By RaeAnn Slaybaugh
An expert offers practical advice for evaluating and choosing the right management software for your church’s unique needs.
Church Executive spoke with Mark Peterson, president of Carlsbad, CA-based Web Church Connect — provider of database software for the religious market — about the “next big thing(s)” in church management software, or CMS.
From all-in-one solutions, to transparency in the fee structure, to privacy concerns surrounding members’ information, it seems church executives are more sophisticated than ever about what they want (and need) their church management software to do.
In the end, he says, the first step in the selection process should be to pair the software tool’s capabilities with a short list of church-friendly characteristics and functions, including:
A one-stop solution. First, from a financial stewardship perspective, Peterson says church clients want to invest in one tool that meets all their software requirements. “We’re finding that they’re looking for an all-in-one [software] solution so they aren’t stuck using two or three different systems — one to [keep track of] money, another to do kids’ check-in, a different one for member directories, and another to manage members,” he explains.
One price, with no hidden charges. Peterson says churches are looking to “ditch the different platforms” in favor of a single, all-in-one solution — at an all-in-one price. To this end, he and his team designed Web Church Connect, or WCC, to offer all modules (from team management, to attendance tracking and more) for a monthly fee.
“We’re finding that churches … need all the modules — kids’ check-in and online giving, for example — but often find these modules to be extra [on top of] what they’re paying already,” he says. As a result, churches end up either paying too much for their software or simply doing without the modules they need for their ministry.
All kinds of accessibility. Oodles of accessibility is another trend Peterson has noticed among CMS users — in particular, the ability to access the church database remotely via smartphones, iPads and tablets.
Aside from accessibility on all these platforms, WCC’s architecture also reflects a move towards more Web-/cloud-based CMS, enabling access to the database using any computer, at any time.
Going further down the accessibility path, Peterson and his team recently integrated WCC with the most popular social media platforms and Google Calendars. WCC Calendar events can be synced with Google Calendars, as well as allow users to sync their Google calendars to their Calendar in the WCC database. “Through WCC, church members can connect with, ‘like’ and follow their church home on Facebook and Twitter,” he explains. “And, more social media integration options are in development.”
- When deciding on a new CMS system — or an upgrade or retrofit to an existing one — Peterson says churches should follow a checklist of components and capabilities specific to their unique software needs. These include:
- New member/visitor follow-up tools — WCC’s assimilation module enables users to send new visitors automated emails and text messages, as well as to generate welcome letters. “By making this process automated, it frees up church leaders’ time,” he explains. “It also makes sure no one goes unnoticed.”
- Free, unlimited support and training — “The dollars can really add up anytime you need help,” Peterson points out. “If you can’t pay the extra money for support or training, you’re not getting the most out of the software.”
- Multiple-administrator access — “Many times, churches realize [too late] that they can only have a limited number of admins access the database,” he cautions.
- Unlimited member-add capabilities — In Peterson’s experience, many CMS users are shocked to find they can’t keep adding members to their database without paying extra.
- Customizable content — Peterson and his team designed WCC to customize a church client’s terminology according to its culture. “For instance, you can rename small groups ‘life groups,’ or ‘connect groups,’ or whatever you want to call your small-groups ministry,” he explains. “In fact, you can take any term in the database and rename it.”
- Privacy of member data — Peterson advises church clients to make sure their CMS provider won’t share or sell its members’ information to a third party. “Check the fine print,” he says. “Some providers will share your members’ information with anyone who’ll pay.”
“People are the best investment”
Peterson believes that having a church database your church can afford always pays off. “If it costs you X dollars to get someone saved, [who then becomes] a passionate pursuer of Jesus Christ, how do you put a price on that?” he asks.
“By having the latest technology — created by pastors for pastors, and at the most affordable cost — churches grow and their people feel connected and loved.
“And that’s what it’s all about: the people.”