Church Management Software Search

I have recently been asked to serve on a task force at Lawrence First that will assess the church’s needs/wants for Church Management Software and propose a plan for acquiring and implementing something that best meets those needs/wants.  In a preliminary proposal to Ad. Board regarding the task force, the following was noted:

The Issues

Our church has used Shelby for many years.   It is a stable product that does a good job of tracking membership and finances.   However, it is clunky, isolated, and not user friendly in some certain areas.

The Needs

  • Easy access to an online membership directory
  • Web access for staff – ability to work offsite
  • Web access for church members – ability to review their membership information, church directory, pledge, etc.
  • Ability to sign up for events online
  • Ability to contribute and track personal giving online
  • Calendar that integrates with the website.  (Currently we’re entering all calendar data twice!)
  • Online event/room sign-up
  • An intuitive, easy to use interface
  • Easy e-mail to groups
  • Phone tree functionality
  • Texting ability
  • Share documents
  • Easy Reports
  • Membership and Financial needs (we currently have this with Shelby)
  • Skill inventory
  • Something we can afford  (but keep in mind, any new options will be $$$)
  • Something that will integrate with our current information database, or that can migrate

Best Case Scenarios

  • Investigate what we have.   Are we using Shelby as fully as we can?
  • Add on to Shelby.   There are modules and programs (Arena) that may serve most of our needs, but they’re $$$!   This would be the least disruptive.
  • Find a communication database program that can run parallel to Shelby, and use each system, sharing info between the two.
  • Make do with what we have.  That’s what we’ve been doing.   Several groups have created their own separate spreadsheets and databases because Shelby isn’t helpful.
  • Bite the bullet and start over with a new program.   Find something more up-to-date and easy to use, with a stable platform and great training/customer service.

I would love to hear what other churches are using (or have used) and what those experiences are (or have been) like.  Please comment below and share this with any of your networks you believe might include helpful contributors to the conversation.

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32 Comments

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32 responses to “Church Management Software Search

  1. Kellie

    Hey Jeff!
    We used NSpire when we lived in Illinois, but they’ve been acquired by ACS Technologies (http://www.acstechnologies.com/foundationalchurches/product) and I don’t know much about their new products. I had a lot of experience with the membership and record-tracking side of the NSpire program and a little with the giving side, but overall it was easy to learn and use…I’m sure a lot has changed in four years, though! : )

    Here in Texas, Community of Hope uses Servant Keeper (http://servantkeeper.com/index.php). I don’t have a lot of experience with it, but it seems to get the job done well, too! Good luck in your search and I hope this helps you in creating a short list!

  2. BGold

    We’re a large, multi-site church with about 5,500 members in the Los Angeles area.
    We had a custom-built solution for many years that became outdated and didn’t allow some of the newer functionality that you’re looking for.
    We originally tried to design a custom system that was directly part of our website. After many thousand$ invested, we still lacked some essential features and realized that we needed to upgrade our CMS for security reasons. However, because the ChMS was custom-built, we couldn’t upgrade the website without totally re-doing the membership component. Big OOPS.
    We spent about a year looking and found many providers with lots of cool features and neat looks, but most of them were just getting started in the web area. Some were by companies that tried to look like they specialized in the religious community, but were really large organizations who created sub-corps to appeal to our market. When investigating another church’s website that had some features we liked, we stumbled upon CCB (Church Community Builder). They had a very long track record in the web environment, which was essential (after one failure, we couldn’t afford another). They’re strongly committed to advancing the Gospel and don’t just talk like it.
    After about a year of use, we’ve found that they’ve met or exceeded most of our needs. Some of the reports need some work and we’re still waiting for nested groups (groups within groups), but they listen, they’re committed to development, and we know it will get worked out. They extensively beta-test, so some enhancements take longer than I’d like, but that’s better than having a site crash, because they’re trying something new.
    We’ve been really happy and their staff is amazing (I’m already planning my trip to their Sept. conference – http://www.connectedchurchconference.com).
    Costs are reasonable and are tiered by size of church, so it’s affordable for all.

  3. I began as an executive pastor at a church 3+ years ago. At that time we did use Shelby systems for both members and financials. It was a sound program. However, no one had access any information to do ministry. Everyone thing ran through a bottle neck and because of the limitations of our tech and resources – we were woefully behind the times.

    I have learned before of the limitations of building your own system, so I wanted something that was ready “out of the box” and was web-based (vs. web-enabled). Church Community Builder was our choice and we have not regretted it one bit. Here are some reasons why –

    Integrated Children’s Check-in available
    Member access to group management and communication tools.
    Online payment and registration (we’re currently up to about 400 forms that have been created in less than 3 years)
    System queues to make sure that we follow up with everyone.
    Recurring giving that is seamless with our data base. (less paperwork, less follow up, less mistakes, MORE $$ for ministry.)

    There is a change management piece to any switch, but we’re so grateful. I could go on and on, but CCB has provided both a great product and great customer support. As they continue to gain market share, it only gets better!

