“We don’t like our church management system at all. It is confusing, we cannot get the specific reporting that we need, and it simply won’t do a lot of the ministry functions that we require.” Since 2001, when Enable Ministry Partners began working with churches, we have heard complaints just like this one hundreds of times. And these comments are not confined to any one ChMS platform…we have heard these same complaints directed at all of the leading ChMS companies at one time or another.
Some churches react to their frustration by shedding their old ChMS system and adopting a new one, sometimes changing two or three times in a decade. However, for many other churches, dealing with the expense, effort, time, and training involved in switching church management software is not feasible. As one frustrated staff person recently put it, “we don’t like our software at all, but there is no way that we are going to be able to change it anytime soon.”
Sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it? What hope exists for churches in this situation? As it turns out, there is plenty. The path forward often depends on identifying the nature of the problems that precipitated the dissatisfaction in the first place. In our last post, we discussed three big mistakes that many churches make in dealing with church management software. We defined those mistakes as Wrong Choice, Wrong Implementation and Insufficient Training.
Identify Your Mistake
Most of the staff and volunteers to whom we talk assume automatically that their frustration stems from the first problem; that is, they just made the wrong choice. They think that they picked an inferior product for their needs. In some cases, this may be true. But in our experience, most of the primary issues and frustrations around church management software stem from one or both of the other two problems, “Wrong Implementation” or “Insufficient Training.” The good news for those churches that can’t or don’t want to make a change in software is that they may not need to change software after all.
Even after they have purchased and committed to a particular software system, churches can take steps to optimize and experience significant benefits from a ChMS system that people “did not like” or which appears to be a “wrong choice.”
Evaluate Your Situation
At Enable, we have helped many churches with front-end software evaluation projects that are designed to help churches make the very best software decision for their unique situation. We also have guided churches through “after the fact” optimization projects that are designed to help a church to get the most out of the system they have already purchased.
We suggest a structured process, containing several distinct elements which over time have proven to be very helpful in the goal of maximizing stewardship of these software investments. A church armed with the results of this process can work more effectively with its existing software vendor to optimize the implementation and obtain sufficient training for success.
We believe that the following elements are critical to ending up with a successful optimization of your existing software.
Optimize Your Existing Software
- All departments in the church must reach an agreement regarding the church’s culture, mission, and key ministry processes to assess software features and workflow systems. Clarity often does not exist to the extent that some staff teams believe it does.
- In light of the stated ministry needs and goals, all departments must be able to identify the critical information needs for each department and the church as a whole. Sometimes, information one department needs may be generated through the efforts or ministry of another department. It is essential to make this information readily available to obtain a full ministry view.
- The church staff must analyze its current processes and software usage and identify any gaps that will hinder attaining the stated needs and goals. Your current ChMS vendor may be able to point out features and processes that you may not realize even exist!
- The staff should prioritize and pinpoint potential areas of improvement, based on initial input from key staff and stakeholders.
- The church will need to identify a strong facilitator to shepherd this process. This person must be able to help staff and lay-leaders think through the church’s needs and how those needs align with current procedures. If the facilitator is a member of the staff team, this person must remain objective and not allow the needs of their specific department to skew the process.
If you are struggling with your current church management software and do not have the option of making a switch, you can still enjoy greater utility and use out of your current system. It will require some effort; but given the cost and labor that you have already invested in your current system, that effort may be the wisest stewardship decision that you can make.