Church Management software (chMS) “outside the box”FEATURE STORIES, Software, TECHNOLOGY Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013
By RaeAnn Slaybaugh
To obtain unique perspectives on health and member engagement, you’ve got to view church management software data a little differently.
By and large, church leaders are using their church management software (ChMS) to track some common data areas: attendance, revenue, giving, baptisms and other benchmark commitments. But, rarely do they mobilize this information into action items.
Doing so requires adopting a more holistic view of ChMS data. In this article, ChMS experts offer ways in which this same commonly tracked data can be viewed differently, or combined, to paint a unique picture of church health, member engagement — even ministry needs.
Giving/donations data — and benevolence, too
Tracking generosity — donations, capital campaign pledges and weekly giving — is standard practice among most ChMS-using churches. Jeff Campbell, general manager at PowerChurch Software, says keeping such records is necessary for producing donor receipts.
However, giving data can also reveal waning relationships between members and the church, which often take form in altered giving patterns. “Tracking donor trends among regular givers helps identify their faith walk progression,” says Steve Caton, a leadership team member at Church Community Builder (CCB). “If any changes in their patterns of giving occur — up or down — there’s usually a reason why. If it’s down, that member might have lost a job.
“I hardly ever see churches try to identify stories and possible ministry opportunities this way,” he adds. “But, they could.”
To get a clearer picture of the state of generosity, Boyd Pelley, co-founder and president of Churchteams, recommends breaking down giving data into weekly snapshots: specifically, online giving (percent given online compared to other methods); giving based on group involvement; and giving based on membership type. He says doing so is a good way to identify first-time givers and changes in giving consistency. The pastor can then send quarterly emails, with.pdf statements attached, to thank givers and update them on the vision of the church.
To facilitate such a process, Elexio integrates with QuickBooks. “It will perform split contributions, individual giving data and so on,” explains Sales and Marketing Director John Connell. This functionality also lets church leaders quickly determine what percentage of church members are giving, he adds. “That data can drive sermon topics and small-group content related to giving or tithing, as well as herald the need for a financial ministry — on debt reduction, for example.”
On the implementation side, other underused (but built-in) ChMS giving functionalities include mobile giving. “Although it takes a while to be adopted, mobile giving gives members a lot of flexibility,” explains Mark White, director of business development at Shelby Systems. “Although our software enables it, only about 5 percent of our clients are currently using text-based giving.”
ChMS capabilities are also useful on the other side of the coin: benevolence. “In a church, this generally refers to the money provided to members, attendees and others to meet financial needs such as bills, food and expenses,” explains Katie Moon, marketing manager for Fellowship Technologies, makers of Fellowship One. “Some churches choose to track who requests financial assistance and how much they receive.”
Small groups data
Small groups data is commonly tracked using ChMS. However, this data can be a lot more telling than many users realize.
On a basic level, it can identify if someone has missed a few events or classes in a row. “If someone drops out of a small group, it’s likely they’ll leave the church next,” warns Mark Peterson, marketing director at Web Church Connect (WCC). “So, it’s best to heed the warning signs.” Whereas Peterson says most churches are reactive about such data, alerts can be set up within WCC to text or email anyone who falls below a certain attendance percentage, or once they’ve missed two or three consecutive meetings.
Elexio’s John Connell echoes the importance of taking action on troubling small group data. “Some forward-thinking churches are using ChMS to assign responsibility for small groups, but rarely are they following up on what that data indicates,” he says. “It’s not just about attendance; it’s about involvement.”
To ensure the right small group fits for members from the get-go, the database side of Elexio has Spiritual Gifts/Heart/Abilities/Personality/Experience (S.H.A.P.E.) methodology baked in.
Similarly, Shelby Systems’ software can pair up members with ministries using personality test results — Myers-Briggs, DISC, S.H.A.P.E. and PLACE.
For facilitating small group engagement and operations in the long term, Elexio’s online portal lets leaders take attendance, as well as email and distribute materials. Reports can be derived from that activity. “In fact, our database was written by a small groups pastor,” Connell says. “So, there’s lots of small groups functionality built-in.”
To this same end, Shelby Systems enables mobile attendance-taking. That way, small group leaders don’t have to take role and then enter the data manually, later. “It’s very easy for laypeople to learn, and it even offers reminders,” says White. “It’s accessible in the cloud using any Internet browser.”
CCB’s Steve Caton says he typically sees ChMS users focus on rosters rather than attendance data. “They tend to know who’s signed up, but they don’t do a great job of tracking who actually showed up,” he explains. “In both cases, of course, the latter data is more telling.”
Shelby Systems’ Mark White echoes this concern. His company’s ChMS is designed to ensure more comprehensive tracking. “Small group data tracked in metrics can show there are X number of people in certain groups, plus average attendance in each, and display all this info in graph form,” he explains. “As an example, a parking lot greeter might be listed as a ministry volunteer, but how often is he actually showing up for his shift? This functionality can tell you that.”
