While conducting research for a new church management software solution for St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Church of Washington, DC
, I was very surprised to learn that there are well over 100 software choices. These range from the simplest systems which do little more than just store information about the church’s members in a Microsoft Access database to very complex systems with powerful reporting and statistical analysis tools, as well as high levels of web integration.For those of you not familiar with St. Mark’s, it is one of the largest Coptic Orthodox churches in the country. The software needs of this church extend well beyond simply tracking member information in an Access database. While I will address the specific needs of our church’s management software later, I understand that many churches don’t have the same needs as we do. Therefore, this analysis will include many of the software systems we found insufficient for our needs, because they may well meet all your church’s needs.
We put together the following list of features we were looking for. To summarize, we needed very powerful searching and reporting tools, support for online giving and online event registration, and remote access capability. These, of course, are in addition to the standard functions of a church management system.
- High level of Web Integration
- Support for automated on-line contributions
- Support for automated on-line event registration
- Attendance Tracker
- Resource Calendar or Resource Manager
- Small Group Manager
- Servant/Volunteer Manager
- Custom Report Designer or very wide range/variety of reports
- Flexible Search Criteria
- Ability to search any data field desired by user
- Ability to search multiple data fields
- Powerful and Versatile Search Tool
- Address Verification
- Remote Access Capability (preferably via browser)
- Must contain data field for Member Middle Name
- Centralized member data which updates all other modules
- Simplified data import/export
- Ability to print mailing labels with barcodes
- Compatibility with PhoneTree dialing system
- Simple, easy to use, intuitive user interface throughout CMS
- Support for connection to another database
As you can see, this is a long list of requirements for a growing church and not many software solutions would meet such criteria. The following is a list of church management software solutions that were ruled out in the preliminary research phase. Most of these systems were excluded due to little or no web integration, so they may still serve the purposes of a church in which web integration is not a priority and may save a lot of money:
Church Community Builder
Discount Bible’s CMS
Before moving on, let me first take a moment to discuss our church’s current management solution. Prior to conducting this research, St. Mark’s was using ShelbyChurch, a church management solution developed by Shelby, Inc. While I would agree to a certain extent that Shelby didn’t support all of our church’s needs, I would argue that its biggest problem was its overly complex user interface and not its functionality. While interviewing the system users to determine what issues they had with Shelby and what they were looking for out of the new software solution, I noticed that many of the things they said Shelby couldn’t do were things it actually could do. However, it isn’t their fault that they were unable to figure out how to get the most our of the software; the software itself was very difficult to use. Therefore, when making your selection, don’t just go after the software with the longest list of features; make sure you can either view a demo or actually use the software yourself before making your purchase to ensure it’s user interface is intuitive and easy to navigate.
The following list contains software solutions that offer, in my opinion, slightly more than the previous list. Most of these system added one or many of the following: some level of web integration, an attendance tracking module, resource calendar, committee/small group manager, volunteer manager, etc.
Others that were being considered are InfoCentral and Open Source Church. While these two had not yet been fully developed as of May 2005, they appealed to us because they were open source, meaning our church’s IT staff could make changes to the software in the future as they see fit, assuming they know the language the source code was written in. An open source software solution offers many advantages and may be an excellent solution for your church in the near future.
I also came across two other very interesting systems during my search called MinistryManager and EventU. These two are very different from the other software systems listed on this page. I believe that niether was really intended to be an all-out church management system, but more of a web interface for a church. Both offer things like member tracking, online member directory, online giving and event registration, and basic searching/reporting tools. Both companies also offer free demos, so if this sounds like something that may be of interest to your church, I reccommend you visit the websites above.
Now, finally, the following four software solutions were the “finalists” of our research:
Logos II 6.0
Each of these products offers high levels of web integration. For the most part, each of these systems met almost all of the requirements outlined in the SRS (PDF file). I found the main distinctions between each of these systems to be:
- Logos II 6.0: Powerful searching and reporting tool, customizable reports, excellent resource manager module, excellent on-screen help, and a well-designed, easy-to-navigate user interface.
- FellowshipOne: This is the only software of the four that is fully browser-based. No installation is necessary as all your data is stored on the company’s servers – meaning you don’t have to buy/maintain your own. Also has a very friendly user interface.
- ACS: In my opinion, the most powerful overall software tool available for churches today. Allows users to run the most comprehensive searches and reports of any software system out there. My only concern with this system is the complexity of its user interface. It is an excellent software system but it’s difficult to use. If you choose to go with ACS systems, I believe you’ve made a great choice, just make sure you get plenty of training for the staff.
- Blackbaud: I can’t tell you very much about Blackbaud because they were a bit out of our price range so I never actually saw a software demo. However, if you’re willing to pay for it, Blackbaud’s staff seemed more willing and more capable than anyone else of customizing their software to meet your organization’s needs.
When all was said and done, after a lot of discussion back and forth, we decided to go with FellowshipOne (F1) for St. Mark’s. It offered the best web integration of any system we had seen and offered a very friendly user interface that we felt would faciliate a lot of the problems we were having with Shelby. It certainly didn’t have the search capabilities of ACS, but I can’t think of any situation when we would need any more searching power than what FellowshipOne offered. In addition, F1′s browser-based format meant that you could access all components of the software from a remote location. It also offered PDA access via a specially designed website in which the data was updated in real-time. Lastly, the annual bill for F1 is very reasonable, although it can get very expensive if you choose to add the Check-in module.