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Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes When Choosing a ChMS
By: Leah Merrill

Below I've listed five very common mistakes that people make when looking for a church management system—you can use this as a guide to help you go through the right steps to pick out the perfect software for your church.

1. Selecting a system that is not strong or flexible enough

But how do you know what you need, and what will really work for your church before you buy the software? Well, sometimes you don't, but you can make a good guess. There may be some processes that a small church can manage right now, but if they plan to grow they can come up with a list of things that would be difficult to manage on a large scale. Write those things down. Identify the features and functionalities you want, both now and in the future, and separate your list into "must haves" and "nice to haves."

If you don't do this, and your needs are vague, or you base your needs solely on what you need currently, there's a good chance you'll end up selecting a system that you very quickly grow out of—this means that you'll still be doing a lot of work on your own outside of the system to make up for that, or it could even be generating more work for you to do. Many churches find themselves in one or more of these situations when they purchase a system that isn't strong enough or flexible enough for their needs:

* Performing manual work outside of the ChMS

* Needing another database outside of the ChMS (Excel, etc), which can cause confusion amongst staff and leaves more room for error

* Missed opportunities for involving members in the ministry and encouraging more fellowship opportunities

2. Selecting one that is too difficult and complex for you to learn

On the flip-side of mistake #1, sometimes you can anticipate too much growth and need for certain features of a system, and end up with one that is too complicated for you to use, causing you to spend more time and money on training and support. Power and flexibility are important, but you want to achieve the appropriate balance between power and simplicity.

Most vendors will claim that their product is easy to use. However, that can mean a lot of different things. Easy for who to use? Each person has a different skill set and knowledge of computers and software, so some systems are only "easy to use" for more tech-savvy people, and can be incredibly complicated for others. You want to try to find a system that is made so that the power of the system doesn't interfere with the ease of use of the system. In order to determine this, it's important to:

* Do demos before purchasing a system

* Include all those who will be using the system in the purchase decision

* Have everyone write down what their preferences and needs for the system are

* Differentiate "needs" from "nice-to-haves"

* Come up with a reasonable goal in terms of church growth

3. Not thinking about reporting and data analysis

It's normal for people to think about data input and not give as much attention to output and what to do with their data. The entering of data is at the front of your mind because you're currently struggling with keeping track of all your information, and where to put and record all of it. However, over time, you're going to want to be able to manipulate the data and run tests and surveys so that you can track certain trends and find ways to use it to help your church.

So, it's really important to think about how easy or difficult it will be for you to retrieve the data from your system for things like letters, giving statements, emails, directories, mailing labels, statistics, and graphs and charts for analyzing your data. When talking to vendors, make sure you ask them about reporting, email blasts, printing mailing labels, creating graphs, printing giving statements, survey creation and any other feature that is available to help you with data output.

Many systems offer these features (and many allow you to customize them yourself), so it is important for you to speak to the vendors and have them show you what each of those features looks like and how robust they are, as well as give you the opportunity to try it out for yourself.

4. Not thinking about the needs of others before purchasing and just trying to fill a need that you have

Talk to other staff members and see what other people need; don't base the system just on the one area you're struggling with. 

While your particular job may have its frustrating points, yours isn't the only one that does. And you don't want to just look at a system that solves all of your problems and call it a day without speaking with other staff members about their pain points and what they'd like to see in a system.

Maybe some staff members are using separate databases or spreadsheets for different things, and would like the system to have certain features in it to help them to manage some of the tasks that they struggle with on a daily basis. You need to get your staff together and determine what will help the whole church run the smoothest and what will be the most helpful to other people who will be using it as well. Some questions you could ask them are:

* What are your biggest pain points in your job personally?

* What are the things you would most like to see the church improve upon as a whole that they cannot do now?

* What are the things you would love to have, but aren't completely necessary?

* How much work do you do from home or away from the Church? (this can determine if a web-based system is necessary).

To gather this information, send out a survey to all of your staff or talk to people individually to get an idea of what their vision is for the church.

5. Thinking the software will be the way to reduce the burden on administrative staff, and that's it

Church management software undoubtedly reduces the workload of the administrative staff—those daily tasks that need to be automated and simplified are usually what pushes churches to purchase a ChMS.

But managing all of those tasks isn't where it should stop—there is a world of possibilities for you when you purchase a good ChMS. It can help your church to grow, run email campaigns, encourage more donations, provide more volunteer opportunities, improve groups and ministries, manage events, help with classes or daycare, and open the doors to so much that can improve your church. Don't limit yourself—keep your mind open and constantly be striving to do more for your church with the tools that you have.

By being completely honest and laying out all of your needs, as well as the mission and goals of your church, you can find a vendor that can help you with your vision and who is passionate about achieving the same things that you are. Ultimately, getting rid of all of that paperwork is great, and necessary, but your end goal should be fostering, growing, and improving your church, and living out your mission to the best of your abilities.

Leah Merrill is a software analyst for Capterra, www.capterra.com.









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