Another important area of volunteer data tracking is requirements, as Katie Moon, marketing manager for Fellowship One, points out. “For instance, to serve in the kids’ ministry, volunteers might be required to attend a specific training, undergo a background check, or be CPR-certified,” she says. “Or, a volunteer might need to have commercial driver’s license, or CDL, to take part in the transportation ministry.” The program even lets users limit volunteer job assignments based on whether or not certain requirements are met.
Scheduling/event registration data
Built-in ChMS features such as event calendars, room and equipment scheduling can really improve efficiency in a church office.
As one example, PowerChurch lets users access a calendar of events for their activities and groups via Google Calendar. “They can also receive e-mail notifications of upcoming tasks and events,” says Jeff Campbell.
And, Elexio interfaces with Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets to drive foot traffic to events.
Jessica Houston, an account executive at Denver-based Event Management Systems (EMS), concurs that event registration is native to many ChMS programs.
“But, some systems are moving away from the notion that they need to be the one-stop-shop for church software, and focusing instead on their expertise,” she says. “Integrating with systems like EMS — including EMS Master Calendar, which lets users subscribe to events and get related reminders — offers extensive use reports to improve stewardship over space and resources.” Currently, more than 1,800 churches use EMS to manage their rooms, resources and events despite their ChMS having built-in room scheduling features.
Additionally, churches that rent their space can use specialized room and resource management software (such as EMS) to track revenue.
Tracking post-event data is another extremely useful ChMS function, as CCB’s Steve Caton explains. “It’d be great to see churches do more tracking of event attendance,” he says. “That means not only taking attendance, but following up with attendees.”
To that end, CCB facilitates a robust tracking-and-follow-up plan. “There’s tremendous value in tracking events on the back end,” he explains. “Otherwise, you’re doing events for events’ sake. And I think most church leaders would agree that’s not the motivation.”
Combining data for a bigger picture
Even beyond viewing individual data sets more holistically, this same information can be combined in unique ways to paint even more detailed pictures.
At the top of many church leaders’ lists, of course, is the ability to identify the most engaged members. To do this, CCB’s Steve Caton suggests a combination of giving, serving and attendance data, cross-referenced with event and program attendance.
To achieve the same goal, WCC’s Mark Peterson recommends combining small group and/or Sunday attendance data with giving statistics. “At my own 1,500-member church, we use volunteer team data, small group attendance, and giving to identify these members,” he adds.
Cross-referencing data can even identify ministry needs — and effectiveness. “For example, if you cross-reference attendance data for your Financial Peace University participants, and look at their giving patterns before and after completing the course, you can tell a lot about how effective that ministry was,” explains CCB’s Steve Caton.
Some ChMS programs offer built-in reporting functionalities. Fellowship One, for example, integrates with Church Metrics (churchmetrics.com) and Church Health Metrics (churchhealthmetrics.org), which “take data and reports and help pastors make better decisions based on their churches’ health,” explains Katie Moon.
Beyond this, the program offers an F1 APIs, or application programming interface. “Through APIs, vendors can seamlessly connect to one another to form a mash-up of applications,” the company’s website states. “Ultimately, this increases the value to the end user far beyond what one vendor can do alone.” Google and Facebook are good examples of APIs.
Fellowship One has “built bridges” to integrate through its API with GivingKiosk (for touch screen kiosks, online and mobile giving), iMinistries Church CMS (for church websites), Protect My Ministry (for background checks), and several others.
Why the lag in adoption?
While the experts agree that ChMS-driven data tracking is an underused tool in many church leaders’ arsenal, they’re divided on what’s fueling the hesitation.
“Whether a church is using our product or anyone else’s, it often becomes a glorified rolodex,” says Elexio’s John Connell.
“Church leaders are afraid no one will get onboard with data tracking.”
Other factors are at play, as well, according to PowerChurch’s Jeff Campbell. For one, many church end users simply aren’t aware of their sophisticated software programs’ full capabilities. “So, they may continue to maintain the disconnected spreadsheets or spiral-bound notebooks that have been used for years, even while wishing there was a better way,” Campbell concludes.
Ramping up your reach
Beyond the built-in ChMS functionalities discussed above, a few high-tech tools can expand your software’s capabilities in a mobile direction.
One Call Now
What it is: A simple, but powerful, church communication service that makes it easy for pastors, administrators and other leaders to send important voice, text, email and social media messages. It also enables church leaders to receive prompt feedback from members.
How it works: The service is easy integrated with most ChMS. It’s accessible via computer, phone and One Call Now’s mobile app for church leaders.
How churches are using it: One Call Now allows ministry leaders to monitor and create reports of what messages are being received, and who’s getting them. This way, they can adjust their messages and channels to better serve the entire ministry.
One Call Now can be mobilized for sending both routine and emergency, or time-sensitive, notifications — announcements about severe weather, event cancellations or postponements, a change of venue, or other news that has to get to staff, volunteers, families and other members right away.
“Our churches also use the service for day-to-day ministry communication, prayer chains, stewardship, outreach and dozens of other uses,” explains marketing representative Amanda Jackson.
