Monthly Archives: January 2014

Should I buy and all-in-one or an integrated church management system?

IntegrateI thought I might write a couple of blogs to help churches get their heads around some of the issues and questions one should ask when choosing a church management solution.  I’m no expert but here are my credentials: In my years following university, I worked for two software companies.  Both were start-ups.  Both made significant headway into their industries and against their competition. One was an all-in-one solution and the other was a best-in-its-field single function solution. The former was eventually creamed by the competition; the latter is now in a strong position to dominate its’ part of the world-wide market.  In my last years before going into ministry, I was their systems integration consultant for the latter company.  Now, even though that is my experience, I will try to be fair.  So here goes …

There is no doubt that many churches struggle when choosing a church management software solution. Should it be an all-in-one solution, or should it be an integration of (sometimes existing) compatible functions?

The short answer is it depends on what the church needs. That sounds like a cop-out, but there is no substitute for understanding what a church is really trying to achieve and, hence, what tools are needed as a result. If a church is about making disciples for Christ then that should form the basis of choose the software that best meets current needs while allowing the greatest flexibility in the future.

This means that one church may choose an off-the-shelf, all-in-one solution.  Another church might build its software infrastructure by purchasing the best individual tools and linking them all together. Neither solution is a going to solve all problems or meet every requirement – for each solution will require a compromise of some sort. Again, there is no “right” answer to which way a church should go!

At the very least, it is very important for churches to weigh the benefits of all-in-one versus integrated service software solutions.

  1. All-in-one. An all-in-one package offers a quick, cost-effective solution. Working with a single vendor and software suite can provide significant savings, and the contractor does not need to worry about integrating your new system to existing systems – ie no costly consultants are needed!  However, one of the significant drawbacks with this option is that although the solution is often a “jack of all trades”, it is also not particularly good at anything.  For by being a fit-as-many-solutions-possible package, this may require your organisation to worked within its’ generic quasi-flexible options.
  2. Integrated. An integrated solution makes sense when a church is wiling to add specific functionality to an existing system – say a financial package.  In many ways, if the church manages to combine the best-in-field systems then this could result in a better solution than an all-in-one platform.  However, the cost of integrating your solution with other functions will most likely be costly in both consulting fees and/or bridging services between your different functions – having once worked in this area, this could double or triple (or quadruple) the initial cost of installation.

After selecting a member management software solution, churches often run into trouble with a laundry list of modifications they would like to make. Giving end users any special features they want will snowball your consulting costs. [And my experience is that the larger the vendor, the less likely they will respond to your feature requests. Also just remember that all vendors want to get large!]  I also find that churches with limited resources often miss opportunities to integrate the pieces that could dramatically increase efficiency (which in the long run will decrease your costs!)

It’s easy to spend time on integration without creating anything useful, just as it is easy to avoid integration and end up with something not particularly useful.

So what kind of solution should your church purchase?  Well here are a few questions that may help you decide:

  1. What’s the desired outcome? Make sure the required outcome is clear ahead of time, including what form and format the output will take, who is going to use it and what they plan to achieve with it. (Remember, you will probably never satisfy every requirement, so you will need to be willing to compromise somewhere). The church should identify these factors up front during the project scoping phase, making sure vital elements are included for any future solution.
  2. What’s the return on investment? In the end, any cost outlaid has to be justified. If integrated system pays for itself in six months, it’s probably worth it. If not, seriously think about what the church stands to gain. Or on the other hand, at the expense of some functionality, you may get a particular function that interests you in an all-in-one solution, but if you are only using that function 5% of the time, then is it worth it?
  3. Who can be trusted with this decision? Be wary of having only one person manage (and prioritise) the requirements and decision making in this area.  A small group of objective and qualified people who are invested in the outcome of what this tool will help the church accomplish is crucial.  All too often, the minister is left with this job and in many situations the minister may not be best suited to this task without some others helping normalise their thoughts and direction.

