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Enrichment Journal - Enriching and Equipping Spirit-filled Ministers

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Selecting Church Management Software

Which is the best CMS for your church or ministry? Following these guidelines will improve your CMS selection success dramatically.

Choosing your church management software (CMS) package is the most important ministry software decision you will make. It is the tool you and your team will depend on to help you:

Last Things First

Many make cost their first factor in the CMS search process. Focusing on price too early in the process usually steers toward poor choices. The best approach is to find the system that best meets your needs. Then determine whether or not you can afford it. You can go to a lesser choice if necessary, but at least it will be an informed and intentional decision that will probably get you a better fitting system than you would have otherwise gotten.

How Big Is Too Big?

What do you plan to do with your CMS database? Some only use them to maintain names and contact information. For those ministries, a CMS package with less extensive capabilities may be a good choice. Identifying expectations at the beginning of the search will guide you through the decisionmaking process.

If you and your team identify that you will be wanting to track more in-depth information such as contributions, attendance, volunteers’ gifts, talents, and ministry interests, you will need a more sophisticated package. One thought worth considering is this: systems that only meet your current needs are likely those you will quickly outgrow.

History of Satisfied Customers

Many have entered the competitive CMS market only to decide within a few years that the profit margins are too small. Check with new users, medium-tenure users, and long-term users to see how pleased they are with the software and its support. Ask, "If you were making the same decision today, what would you do differently?" Call the software’s technical support to see whether the person you get meets your expectations.

Find a CMS Vendor With Vision

Some vendors have stopped developing their systems and are doing little more than maintaining them. Others have been slow to keep up with current technologies. Buying a CMS package is a long-term strategic decision that will impact your ministry for years to come. Ask questions that will help you and your team gain confidence that this investment is one you will never regret.

Never Write Your Own Software

Writing your own CMS is a losing proposition 99.99 percent of the time. This is true even if a volunteer offers to do it for free. If you can find an existing system that meets 80 percent or more of your needs, get it. Custom systems rarely get that close.

Require Training and Periodic Retraining

This is the most important software you will be running on your system. It makes sense to train your team so they can work with it efficiently. In addition to initial training, establish a retraining plan that will improve your team’s knowledge over time.

Application Service Provider

Many software companies are moving toward offering ASP options. ASP means connecting to a software host over the Internet and all work is done via the Internet. For those ministries that cannot afford to buy a full license for their first software choice, this may be a way to get that high-quality software for a small subscription fee.

Good Financial Tracking

Half of all church splits come from financial questions and concerns. It is essential, then, to make accounting a strong focus in your CMS search.

Key elements to look for in this area:

Automatic tracking of multiple fund balances. Correct ministry accounting requires that ministries track income and expenses that close to different fund balances. This is how they identify how much, for instance, is in the building or missions fund.

Secure audit trail. A secure audit trail means that once a transaction is posted, it cannot be erased. Every transaction, then, is available for scrutiny and cannot be hidden.

Who Owns the Data?

This is an issue that most don’t think to ask. It means that you have the CMS database layout so you can get to your data and do anything you would like with it. We run into this issue when clients have decided to change their CMS. Some companies won’t share their database layout, making data conversion difficult. Remember, it’s your data.

Determining what you need, selecting the best software to meet your needs, and asking questions before signing contracts will improve your CMS selection success dramatically.

Enrichment journal’s Web site has a helpful tool available for pastors who are looking for new church management software. It’s an article written and updated annually by Nick Nicholaou of Ministry Business Services (www.mbsinc.com), that lists software providers and their software’s capabilities. Click here to download (PDF).

—Nick B. Nicholaou, Huntington, California.

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