12 min read
Dec 21, 2017
Church Management

Using Technology to Grow Your Flock: Beginner’s Guide on How to Choose Church Management Software

Not sure if you need software? We'll break down how to choose church management software to expand your reach and streamline administrative tasks.

Ankita SinghAnalyst

Churches are steeped in rich tradition, but that doesn't mean your back-office operations need to be stuck in the past.

You can't carry out your mission if you don't have any congregants, and you have a better chance of keeping existing members engaged-as well as attracting new ones-if you leverage available technology.

You'll find that wonders happen when you strike a balance between both worlds-traditional and modern. You can continue to focus on helping people achieve spiritual enlightenment, while letting software take over tedious manual data entry and administrative tasks.

Let's start with a brief explanation of what church management software is, and how it can help you.

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What is church management software?

Church management software can help you digitize your data-from your member directory to financial records-and it can also help streamline and automate repetitive manual tasks in areas such as:

  • Accounting

  • Event scheduling

  • Attendance tracking

  • Fundraising

  • Donation management

  • Communication

From staff to members to volunteers, this software category covers the management of all valuable resources for your church.

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Does my organization really need church management software?

You may think new technology is too expensive to implement, or that your organization is too small to need software. But, according to a 2016 survey conducted by churchtechtoday.com, if you're not using software, you're in the minority. Here are some of the key findings from that survey:

  • Nearly 71 percent of respondents are already using church management software, and 95 percent have their own website.

  • Sixty-nine percent offer online giving, though, just under 30 percent offer mobile or text giving, which is a considerably newer concept.

  • Out of the 58 respondents, nearly half (48 percent) do not have a dedicated church accounting tool in place, which could lead to a higher entry error rate.

  • While nearly 90 percent of churches are making verbal announcements during services, 72 percent of respondents are also sending announcements via email.

  • Only 22 percent livestream services over the internet. The reason for this could be due to the expense of hardware requirements, or perhaps church leaders feel online services eliminate the communal environment services provide. However, livestreaming can help churches connect with those who are unable to physically attend, making those members feel more engaged and included.

These survey results point to the fact that churches are leveraging technology to both expand their faith ministry and lessen operational and administrative challenges.

Keeping in mind the benefits and the flexibility offered by technology and the evolving digital landscape, church management software may be just the thing your church ministry needs right now.

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Top 4 benefits of church management software

Here are some of the benefits you're likely to see with the implementation of church management software:

1. More efficient membership management and improved member retention

Managing member data manually can be challenging-and almost impossible to sustain as your congregation grows. Church management software can save you time and also help you more efficiently track and locate member data.

With membership management functionalities, you can update your database (merge, add, edit member details), keep track of members, send messages to them, and track important dates to connect with them personally. With a member access portal, members can update their own contact information.

Membership management functions also often enable reporting and attendance tracking functionalities to help you gauge member involvement and engagement and identify areas for improvement.

2. Improved communication with members to boost attendance and participation

Communication is the lifeblood of any community. To ensure the success of your mission, you must have the capability to communicate with your members via email and text message to build and nurture relationships. Verbal communication may not always be possible, or it may not occur frequently enough.

Church management software provides functions to encourage communication between minsters and members. You can use software to send out emergency notifications, or text, voice, and email reminders to targeted groups or the entire congregation.

3. Automating donation management to reduce manual entry

You rely on donations to maintain your church, as well as to help it grow, so contributions must be accurately tracked and monitored.

Church management software offers donation management functionality that makes it easier to track donations, manage contribution statements, and set up recurring as well as one-time donations. It may provide functionality that lets you accept donations online through customizable giving pages. You can also generate reports for collections made so far.

4. Easier planning and managing of events

With a growing community, it's challenging to plan, schedule, and spread the word about events through manual methods such as making phone calls, mailing fliers, or door-to-door communication.

Church management software can help you manage and schedule volunteers and facilitate bookings for events. You can also inform members about events and the programs of activities with the help of the communication functions offered by church management software.

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Essential features of church management software

The table below highlights and explains the essential features that church management software tools typically offer.