  4. I reviewed where you are and looked at your needs. Rest assured you are not alone in rethinking moving to a different database. 5 years ago we decided to make the move into a new real of church database and choose Church Community Building: http://www.churchcommunitybuilder.com/
    We were using Membership Plus 8 and not completely satisfied with our needs. We made the move and have been more than satisfied with this company, they listen to your needs and ideas. They are quick to respond to a help question and always informative. We currently do all that you have listed as your needs. Email, financial, process ques, small groups, forms, merge mail and more, more, more. You won’t be disatisfied with this company.
    Last year we implemented the online tithing, and have seen an increase in the community of attendees using our database as a resource.

  5. We have a few (ahem) ideas about this. Of course, our needs aren’t the same as those of Lawrence First, but we’d be happy to share if you would like to have a conversation.

    • Yes, I’d very much like to have some conversation about this. It looks like pricing is shifting for Arena (and that there are even two different tiers now). Is this something we could talk through over lunch? Or, it looks like our task force is going to be meeting on Wednesdays at 4. You available for a conference call sometime?

  6. Hey, I just saw your post. We were in a similar situation last year and after three months of research and comparisons between F1, the City, CCB and SoChurch, we decided to go with CCB. We started on Jan 1 and have been delighted with our decision so far. We just trained all our small grp leaders on it and we’re doing an in-depth training with staff this next Wed.

    I found that trying to use what we had wasn’t going to cut it so we bit the bullet. CCB was surprisingly cost effective and very robust. It certainly has the web integration and accessibility you need along with great communication features, administrative depth and user friendliness.

    I’d love to talk to you more about it. Check out our website http://www.wotfc.com – we call it “The Lounge”

  7. Carrie Pendleton

    Changing databases is a huge undertaking. We just went through this about a year ago. We have used Shelby and Fellowship One in the past and just switched to Church Community Builder (CCB) last year. We have been very happy. Not only is CCB a great tool, but their staff is amazing. They truly have a heart to help the local church. They listen to churches and implement those ideas to constantly improve what they are doing. We are also a multi-site church, and their multi-site features are great.

  8. While this may be piling on, we went through this process three years ago. We had a series of “home grown” access data base applications coupled with excel spread sheets driven by complex “macros.” No two mailing lists were alike, and the precipitating event was sending out over 100 erroneous giving statements because the formula macro didn’t account for having 4 digit envelope numbers.
    As a former businessman (MBA & CPA) who got his M Div at the age of 53, I got the job of finding a solution. I had previously served at a church that used the “Power Church” software, but I stumbled across CCB, a web-based solution to church management. I should mention that our church is 90 years old and multi-generational. We have some members and attendees that will not own a computer, and we have others who live their lives on Facebook and Twitter.

    We looked at eight different CMS solutions, but CCB was the one that afforded us the most flexibility and drastically improved the quality and timeliness of our communication with members and attendees. As I looked at your “wish list” for a new system, CCB does virtually all of it.

    There are some things that we’d like to see changed, but the CCB staff listens and with each upgrade seems to incorporate more of those things into the system. And conversion was relatively easy for us. Access can export to excel, so we were able to take the fields from our old system, export the member data to an excel spreadsheet, edit that sheet for duplicate and erroneous data, and CCB did the conversion and loaded that file (I think the charge at that time was $180).

    The other side benefit that we did not foresee was the improved communication and connection with foreign missionaries that we support. They now receive timely newsletters, weekly enews and notes, and the reduction in postage alone has paid the annual cost of using CCB. We still have not implemented online giving and the integration of merchant banking for credit card processing, but we do make great use of the forms feature for registration for events. This is essential when we have a VBS program in the summer that has 225 kids per week with 70% coming from outside our church.

    As mentioned above, we are a 90 year old church in a rural, agricultural community north of Seattle. We average just under 600 in worship on Sundays, but I know that CCB supports much larger churches as well.

    I hope the above information is helpful.

    Grace and peace,
    Ken Wagner
    Associate Pastor
    Bethany Covenant Church
    Mount Vernon, WA

  9. Andy

    We just switched from Church Windows to Shelby. We needed access to an integrated check-in suite and integrated bulk mailing capabilities. The change process has been very hard. In the long run it will be worth it, but we are still fighting through the kinks.

    • Thanks, Andy! Can you share a bit about how the decision was made to move to Shelby? Were other options considered? What factors were ultimately key in choosing Shelby?

  10. tom

    jeff…my background is in fund development for non-profits. i’ve used the cadillac systems like donorperfect and blackbaud. when i came to vocational ministry about 6 years ago i was asked to look for a system that would leverage our connections in our community. we were doing 3 campuses with about 15oo in attendance. i landed with ccb-church community builder mostly because of their check-in system and online giving. in today’s consumer driven marketplace i think ccb can leverage your outpost for the Kingdom. cost was an additional factor and we’ve found working with ccb to be a great thing. their staff has been incredibly responsive to our suggestions and they’ve help us to be more connected with our folks. there is no one program out there to solve your total needs…but CCB comes as close to the silver bullet as you can with our limited resources.

