your specific expression of what it means to participate in the Great Commission necessarily drives the specific tools that you will employ to get the job done. Form must follow function.
The endgame of implementing any Church Management Software system is information. More specifically, information that enables you to more effectively minister to the specific congregation of people whom God has called to your church. By being very clear on your individual church mandate and strategy, you will be able to answer important questions about the type of information you need, the ways in which you will need to gather that information, how that information can be shared effectively across the whole church staff and all departments, and how that information can be analyzed and optimized to make effective stewardship and ministry decisions. We stress, however, that the ultimate point of all this information and all these systems is facilitating life change in people as we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
If the first step in making a good software decision is getting very clear on your unique identity and strategy, then each church should undergo a process, formally or informally, that helps the entire church accomplish this objective. If individuals on your staff possess the requisite facilitation and leadership skills to lead your team through this process, that can be very powerful. If not, there are organizations that can come alongside a church as an objective voice and help with this process. We admire the work of Auxano and have witnessed the positive benefits that their model has provided in some of the churches with whom we work.
In working with organizations, Auxano asks some powerful questions that can make a huge impact in any church. If a church can get all staff and leadership aligned around these questions, the resulting clarity can make a huge difference in the church’s impact. That same clarity will also make selecting the best ChMS system much easier. Some of the foundational questions are:
- Mission: What are we doing?
- Values: Why are we doing it?
- Strategy: How are we doing it? (And, by extension, how should we be doing it?)
- Measures: When are we successful? (This is where having complete and accurate information and data is so important)
- Vision: Where is God taking us?
Arriving at detailed, coherent answers to the questions above takes work, but it is work that will pay big dividends. Regardless of whether a church undertakes this process “in house” or utilizes the services of an outside consultant, this is a crucial step that all churches must take. It would be impossible to guide a church through this process in a blog post, but we did want to provide some concrete examples of questions to stimulate your thinking in this area. We believe these are items you should think through and analyze BEFORE EVEN LOOKING at a ChMS platform.
What is most important to you as a church staff and a church body?
- Is your church oriented primarily around small groups or large group gatherings? Home fellowships or Sunday school? Is there a particular demographic that you serve or a wide range of ages and socio-economic statuses, etc.?
- Does your church focus heavily on events? If so, you must think about all of the aspects of an event – marketing, scheduling, announcements, registration, reminders, resources, etc. Go through the entire process of creating an event, as your church would, within the process flow of the ChMS before you buy it to make sure it can actually do all that you would need it to!
- Are you a Bible study and small groups focused church? While some ChMS systems are great at organizing members into groups, others focus more on the individual member (and actually make it pretty difficult to group people). This would be a huge differentiating factor for a church who is heavily focused on small groups.
- Is there a particular demographic that your church serves or does your congregation include a wide range of ages? If your church demographic is on the younger side, mobile ability is something to consider. Your members might prefer to download an app and interact with ministries, the sermon, and their small group leader in that format. If you serve an older demographic, they might prefer more traditional routes of communication, such as email.
- Does your church have a large multicultural ministry branch? Does your congregation have a large population of people speaking a language other than English? What implications might his have for the ChMS that you pick?
- In children’s ministry, the most important issues is the safety of the children in your care. Is your children’s ministry large, small, or growing? Is a sophisticated check-in system a priority? What type of discipleship model do you have for your children’s ministry? Are you trying to track specific progress along a particular path?
- How does your church handle online giving? How flexible and accessible do you need this aspect to be? Do you want people to be able to give to specific branches of ministry or specific initiatives? Or just general tithing?
- Does your accounting system need to be housed within your ChMS? Are finances handled on a separate platform? If so, what level of integration do you need between your accounting system and ChMS? Are you willing/wanting to change the current way you record and track money in your church?
Painting the Picture
This list only scratches the surface of all of the potential facets of ministry that make up your church. Each example begins with questions whose answers describe how your church “does” ministry, which starts to form the larger picture that is your church’s unique strategy. These practical strategies should flow directly from the unique identity and ministry philosophy of your church. It is vital to paint this picture before shopping around. Why? Because if you don’t know what you’re shopping for, then you will most likely end up with something that you do not need.
Hammers are good for driving nails, but not for doing complex neurosurgery. Beginning with the end in mind is always good advice. And “the end” that should be in mind before making any Church Management Software system decision is gaining absolute clarity on your unique ministry identity, strategy, and the resulting tactical ministry imperatives.