The Price of Admission – the new cost for being heard …

admitoneHappy New Year everyone. I thought I would kick 2014 off with a little document I penned on the back of napkin in 2011. It’s a short reflection on why our church (SPCH) no longer had a voice in the community and a suggestion on how to get it back again.

Interestingly, I only had the guts to send it to the Senior Minister and to a kindred spirit on staff. However, under God, it actually has formed the basis of much of our “forward facing” strategy and given many opportunities to serve and preach the Gospel.

Well here it is…..

As a church we seriously have a public relations problem and because of this, the church has lost the basic right to be heard.[1] There is no doubt that Christ’s followers will always be hated and be the fragrance of death to those who are perishing.  This will always be the case when we preach the Gospel and stand for Christ.  However, we are to live lives that make the Gospel attractive, give an answer to the hope we have, pray for and make the most of opportunities with outsiders. Even though the latest statistics show that the church is seen to evoke a neutral response by unchurched people, the problem is that they don’t think the Christian church does not have the right or reason to be listened to. Just ask yourself (or the average unchurched person) the following diagnostic questions.  If the average unchurched person were asked “What would be missing in our suburbs if Christian churches were wiped of the face of the planet?”, most will answer “Nothing”. If the average unbeliever were asked “Is the local church a necessary part of our community?”, most would answer “no.” We as a church (the corporate identity) have a PR problem.

We lost our right to be heard because we lost the position the church once enjoyed.  In Australian history, the church has traditionally enjoyed the position of being quasi-established and had a high rate of weekly attendance and affiliation. For this reason, the church enjoyed the position where her ideas were given heading and even adhered to.  Furthermore, the church was at the forefront of schooling, aged care and even social change.  However, now is a very different environment.  With the rapid decline of nominalism the position the church once held was then lost.  The rapid secularisation of society accelerated the church’s decline in public standing. Where the church used to be the forefront of social change, now she was seen as the anchor holding it back; where the church was at the forefront of aged care, now she is just seen as a shrewd commercial operator; where the church was the provider of public education, now she is seen as the creator of religious ghettos. We know that our secular society forms opinions and impressions by primarily judging externals. The problem is that for right and wrong reasons, in our postmodern and utilitarian society opinion, the church certainly comes up short.

Although, ultimately God’s in control of our image, our public “right” to be heard can be regained.  We lost our right to be heard so I assume we can get it back again.  If our church comes up short for those diagnostic questions, I propose we ought to do the following to change that:

  1. Get seriously involved in Community Care.  For St Paul’s the best way for this to make a significant difference in the ARV Rogan Hill Campus.  If we actively participated in the pastoral care of 1500 elderly people in our parish, this mitigates some of our society’s concern that we do not care.
  2. Get seriously connected in our Community.  It is important to capitalise on current fledgling projects like LELJ and JAMA.  If we are seen to actively connect with our community then this mitigates our society’s concern that we are “out of touch.”  Moreover, from these projects many new opportunities for the gospel ought to arise.
  3. Get seriously ready for the next natural disaster to hit the Hills.  A catastrophic bush fire is only around the corner for the Hills Region.  If we’ve learnt anything from our experience in Healesville and Gatton/Grantham, the church must be ready to be on the forefront to provide emergency material relief and pastoral care.  In the time of a major crisis, if our church became the operational centre and our people were the key emergency volunteers/workers, then this would be invaluable for future mission.

This is the price of admission that we must pay in order to gain the “right” to be listened to in our society.

 


[1] A public relations problem is very different to a marketing problem – although it is related. Let me explain … marketing has to do with getting your brand known; PR has to do with getting your brand accepted and liked. In the last few years, the church has started to make progress in our marketing. Yet in the many conversations I’ve had with unbelievers not much has progressed in the PR department.  I acknowledge that if we preach the gospel, the church will probably never be “liked”, but I think we could go a long way to remediate wrong PR issues.