  11. Katie Smith

    Dear Jeff,

    We had used Shelby for many years. However, it seemed to us that the only individuals who actually liked using it were our DB person and the accounting staff. While Shelby does offer a wonderful financial package that is perfectly geared for churches, we have found that Fellowship One has dramatically improved the way we do ministry here at Cedar Springs.

    Through the use of Check-In, we can offer a secure way for children to be dropped off and picked up by parents while also capturing important attendance data. We can also use Check-In for other adult activities as well (it’s been a huge hit with our Women’s Ministries), and we have alternative ways of using Check-In (using IPads). We can effectively communicate with our congregation using the group email function and also do targeted communication efficiently as well. Through F1, we can offer online registrations for a wide variety of activities and events as well as to gather information. We are also getting ready to begin using the new InFellowship function for small groups, which will allow lay leaders to access and communicate with their groups easily while also allowing prospects to find a group where they may fit in.

    But, two most important ways that F1 has transformed us is that it has helped us to break down the silos of information that were generated due to Shelby and it allows us the freedom to do ministry anywhere. Because of the ease of use of F1, our ministry staff feel comfortable using this system and get excited about finding new ways to use it to help their ministries. And, with the system being completely cloud-based, we can access our system from anywhere in the WORLD (and we have!).

    One last thing I would add would be that there is absolutely no comparison between the support you receive from Fellowship Technologies and the support you “get” from Shelby. The support staff and even upper management staff are eager to help church partners with any issue or ideas they may have. Any time I have contacted them with a problem or issue, I have received total support and interaction from Fellowship Tech, which is not the case with Shelby.

    I hope this helps in some way and would love to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to contact me anytime.

    Many blessings,
    Katie Smith
    Ministry Software Coordinator
    Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church

    • Katie, thanks so much for taking the time to connect and to share a part of your story and your experience! I will definitely be in touch if we have additional questions.

  12. Jeff, the “what is the easy answer to ChMS” question has been around a long time. Unfortunately, there just aren’t a lot of easy answers. How large is your congregation? How large is your staff? Are you multi-campus (or multi-congregation)? Do you know what reporting needs you have? If you haven’t already, let me suggest you give a serious look at:
    1. BVCMS (http://BVCMS.com/), an open source solution
    2. MinistryPlatform (http://ThinkMinistry.com/), my new favorite, especially for large, multi-campus churches, but coming soon to much smaller organizations
    3. Church Community builder, (http://www.churchcommunitybuilder.com/), as was mentioned earlier
    4. Small/start-up churches should give a lot of thought to MinistryBox (http://MinistryBox.org/). A whole lot of solution in a simple package
    5. THEN, look at ACS, Shelby, and Fellowship One. Actually, there are about 180 different products in the ChMS space. How’s that for scary. However, a quick eval will reduce that down to under 20, and then you can do some tough refining to find exactly what you want. Of course, if you can accurately define what you want, that will help 🙂 Here’s a list of about 50 products, and how well they’re known by other churches: http://tonydye.typepad.com/main/2010/04/raw-chms-familiarityinterest-results.html

    How can I help?
    Tony

    • Thanks, Tony. We are roughly a 1,500 member congregation averaging a bit more than 600 in worship at two different campuses. We are long time Shelby users giving Arena some consideration because of (what we perceive to be) the ease in transition. Church Community Builder has also come onto our radar screens this week (through comments on this blog) and we intend to give it some serious consideration.

      You taking the time to comment and send your thoughts and links to the blog is a great help, thanks so much!

  13. Greg Davis

    Hi Jeff,

    Looks like you already received a few comments about CCB but I will also throw in my recommendation. I did a post about our move to Church Communtiy Builder just about one year ago. You can read about it here:
    http://gregdavispsu.com/2010/01/migrating-to-a-new-chms/

  14. Hey Jeff, we’re in the same process as you, but perhaps a month or two ahead. We’ve been conducting extensive demos with 5 providers over the last 2 weeks, and are fairly close to narrowing down a solution. We’re a multi-site megachurch in Toronto, and in our opinion there are really 5 viable, modern enterprise level solutions available:
    -Shelby Arena
    -ConnectionPower
    -Fellowship1
    -CCB
    -MinistryPlatform by ThinkMinistry

    In all honesty, we COULD use any of these solutions. They are all fantastic, and are all pulling off high scores in our scoresheet. If you’d like to talk more about our process, I’d be happy to send you a copy of our notes. Drop me an email if you’d like.

    • Jeff Clinger

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and sharing a bit about your work thus far. I’m going to pass your contact information on to the person chairing our task force.

  15. If you haven’t already, you really should read my blog on our process. There you will have access to my notes and impressions on quite a few solutions, as well as what we chose and how things have gone since then. I’m grateful to see more people blogging about this these days, when I did it there was very little information available online.

    Do not hesitate to drop me and email or give me a call if you have questions.

    Joel

    PS – In case the link doesn’t work, my blog is here: tinyurl.com/chmsresearch

    • Jeff Clinger

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience, the blogging you did around this project was incredible!

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