Feature Description
Attendance tracking Allows you to accurately record attendance and identify attendance patterns (for targeted groups or the entire church). This can help you target communication to members who have become inactive or need more encouragement to participate.
Membership management Helps you record, review, update, and track member data such as email addresses, physical addresses, and phone numbers for individuals and families. This functionality can help you create a member directory and sort members into lists based on common characteristics, as well as export member data to tools such as Excel.
Donation/contributions management Allows you to track contributions and keep tabs on the ministry's financial health. Boosts online giving with customizable donation pages to accept payments via credit cards or debit cards. You can pull reports for the donations and follow up with donors with receipts or giving statements. Members can also check their giving history through a member portal.
Group management Helps you categorize members into groups and subgroups according to common characteristics such as their location, interests, desired level of involvement with the church, age group, etc. This can help church leaders plan activities that reach specific groups, such as youth groups, or other networking or social gatherings, creating a stronger sense of community.
Volunteer management Tracks areas of service and specific skills for volunteers from a pool that have signed up or volunteered for previous events. Adding tags or grouping particularly skilled people together can make communication and recruiting more efficient.
Reporting Lets you pull out and share visual and text reports about attendance, volunteers, membership changes, contributions, donations, and more.
Communication management Facilitates communication through multiple channels, including text, voice, and email. Allows you to send emergency notifications to members and collaborate with the congregation.
Events management Helps manage and book assets and volunteers during events. Also makes advertising for events more automated, through email and text invitations, and allows payment processing support.
Check-in and child security management Keeps track of children with multiple check-in options during Sunday school, events, and activities to ensure proper security.
Security and role-based access Offers encryption of data for secure cloud storage and ensures limited access to information based on role permissions.

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What to know before you buy church management software

Cloud-based versus on-premise solutions. Cloud-based software solutions can be accessed from any device with an internet connection, making it possible to track and communicate with members across multiple locations. On-premise software, on the other hand, is installed locally on servers or hard drives, and can only be accessed at the location where it's installed.

On-premise solutions tend to cost more upfront than cloud-based, since the former requires purchasing a license for each user, while cloud-based software is often sold through a subscription, offering users more flexibility and requiring less of a commitment. Vendors of cloud software programs often offer free trials for up to 30 days.

Usability. Church management software should be easy to learn with a simple interface. Take advantage of demos and free trials-which are offered by many software vendors-to better understand the interface of a product before purchasing it.

Integrations. Integrations with existing software platforms, such as accounting software or email marketing software, enhance the functionality of church management software, giving you more value for your money.

Pricing and billing options. For many subscription-based software platforms, there's a discount when you opt for annual billing, rather than a month-to-month plan. In such cases, you'll have to decide whether you want to make a year-long commitment to save a percentage of the subscription fee, or pay extra in exchange for more flexibility.

Some vendors, such as Churchteams and Servant Keeper offer subscription pricing based on the number of users as well as the number of members in your church. Others, such as, Ministry Tracker, offer a flat monthly subscription fee.

Look for free demos and trials offered by software vendors before entering into an annual contract, to ensure you understand how the software functions before subscribing.

Customer and technical support. While shopping for software, ask vendors about the level and types of technical support they offer. For example, do they offer phone support, email support, or live chat? Is support offered during certain hours or 24/7?

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Examples of church management software platforms

Here, we've shortlisted three church management apps, which were chosen based on user reviews from GetApp.

Servant Keeper

Servant Keeper is church management software that offers both a cloud-based, as well as an on-premise version.

Features include a member database for recording personal and family profiles, group emailing capabilities, an online church directory, donation management, integration with MailChimp, and more.

One notable feature is an integration with Servant Keeper's Online Giving add-on to boost online donations. Users can create their own customized giving pages and accept donations in their preferred mode, e.g., check, debit card, or credit card. It allows automatic entry of previous gifts, options for split transactions and customization of contribution statements. All donations data is synced with Servant Keeper's contributions management feature.

Pricing

Starts at $9.99 per month + a one-time setup fee (for up to three users; track up to 50 families)

Servant Keeper offers a 30-day free trial.

Attendance tracking in Servant Keeper (Source: softwareadvice.com)

Churchteams

Churchteams is a cloud-based church management software platform offering email and text messaging, child check-in, attendance management, custom reporting, online giving, pledge tracking, volunteer registration, multilocation support, and more.

Churchteams comes with a "notes" feature that lets you track any comments or notes about the history of a family or individual for better reporting and follow-up. Notes might be related to prayer requests, guests, coaching, etc.

Member addresses can be directly linked to Google Maps. Churchteams also offers video tutorials for setup.

Pricing

Starts at $240 per year + a one-time setup fee (for one to 150 members)

Churchteams offers a 30-day trial.

Membership management in Churchteams (Source: GetApp.com)

Ministry Tracker

Ministry Tracker is cloud-based church management software with features such as online giving, sign-in tags, safe child check-in, smart groups, standard groups, attendance tracking, security and privacy, volunteer management, and more.

It also offers financial management and lets you track budgets, pledge drives, and funds, in a centralized place and generate customized reports.

Ministry Tracker helps users process year-end giving receipts, which can be sent via email or printed and mailed with preformatted letter templates.

The tool also offers a unique functionality that lets you reserve resources such as A/V equipment, furniture, rooms, etc. for events. There is also a video calling feature, and you can record voicemails on the tool or your phone.

Pricing

Starts at $44.99 per month

Ministry Tracker offers a 30-day free trial.

Member Profiles in Ministry Tracker (Source: GetApp.com)

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What now?

Check out GetApp's church management software directory to choose the right software for you based on features, price, and your business requirements.

Are you already using church management software? Leave a comment below and let us know about your experience!

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