Although church management software often seems to promise that it is the answer to all problems related to ministry operations, many churches are less than satisfied with how it operates in their environment.
What is your experience? Are you getting the most out of your church management software? Is it helping to accomplish the unique ministry to which you and your church staff, leaders, and members are called? Do you have a dozen other separate programs – Excel spreadsheets, documents, email applications, etc. that are doing tasks that it seems like your church management software package should be doing for you?
No matter what church management software you use, the following 10 tips can help you maximize what your software does for you.
1. Start with your church’s unique strategy.
In order to make good software decisions, you must be clear on your church’s specific passion, vision and ministry calling. Is your church small-group oriented or large-group oriented? Home fellowships or Sunday school? Is there a particular demographic that you serve or a wide range of ages and socio-economic statuses? Your choice of software and the decisions you make in implementing that software will depend on being clear about who you are as a unique church body and your specific expression of what it means to participate in the Great Commission.
2. Define your desired process.
Church management software won’t do the work of the Holy Spirit, but it can help us be intentional about caring for people. Think through the process of how guests should be cared for when they visit the church, when important life events happen, or when they haven’t been around in a few Sundays. How should pastors and leaders pursue relationships with members, guests, and the community? Think through this process without being hemmed in by your current software’s limitations and features. What would constitute your ideal scenario? Once this ideal process is defined, you are ready to implement and/or configure the proper church management software tool.
3. Automate what you can with what you have.
Once you’ve defined your ideal process, see what you can automate in your current software. Can you set a workflow that reminds the youth pastor to call new guests with students every Tuesday? Can you guide new members through a “MyChurch 101” curriculum? When important tasks are automated in a way that is consistent with your ideal ministry process, you conserve staff time and resources and help to ensure that important follow-up does not “fall through the cracks.”
4. Assign a “champion” for all things church management.
This person’s job is to be in constant communication with the staff, leaders, members, and any other stakeholder to help them use the software to its fullest. As the resident “expert,” they can ensure that everyone is aware of and can successfully utilize the features that will assist them to accomplish their specific ministry functions well. They’ll encourage adoption of the software by providing ongoing training and giving users the resources they need to use the software effectively.
5. Provide regular ChMS training – customized for how your church uses it.
New people come into the church and onto your staff. People change roles. Steps for particular processes change. This requires that you develop and maintain a training program for your new staff, leaders, and members.You should also regularly update your training to accommodate regular ongoing reminders, updates and changes. Your training program may have a combination of in-person mentoring, group training, video training, and email tips and tricks. Work to make training engaging and fun. Proper training will allow you to see great return on your significant ChMS investment. You will experience enhanced ministry enablement, which can ultimately lead to changed lives.
6. Resolve to make your software the authoritative data source.
For any church management application to be useful, the information in it has to be up-to-date, accurate, and easy to use. If you have a dozen different spreadsheets with volunteer assignments, addresses, and mailing lists in each department, your ChMS info won’t be useful. Data must be accurate to be trusted and used. With data in numerous (and often different or conflicting) “silos,” people will not rely on your ChMS, but rather on their own specific, departmental data source. This will only exacerbate the oft-stated problem of not having the correct data to support ministry. And in many cases, “the left hand won’t know what the right hand is doing.”
7. Evaluate whether your current ChMS has the functionality to “do ministry your way.”
If, in addition to your ChMS, you find that you have lots of additional software programs, apps, information services and databases, it may be that your ChMS software isn’t a good fit for your church. Maybe the data your people require can’t be managed effectively in your current application. Maybe the data is too hard to access from mobile devices and multiple applications. Many times, ChMS systems are purchased on the basis that they do one important thing exceptionally well while not doing many other specific church processes very well at all. The overall usefulness of such ChMS systems may not be acceptable for your specific church.
8. Establish your specific software requirements based on your unique strategy and process.
It is important to be very clear about your specific requirements before falling in love with certain software features, “look and feel, etc.” Form really must follow function. It can be helpful to analyze where your current software works well or fails to meet your needs. Create a prioritized list of functional requirements that you can use to evaluate 3-4 applications. Make sure to involve key stakeholders from all departments and levels of your ministry to ensure that this list is thorough enough to give a comprehensive view. Too many times, one “cool feature” or one specific staff member can have an outsized impact on a decision that affects the whole church.
9. Deploy new changes in concentric circles.
The best way to achieve adoption is to start with a core group of invested stakeholders who will be excited about the change. Once they have used the software and identified and fixed the bugs in the system, you can then expand to encompass other staff, leaders, and members. Introduce change to “friendlies” first. That will reduce the friction from those who might not be fully on board with the change and help develop momentum.
10. Remember what tools are… and what they are not.
Many times, people buy tools with the “magic pill” theory in mind: “If we have this tool – our lives, work and ministry will be fixed.” Resist the temptation to think that your church management application will suddenly do the work of connecting with people, making good decisions, and changing hearts for Jesus. No software is equipped to love people.
This information is courtesy of Enable Ministry Partners, which provide churches with their Ministry Enablement solution, a unique blend of comprehensive technology services, church management software consulting, data analytics, cybersecurity services, and business continuity solutions, www.enableministry.com.