How it fosters member engagement: One Call Now allows each member to receive their messages in whichever channel they prefer. Also, each member has the ability to commit these messages directly to their calendars with just a tap of a finger ensuring that important dates and events aren’t overlooked.
“It also allows the messages to be shared instantly on social media with friends and family, to extend the invitation beyond immediate church members,” Jackson points out.
My Call Now
What it is: This service takes One Call Now a step further, giving recipients — church members and others in the community — a powerful mobile tool for managing all their One Call Now contacts and messages.
How it works: This free app that lets users simply tap to add entries to calendars or pass along messages to others.
“It also makes it easy for church members to update their contact information in the church, freeing up staff time and reducing the number of messages sent to wrong numbers or email addresses,” Jackson points out.
How churches are using it to their advantage: “Every church is concerned about the engagement of its members, from encouraging and then managing volunteers to extending the mission of the church to its wider community,” Jackson acknowledges. “My Call Now is a convenient, fast way of increasing this engagement — especially among people already using One Call Now for business, school, sports, clubs and other groups.”
Attendance-tracking goes high-tech
Can ChMS help you get an accurate Sunday headcount? Yes — but it takes some next-generation thinking (and tools).
For large churches, getting an accurate headcount on Sunday can be tricky.
“While a physical headcount is great and provides valuable data on how many people may have been in attendance at any given event or worship service, it doesn’t tell the story of who attended,” asserts Katie Moon, marketing manager for Fellowship One. “So, the question is, ‘How do we know who was here?’
One way to know is by tracking giving data. “If someone writes a check or places a giving envelope in the offering on Sunday, when you enter that data into FellowshipOne, it can be set up to mark attendance for the invididual(s) or the entire household,” she explains.
Mark Peterson, marketing director at Carlsbad, CA-based Web Church Connect (WCC), emphasizes the necessity of effective new-visitor follow-up by way of attendance-tracking. “Often, new visitors aren’t as well-tracked as they could be,” he asserts. “And even if they are tracked, what then? Is systematic follow-up happening?”
To this end, many ChMS programs — including WCC — enable church leaders to program automated emails and texts to go out with within X amount of days of a new visitor’s visit. “In fact, you can set up a complete automated campaign for welcoming new visitors, including ‘alerts’ that go out to staff or ministry leaders if a new visitor or member isn’t followed up with within that specified time period,” Peterson says.
Of course, the challenge — particularly in a large church — is the manpower such follow-up requires. So, an easier, more accurate (and let’s face it, more automated) approach is a welcome alternative. The good news is, high-tech solutions are available.
WCC’s Mark Peterson says some of his ChMS clients have had attendance-taking success using their child check-in systems. “It’s a non-intrusive way to track adult attendees, if they’ve checked in the kids.”
Jeff Campbell, general manager at PowerChurch Software, agrees with Pelley and Peterson. “The primary focus of the software is child security,” he notes. “But, it’s easily configurable to only record attendance data, but also gather information from the events calendar, activities and small groups, and then connect the people involved in those events.”
The “catch,” of course, is that using ChMS-enabled child check-in functionalities only gauges the attendance data of members and families with children.
FellowshipOne’s Katie Moon acknowledges that her company’s ChMS program features check-in functionalities that are mostly used for children’s and youth ministries. “But, several churches take check-in a step further and encourage everyone to stop by a kiosk and let us know you’re here by checking in as they walk in the door,” she says. Fellowship One check-in works as self-serve (with barcode scanners), as well as assisted (name/personal information look-up.) It can also be kiosk-based (as mentioned), or hooked up to laptops or computers with touch screens.
WCC’s Mark Peterson has also observed large-church clients facilitating mass check-in, mostly on dedicated tablets or kiosks in the lobby and sanctuary. WCC offers a “live check-in system” program which lets members sign in using their name or a bar code. The same functionality can be used for events, conferences at the church, and so on.
While Shelby Systems’ Mark White agrees that the simplest way to track individual attendance is via the check-in functionality, he has some advice. “Churches think it takes too long and is invasive,” he warns. “If you do check-in, it has to be quick and simple; otherwise, it’s a tough sell. Generally, the members who are most comfortable using check-in systems are of the younger generations.”
The advanced class
In pursuit of the ideal individual-attendance-tracking solution, even higher-tech solutions are on the horizon. Best of all, they promise to be intrusive-free.
For example, Churchteams’ Boyd Pelley knows of at least one large church that uses QR Codes — even posted on its facilities — to direct people online for bulletin-type information. This data helps measure individual attendance.
Pelley’s company is also watching to see how the near-field communication (NFC) features on many phones are adopted in coming years. NFC is a set of standards for smartphones and similar devices to establish radio communication with each other by touching them together, or by bringing them into close proximity — usually no more than a few inches.
“Right now, NFC is being used as an option to pay for things using your phone, but it could be a source to help with attendance-taking,” he explains. — RaeAnn Slaybaugh