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Church management software matters (a lot)

illustrationBy Steve Caton

Take the time to be strategic with your decision. You’ll be glad you did.

Few church leaders get excited about researching different church management software (ChMS) options. That’s understandable; the choices can seem overwhelming, and the pressure to make the right decision is high.

Not only is your church investing financially in the software it chooses, it’s also going to spend a lot of time and energy on the implementation process.

And no one wants to make the wrong decision.
If you’re facing this choice, I want to share some helpful information that will provide the frameworks for your evaluation process. Church leaders who put in the time and energy upfront are much more likely to make the best technology decision for their churches — and to realize the full potential of the software after its implementation.

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2 dangerous assumptions
When attempting to select the right ChMS, two assumptions have the potential to sway church leaders toward a decision that will only cause more problems.

  1. Cheaper is better. We wouldn’t put the cheapest roofs on our homes, because they protect our families and possessions from nature’s elements. Something that important needs to be built to last. The same principle applies to ChMS. The right technology will give your church the ability to operate more efficiently and effectively for the long term. If you could increase the number of recurring givers, multiply the number of small groups, improve your assimilation process, and overcome your member retention setbacks, what would that be worth to your church?
  2. If something works for my buddies, it will work for me, too. A software solution might work well for a church across town. But, never confuse your church’s unique needs and preferences with the preferences or needs of another congregation.

What’s at stake?
Taking the faster, more efficient, less strategic approach to ChMS selection has several less-than-ideal outcomes.

You’ll miss opportunities to connect with people. Church leaders who don’t think strategically about their technology miss out on the opportunity to effectively communicate with members based on their gifts, interests, personality traits and favorite causes.

You’ll make decisions that aren’t completely informed. If you don’t have technology that records important metrics, your church won’t be able to make the most informed decisions possible for ministry.

You’ll miss out on opportunities to cultivate generosity. Technology has become an essential element for churches who want to cultivate generosity within the congregation. It also helps justify how church resources are stewarded.

You’ll rely on your gut when it comes to your church’s growth patterns and potential. Without thinking strategically about your technology, you miss the opportunity to record and analyze the important data that illustrates growth patterns.

People will leave your church — and you won’t know why. Not thinking strategically about your technology can have a significant impact on how well your church is connecting with first-time guests, and what it learns from those who don’t return.

Personalized growth is limited. Without thinking strategically about how technology can help your church be more personal, an opportunity is wasted to help each member grow in his or her own way.

Community within your church won’t thrive. How can we expect authentic community and care to happen in the absence of accurate information?

Once you’ve identified what’s at stake — and know to avoid dangerous assumptions — you’ll be on your way to finding a ChMS solution that provides everything your church needs to do better ministry.

Get the right people involved
Having worked with hundreds of churches, there’s one core principle among our most successful clients: collaboration.

In these churches, decisions aren’t made by a closeted set of leaders, and then tossed over the transom for others to implement. Instead, they’re made by involving — from the start — the people who will be materially impacted by the choice.

This principle ensures buy-in and momentum from the get-go. When decision-making is shared, there’s a core team of people who play a role in the successful implementation.

In a lot of churches (our own clients among them), a closeted set of leaders or a single leader makes the ChMS decision. While we’re glad to work with them, we often have to deal with the repercussions as the rest of the staff struggles to understand the “why” and “how” of the decision.

If you want to achieve predictable success in your church’s software implementation, you must:
•    Ensure staff and volunteers understand the “why.”
•    Understand the systems and processes of how your church works today, and be able to translate that into the new system.
•    Prepare your data to move from one system to the next.
•    Allow time to verify data and make sure things are functioning properly.
•    Allow time for training.
•    Make someone accountable for owning it (both in transition and in the future).

Many churches hand the responsibility for researching a new church management system to an administrative assistant. While it’s totally OK to get this individual involved in the selection process, it’s essential that a higher-level (director or above) staff person is also enlisted.

Deciding what ChMS works best for your church is a big call; the last thing you want is to waste your church’s efforts and money. So, it’s worth the time, energy and commitment necessary to identify what’s at stake, to make sure the right people are involved in the decision, and to ask the questions that will guide your church to a solid decision.

More than likely, it will be a lot more work than you anticipate — and that’s a good thing. You’re not just making a decision about software; you’re also deciding what kind of church you want to be: one which is completely dependent on staff to do the work of ministry, or one which equips and activates a broad base of people for ministry.

Steve Caton is part of the Leadership Team at Church Community Builder in Colorado Springs, CO. He leverages a unique background in technology, fundraising and church leadership to help local churches decentralize their processes and equip their people to be disciple-makers. Caton is a contributing author for a number of websites, including the Vision Room, ChurchTech Today, Innovate for Jesus, and the popular Church Community Builder Blog. He also co-wrote the e-book,
Getting Disciple-Making Right.

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Know the questions, not just the answers

Making the best ChMS decision means knowing what questions can help you find the right solution. Before getting caught up in the latest shiny object, or choosing to forego an upgrade to a more robust solution, ask four questions:

Does this decision align with our church’s core values? In other words, will this piece of technology help your church accomplish what it has said is important? Can your church increase its ministry potential through this investment?

How much money can we spend? Though it’s not glamorous, your church needs to know what’s in the budget. A word of caution: While price is always a consideration, the churches which benefit the most from technology rarely make their decisions exclusively on this factor.

Which functionalities are fun, and which are necessary? Take the time to evaluate your church’s unique systems and processes. Look for technology that will support those processes instead of forcing it to adapt the way you “do church” — unless it’s time to do things differently.

What’s the potential impact on staff and lay leaders? Technology solutions for churches should help distribute workload and empower people to fulfill their roles in the church. It should make doing ministry easier, not complicate lives. If software is complex and unintuitive, few people will use it, and your investment will be a total waste.

Deciding what ChMS works best for your church is a big call; the last thing you want is to waste your church’s efforts and money. So, it’s worth the time, energy and commitment necessary to identify what’s at stake, to make sure the right people are involved in the decision, and to ask the questions that will guide your church to a solid decision.

More than likely, it will be a lot more work than you anticipate — and that’s a good thing. You’re not just making a decision about software; you’re also deciding what kind of church you want to be: one which is completely dependent on staff to do the work of ministry, or one which equips and activates a broad base of people for ministry.

Steve Caton is part of the Leadership Team at Church Community Builder in Colorado Springs, CO. He leverages a unique background in technology, fundraising and church leadership to help local churches decentralize their processes and equip their people to be disciple-makers. Caton is a contributing author for a number of websites, including the Vision Room, ChurchTech Today, Innovate for Jesus, and the popular Church Community Builder Blog. He also co-wrote the e-book, Getting Disciple-Making Right.

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