'In God we trust, all others bring data'

Image by myrfa, Pixabay.com.
Image by myrfa, Pixabay.com.

In this hyper-digital age, we're staggeringly dependent on data. It plays a significant role in nearly every second of our lives — profoundly more than the days of W. Edwards Deming, who coined the quote of the title.

Not all data is the proverbial "Big Data" of business analysts, but it serves as essential a function for nonprofits as it does for-profits. Data can inform your ministry, help you understand member needs, build relationships with donors and quantify how programs are working.

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From attendance history to member contact information, from VBS registrations to giving records, churches maintain data that serves ministries. Securely managing the effective use of data is paramount since behind each statistic is a person.

Church management software (commonly referred to as ChMS) not only stores all data in a single cloud-based database but also streamlines recurring administrative tasks pertaining to:

  • Membership, including attendance tracking, member directory, member outreach/portal, management tools for events, volunteers, calendars and small groups, interests/spiritual gifts, nursery check-in and email programs
  • Accounting, including donor campaign tracking, online giving/payment processing, planned giving management, contribution/gift tracking, grants administration and receipts/statements

If you're ready to explore how these affordable tools can help your church, start by defining what you need from a system and outline use-cases. Consider, too, the key weaknesses in your current processes. Bear in mind that vendors offer robust solutions that may exceed needs. Carefully anticipate realistic future needs to avoid exceeding the time, training and staffing necessary to use an advanced system.

Once you've determined your basic needs, you're ready to decide which tools to use. Be sure to:

  • Evaluate software based on your needs instead of features you might (or might not) use. Consider how the system efficiently accomplishes tasks. Does it meet your defined need in one step versus 10? Think about the reports you routinely run and the insights you wish you could glean.

  • Identify who in your church will manage and use the software and for what purpose. Recruit these stakeholders as you consider and compare options. Currently, some of the most popular church management software options to consider are:

  • Create a shortlist from your research and conduct a realistic cost-benefit analysis. Include factors like maintenance, management, training and staffing.

Once you've determined your actual needs, the next step is requesting a free demo from the suppliers under consideration. Have all of your stakeholders attend the guided demo and have each work independently through the free trial. If the ChMS isn't intuitive enough for staff to perform routine tasks like finding a member's phone number or pulling a financial report, it may not be the software for you.

It's important to remember that church management software is not one-size-fits-all. By proactively taking the time to identify your budget, realistic needs and usage expectations, you'll be better prepared to make an informed decision in your software selection. The pre-planning these steps allow will help you to avoid losing time due to rebuilds or having to integrate and train staff on a different software that better meets your needs.

Data and user-friendly software enable churches to communicate more quickly with their congregants, organize financial data and manage resources to make a powerful impact. If you do your homework and equip leaders with adequate training, a ChMS can make ministry more effective, strategic and tailored for your members, guests and community.

Dan Hoag

Dan Hoag has worked for 36 years in the marketing and research divisions of two major media companies. First, with Tribune Publishing, and then with E.W. Scripps Publishing, where he left as their director of research in 2016. He's a lifelong United Methodist who's now helping United Methodist Communications launch and build a new Customer Relationship Management System.