Church software comes in all different shapes and sizes. Some work best for small to medium size churches. Others work really well for large churches but are too robust and expensive for a small church.
There is no single platform that will work for every church. So, how do you find the right one for your church?
To start, hold a brainstorming session with your team and make a list of the features you need. If you’re currently using church management software, also make a list of what is and isn’t working for you.
Also keep your goals in mind and choose software that will accommodate as you grow. Where do you plan on being in three years? Five years? How can your church management software help you to get there?
Note: church software shouldn’t be picked based on bottom line pricing. Ever. (Here’s why.)
Some basic features you’ll likely need:
Membership + groups + communication
● Names, contact info, special dates
● Attendance for worship services + events
● Small groups and classes
● Email, text messaging, mailing labels
● Printed and online church directory
● Easily accessible—wherever you are
● Members can access/update their own contact info
● Pledge tracking
● Record donations to different funds
● Print contribution statements (bonus points if you can email the statements and/or members can view their donation history online)
● Reports on pledging and giving
● Reporting—compliant with FASB guidelines for nonprofits
● Ability to scale up for multi-site locations, church plants, denominational offices, etc.
● Bonus points if you can get all of this in one software package!
Guidelines based on church size:
Church size — it’s the single biggest factor to consider when it comes to purchasing a church management system. Based on our decades of experience helping churches, we’ve put together some general guidelines for evaluating a church’s needs for a software system based on its size.
The following guidelines are based loosely on household count. If you don’t know your household count, divide your individual head count by three. For example, if you have 500 individuals, then you would have about 166 households. Include everyone in your database with whom you are actively communicating: active members, inactive members, friends, and visitors.
Small churches (fewer than 100 households):
Sometimes smaller churches think they should grow before they use software. This is a myth. To use an analogy, let’s say you take a few minutes to tidy up your home every night before bed. You wash the dishes, throw the dirty laundry in the hamper, and put the junk mail in the recycling bin. Now imagine if you waited to tidy until the end of the week. The dirty dishes would be piled up in the sink, the floor would be covered in laundry, and the counter would be buried underneath junk mail and newspapers. And the longer you wait, the bigger the mess and the longer it takes to tidy.
The same thing is true when it comes to organizing church data. Cleaning the data and bringing it into a software system is easier when there isn’t as much of it. Also, scaling up is easier when you have already built a sturdy foundation of accurate, neatly organized data.
Even if you don’t plan to grow, it’s still a good idea to maintain church management software. First, it helps you keep proper checks and balances in place to prevent fraud and embezzlement. Second, it helps keep things running smoothly through transitions. If a secretary or treasurer is using a proprietary brew of spreadsheets and documents to track everything, it could be very difficult to hand off to the next person—especially if your secretary leaves suddenly or unexpectedly.
Medium churches (100 to 900 households):
If you haven’t already, it’s time to get serious and consistent with your data. It becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with all the people, donations, accounting, and payroll without a proper church management software, and it will only get more tangled and unmanageable as your church grows and develops.
For example, let’s say you’re using a series of spreadsheets to manage your data. If someone moves, you need to update their address in multiple documents, and each place where the address needs to be stored is a potential error. Church management systems use a relational database, which means you only have to update the address once and it changes throughout the entire system.
Consistent data also helps by giving you information about people so you can maintain a personal connection to them. This is so important at this stage because the larger a church gets, the greater the chance that church members feel unnoticed or neglected.
For example, I sometimes visit a large church with more than 2,000 members. One Sunday, the pastor wished me a happy birthday. (My birthday was earlier in the week.) I was surprised because he doesn’t know me very well and I didn’t tell him it had been my birthday. The church must have had my birthday on file from when I registered my daughter in the nursery. By using that data, the pastor was able to connect with me in a meaningful and delightful way.
Large churches (greater than 900 households)
Larger churches are going to need a more robust church management system. A small team is no longer sufficient to carry out everyday tasks. You’ll have a network of staff and volunteers sharing the workload. A shared software system will help the team collaborate and stay on the same page.
Speaking of collaboration, you’ll want reports to be easily accessible and sharable. When everything is happening on a larger scale, it’s even more important to track who is doing what and what’s going where. Reviewing the appropriate reports on a regular basis will keep the organization in touch with its people, financially healthy, and on track with its mission.
A certain level of personalization is also lost in larger churches. There are so many people: you can’t connect with them all one-on- one. This is where small groups and classes come into play; they allow members to connect with each other and church leaders in a more intimate setting. So, you’ll want a church management software that offers small group management and child check-in.
What about your church? Time to start exploring?
Church size is not the only factor to consider; however, it does play a big part in when the church should start thinking about getting a software package. Having an organized and consistent system for maintaining records is important for any church. No matter the size, church management software can help a church build and maintain relationships, stay organized, and prevent fraud.