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Understanding the Cloud and Church Management Software
By: Gina Calvert

Miles Advisory Group reports that according to a Pew Research Center study, (The Future of Cloud Computing), 895 IT stakeholders were surveyed and responded that "Cloud computing will continue to expand and eventually dominate information transactions…because it offers many advantages, allowing users to have easy, instant and individualized access to tools and information they need wherever they are, locate-able from any networked device."

Cloud-computing is everywhere, and it's here to stay. Despite that, and the fact that virtually everyone in a church benefits from Cloud-based data management, churches are a little behind that curve:

• A September 2010 survey sponsored by the creators of Fellowship One, a partner in LifeWay's Digital Church initiative, found that only 12 percent of Protestant churches use Web-based church management software to share information about their church members and ministries.

• A March 2011 survey conducted by LifeWay Research found that "very few churches are thinking about 'the Cloud' as anything more than fluffy, white vapor hanging in the sky."

As individuals and organizations' dependence on mobile technology increases, churches will be forced to adopt Cloud-computing if they want to stay in touch with their people.

The Cost of Waiting

Many church leaders, fearing they'll make the wrong decision, sit at the crossroads of new technology, holding their legacy systems together with duct-tape and a prayer, and waiting for companies to work out the bugs of new products after-market launch. They reason that this technology will be cheaper next year or the year after: "We'll let the early adopters pay the cost of vetting the software."

This choice implies that there is no cost to waiting. In reality, the cost of operating inefficiently or losing ministry opportunities is incalculable, but real. This cumulative financial leak can be considerable over time. The speed of technology ensures that "later" there will be something newer and better that will keep "late adopters" in this place of indecision.

How many potential members are lost to other churches because a church can't keep up with its visitors and attendees or offer 21st century conveniences like online giving and registration?

It's really about the value proposition of the tools you consider. Dollar for dollar, Product A may be cheaper, but what is the true cost of lost opportunities?

Ministry Concerns



1. IT'S GETTING HARDER AND HARDER TO STAY CONNECTED TO PEOPLE.

This is true. People are busier and less loyal to "church" in general, but it's also easier than ever to stay connected to people if you have the right tools and the knowledge of how to use them. In today's world, that means getting onboard with the technology that drives peoples' lives, or be left on the side of the road.

2. I CAN GAUGE THE GROWTH OF MY CHURCH BY ATTENDANCE NUMBERS, BUT HOW CAN I KNOW IF MY FLOCK IS GROWING SPIRITUALLY?

Actually, attendance numbers don't give you the full picture of even numerical growth because you could have a back-door drop-out rate that is slightly less than your new visitor rate and still look like you're "growing." Attendance numbers can't capture that type of data.

To know if your members are growing, a good ChMs will not only allow you to gain insight into several possible predictors for growth, such as:

• Consistent giving and attendance

• Increased engagement in the life of the church via small groups, volunteering, event attendance, and progress in a planned spiritual growth track (from "crowd" to "core")

• Leadership development

To know if your church is really growing, you'd need to be able to access your data and have it presented in ways that allow you to discern who is engaged, and how.

3. EVERY MINISTRY SEEMS TO ACT INDEPENDENTLY; HOW CAN I INTEGRATE ALL OUR MINISTRIES TO WORK TOGETHER?

The only way to prevent ministry siloes is with a single, authoritative data source. That one database must have a gatekeeper, which could be a team, and the cooperation of all who touch the data.

This allows for 360-degree visibility of individuals, no matter which ministry representative is inputting the data. For example, Mary may attend the women's Bible study, volunteer in children's ministry, and host a small group. Even though three separate people record her involvement, it should all show up in her profile.

Once upon a time, church management software consisted simply of a server-based accounting system with a database for housing contact information and tracking contributions. Today, companies that provide church management software can:

• Provide tools for building community within the church

• Manage the operations of church for staff members

• Allow offsite access to data for ministry leaders on-the-go

• Equip leaders with strategic and tactical education for creating healthy church management processes

• Give detailed insight into the church's health and growth through custom and core reports

• Integrate with products that complement the core function, such as social media platforms, fund-accounting systems, and automatic background investigation

• Deliver continuous software releases



Selecting Software

Here are some questions you can use as you evaluate the various church management software offerings.

To access the ChMS, does it require that software be installed on your local computer?

A pure browser-based solution allows you true anytime, anywhere access regardless of whether it's your computer at work, your spouse's laptop, a public computer at a local library or coffee shop, or even an iPad. All you should need is a web browser to get up and running.

Does the ChMS run equally well on PC and Macintosh computers?

Macs are becoming increasing popular, especially in churches. A pure browser-based solution built on web standards should run well on both.

Is the ChMS easy to use?

The application should be written with simplicity in mind. Yet, keep in mind that complex functionality and simplicity of use are a trade-off. You can't have robustness and control in a product that is brain-dead simple. The more functionality the ChMS offers, the more vital it is that help and training are easy to get.

Was the ChMS designed and developed from the ground up specifically for the Internet?

A firm foundation is essential in order to provide the right security, scalability, reliability, performance and efficiencies that are the key elements to a successful Cloud-based offering. The proper database architecture (multi-tenant), application architecture (web-based from top to bottom), and systems infrastructure (data center, monitoring tools, etc.) are essential.

Does the vendor utilize "continuous release" for true "no-touch, no cost" upgrades at regular intervals?

A key factor is a Cloud-based solution's ability to deliver regular upgrades to features and rapid fixes to any issues that arise, without requiring the client to manually download or install the updates.

Are Cloud-based solutions the vendor's core competency or do they offer them as simply one option among others?

A pure Cloud-based company focuses 100% of their time and talents from Development to Sales to Consulting to Support on delivering and improving their native web solution.

Does the company offer support options that complement their ChMS?

A Cloud-based application should be accessible anywhere, anytime, and that availability is the responsibility of the vendor. The vendor should then provide extended support hours to meet the expectation of availability 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year.

Is the product browser-neutral or at least supported by multiple browsers?

A browser-specific product increases the possibility of downtime from browser crashes and limits users from using their default browser.

Gina Calvert is a writer for ACTIVE Network, which produces Fellowship One software for churches, www.activenetwork.com.









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