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by Craig Borowski,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: November 21, 2016


Churches and religious organizations have hundreds of church management software (ChMS) solutions from which to choose. Between standalone fund accounting applications to fully integrated suites, there are many effective options to streamline church operations and save time so church leaders can stay focused on advancing their organization’s mission.

The challenge for buyers is analyzing different solutions to determine which best meets their organization’s immediate and future needs. This guide provides an overview of church management software to help identify the best system for your organization.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Church Management Software?
Common Features of Church Management Software
How Is ChMS Software Priced?
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Benefits and Potential Issues
Best Tactics to Select New Software
Market Trends to Understand

What Is Church Management Software?

Church management software enables churches and religious organizations to automate common administrative, management and reporting tasks. These feature-rich programs aim to expedite communications, streamline daily operations and support collaboration. Available as both standalone applications and comprehensive programs, organizations of any size and budget can benefit from the features church management software offers. Each system is unique, but most offer similar core functions, which are highlighted below.

Church software donor management demonstration video from Servant Keeper

Common Features of Church Management Software

Membership management Keep important member, volunteer and visitor information, such as phone numbers, addresses and activity involvement, up-to-date. Search and reporting features allow you to create directories and customize lists for outreach.
Contributions/donor management Contribution management software provides secure collection and management of individual, planned and major donations.
Accounting Enables secure tracking and reporting of expenditures and revenues for multiple funds.
Event & facilities management Event and activity planning reduces the administrative time required to manage group activities and events. Scheduling functions prevent double booking of resources, such as rooms, vans and video equipment. Other functions include Web-based registration, event listing search, payment process support, tracking and reporting.
Volunteer management Volunteer management software helps churches organize contact information, volunteer history, availability and more. Scheduling features provide outreach tools to contact volunteers for upcoming events.
Communications/outreach Communications and outreach tools help you increase member engagement through email marketing, direct mail, activities and events.
Check-in & child security Check-in applications track member and visitor attendance at any event, including seminars, camps and retreats. Many check-in programs integrate with touch screen technology for self-service check-in. Others include child check-in functionality, which keeps track of which children are present in specific church locations, such as classrooms and nurseries.

Many of the above features can also be found in general nonprofit software suites. However, church management systems are designed to handle member relationships unique to churches and faith-based organizations.

Bloomerang_member_dashboard

An example of a member profile with involvement details from Bloomerang

Kindful_member_dashboard

An example of a member profile with small groups details from Kindful

How Is ChMS Software Priced?

Church management systems generally follow three pricing models:

Pricing model Description Example products
Subscription based on weekly attendance A monthly or annual fee based on weekly attendance numbers. Fresh Vine, ACS Realm
Subscription based on number of member records A monthly or annual fee based on number of member records stored in the database. Shelby Church, Church 360, Church Office Online
Perpetual license fee A one-time per user, or per computer fee. Some licenses allow multiple users one a single license, while others require an additional license for each user. Servant Keeper, By the Book, CDM+

ChMS pricing tends to increase along with the breadth and depth of functionality included in the system.

ChMS Pricing VisualizationPackages on the higher end of the cost scale will offer the most robust features, such as online community support, integrated check-in/security and volunteer management. Packages for small churches, on the other hand, will include only the most essential church management functions, such as member records management, email communications and basic reporting.

Generally, large churches will benefit most from more comprehensive packages, while small churches will find packages with less functionality meet their needs and budget. Large churches are not the only buyers of church administration software with the most extensive features sets (as the chart above indicates), but because costs tend to increase with greater functionality, it can be difficult for small churches to afford those packages.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

Before purchasing software for your church or religious organization, it’s important to understand your organizational needs and how a ChMS solution can help meet those requirements.

Small or family size church. Everyone may know everyone else in your congregation, but it’s still important for church managers to securely maintain membership information, track attendance and record contributions. ChMS vendors offer affordable installed and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) membership management solutions to speed the handling of administrative tasks.

Medium to large size churches. Churches with 250 to 2,000 members have large budgets that require sophisticated, double-entry accounting and reporting systems. These systems efficiently track spending by fund, department and project, and automate payroll, taxes, fixed asset tracking and member contributions.

Corporate size or megachurch. Megachurch management requirements are considerably different than those of smaller churches and demand an enterprise-level solution to meet the needs of a 2,000+ member congregation. Megachurches may have multiple locations, so a system integrated with a single database that allows leadership to monitor and report from any location is essential for handling the constant outreach and events common within large religious organizations. A communication platform that lets members and volunteers create groups, schedule activities and collaborate keeps everyone informed and connected.

Benefits and Potential Issues

Churches that adopt the right types of software may realize many benefits, such as:

  • Maintaining a secure contact database of every church visitor and member with reporting capabilities to compile the information necessary to make good stewardship decisions.
  • Easily communicating announcements to the entire congregation or select individuals and groups for increased membership engagement.
  • Securely tracking donations and contributions with back-end processing and reporting for statement generation and audit purposes.
  • Empowering members and groups through automated event and activity scheduling.

Churches that fail to realize some of these core benefits often do so because they:

  • Select a management system that does not integrate with other membership, contributions or accounting tools, or doesn’t scale for growth.
  • Overlook essential accounting, compliance or regulatory issues.
  • Do not have the right infrastructure in place to support integration of systems from different vendors.
  • Fail to properly train staff on how to leverage the software’s full scope of features and functionality.

Best Tactics to Select New Software

Evaluating new church management software can be a daunting task—there are many variables to consider and hundreds of products from which to choose. Nonetheless, it’s a step that cannot be overlooked.

We recently surveyed buyers across multiple industries to determine which tactics are most effective for selecting software. Top methods include checking vendor references, having agreements reviewed by an attorney, assessing financial viability of vendors and preparing an RFP.

Software Selection Quadrant

Quadrant indicating where selection tactics fall on the “impact” and “satisfaction” spectrum

By sticking to selection tactics that fall in "most effective" quadrant and avoiding tactics in the "least effective" quadrant, you can avoid spending time using methods that are less likely to return information that is most useful finding the right software.

Market Trends to Understand

As a church manager, you know that budgeting, contributions and compliance are ongoing issues that impact your ability to serve your church members and communities. Here are a few other issues to keep in mind as you explore the right solution for your organization:

Adoption of the cloud. Church managers are charged with finding ways to boost contributions, and one of the biggest hindrances to growth is handling financial management tasks. Cloud accounting software allows church leadership to review budgets and monitor program impact in real-time from any location. With automatic reporting and financial information at your fingertips, it’s easier to make proactive decisions that support program impact and growth. An Intacct survey found four out of five churches reporting 1,000 weekly attendees or more have adopted cloud technology, while 55 percent of smaller churches are currently “in the cloud.” According to Intacct, churches that are using the cloud for online giving are nearly twice as likely to see an increase in donations.

Online giving. According to the Blackbaud Index on Charitable Giving Trends, online giving in faith-based organizations grew by 6.1 percent in 2012. Additionally, online giving at over 200 congregations and other faith-based groups that raised more than $110 million in 12 months grew by 16.7 percent from August to October 2013. This trend is expected to continue, which means it’s important to provide members with ways to make mobile and online contributions.

Social media. To foster ongoing communications with members and volunteers, churches and religious organizations are turning to social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to share information and increase support. Connecting other outreach channels, such as email communication and events, with social media channels can facilitate increased communication among members.

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