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The Benefits of Church Management Software
By: Jason Nilsson

Are your administrative tasks manageable right now but seem to be taking up more and more of your time? When you sit down to think about who was in attendance on Sunday, are you hoping you aren't forgetting anyone? Do you feel like you're spending more and more time managing the ministry instead of doing ministry?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, it's time to consider what software tools are available and how they can help you manage your ministry.

If you are new to the world of church software, an initial inquiry can be overwhelming. When you see the wide variety of available church software solutions, a cursory glance would lead you to believe they all do about the same thing.

At this point, many of us would start having second thoughts about church management software and say something like, "Well, we're not that big yet, and I can get by with what I am doing now. I'll just wait till we grow a little more."

This is, of course, an option; however, it doesn't do anything to solve the problems that originally caused you to begin your search. In fact, putting this off to a later time might make the process more difficult, and, at that point, you may be completely overwhelmed.

When I was a kid, I had a job cleaning a bakery. My boss told me that if I wiped the surfaces every day, even if they didn't look dirty, I would save time in the long run and avoid more work later. When applied to church management, if you have the proper tools, such as a great software program, to maintain your ministry every day, you will not get overwhelmed.

When it comes to church management, it is much easier to get organized when the job is manageable and your work is light. Ask anyone who has had to input a backlog of names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, anniversaries, notes, e-mails, classes, and groups; needless to say, it's not fun. Now, if you are saying to yourself, "I have all that information, it's organized, and I keep up with it," I would ask you to consider your definition of organized.

I submit that true organization involves two things: knowledge and efficiency. You not only need to know where something is, but it needs to be accessible. When you're flipping through spreadsheets and fingering down pages, you will probably admit is not an efficient use of time. Also, having to add or update the same information in more than one place is, well, less than ideal.

The simple fact is that the sooner you choose to organize your information in a comprehensive, user-friendly, and accessible church management program, the less time and frustration you will experience in the long run. It's just that simple. Although the time savings and organizational benefits alone make church software valuable, there are other reasons that might be more important.

Another reason to implement software sooner rather than later is because of the relational benefits. The right application can be an indispensable tool as you strive to connect with and communicate to the people in your care.

Technology has enabled us to be markedly more productive with our time, and because of this we can be more available in our relationships. The communication tools a good program provides will greatly enhance your ability to follow up with absentees, reach out to visitors, keep your members informed about ministry opportunities and events, and, in general, keep other communication flowing.

The fact is, if you are not using a comprehensive church program as a key part of your administrative, communicative, and organizational structure, you are vastly limiting your potential effect on your members and community.

In a world that often seems to be getting less and less personal, your ability to maintain relationships and communicate with people is becoming more and more important.

So, what is the big deal?  Well, if you were to study the churches making the most impact in their communities, you would find, among other things, leaders making the most of the tools and resources at their disposal.

Making the most of every opportunity is what we are all instructed to do. Don't limit your effectiveness by not taking advantage of time-saving technology simply because the search seems daunting, the price appears to be too high, or you think that your church is too small.

If making the most of your time, expanding your communications, and streamlining your administrative tasks are part of your plan, church management software will be a welcome addition for you and your ministerial staff.

Jason Nilsson is a director of sales for 13 states for Servant Keeper Church Management Software, which has helped more than 20,000 churches find church management software solutions that match their budget and needs, www.servantkeeper.com.

Using Software to Reduce Your Exposure to Fraud and Embezzlement
By Mary Lou Turnbull

In these hard times, even churches and not-for-profit organizations are not immune to fraud and embezzlement. Just because someone belongs to or is employed by a church or non-profit doesn't necessarily mean they are trustworthy.

Much of the time, embezzlement is done by a faithful employee or volunteer who sincerely intends to pay back the funds "one day" but has encountered a financial crisis. Anyone presented with the opportunity and a perceived need for cash can succumb to temptation.

Possible Scenarios
Here are a few situations that we have heard from our clients:

* Petty cash monies get pocketed.
* Contribution checks get entered into the system, but cash disappears.
* Having only one person who knows the financial workings.
* The same person who approves expenditures also cuts and signs the checks.

Safeguards and Practices
Several common sense "rules-of-thumb" and internal controls come to mind:

Always have more than one person count the incoming money, fill out the deposit slip, and take it to the bank. These people should be different from those responsible for paying bills.

Require a rotation of duties at least once a year. Vacation times are the best time to do this. Be wary of someone who never takes a vacation!

Use a computer program with mandatory double entry practices and an audit trail that is verifiable. Make sure that it does not allow random changes to numbers. (Many home or small business programs let you just change anything at any time.) The best software has multi-level passwords and a log that tells who did what when.

Use the "smell test." If something seems "fishy," it probably is!

It is important to note that no software, no matter how security-conscious and integration-compatible, can substitute for the human factor of checks and balances. Internal audits, knowledgeable board members, and church policies are essential in eliminating these potential threats.

If fraud or embezzlement has been discovered or is even suspected, legal counsel should be contacted immediately. Legal advisors can let you know if they think a forensic accountant should be contacted and/or whether the person suspected of committing the fraud should be prosecuted or terminated.

Claims of libel and/or slander can compound the problem. In some cases, counsel may advise that a mutual agreement between the organization and the person in which they agree to repay the damages in lieu of arrests and court cases can be the best route for all involved. Only the attorneys and the governing body of the organization can make this decision. It might be a good idea to get a second legal opinion.

The best way to manage fraud is prevention! Internal controls, sound accounting practices, and a good software program can be your best combination for success.

Mary Lou Turnbull is a senior trainer at Computer Helper Publishing, www.churchwindows.com. She received her FCBA certification with the National Association of Church Business Administration in 1998.  She travels across the United States training Church Windows customers on all aspects of their church management program.

Product Roundup

Church Helpmate
Church Helpmate is the church management system that's simply powerful and powerfully simple. It's a complete church membership management system that is designed to help your church save time and money, build unity, make better disciples, increase ministry participation, and simplify your life. Church Helpmate is easy enough for your entire team to learn and use, yet packed with enough power and flexibility to satisfy the most demanding church office. The new 2010 version is now available.

ministrEspace from Cool Solutions Group
ministrEspace is a low-cost, Web-based software solution for your ministry space scheduling needs. It requires minimal start-up instruction, has no setup fee, and operates in an Outlook-style calendar. In a few simple clicks, the straightforward interface makes quick work of all your scheduling demands, and functionality allows quick calendar access from your website. ministrEspace is subscriber based, with no long-term contracts or software to purchase. ministrEspace is as easy as click, schedule, save.

PowerChurch Plus
PowerChurch Plus is an all-in-one software program that helps organize Membership, Contributions, Accounting, and Event scheduling. Version 11 is the latest release, with many changes that make it easier to navigate and maintain. Also, the PowerChurch Check In system works in conjunction with your PowerChurch Plus data to provide child security, attendance tracking, and reporting. PowerChurch Plus can be installed locally on your computer or network, or installed on remotely hosted servers where you connect and run PowerChurch Plus from any computer with access to the Internet.

Nspire Software
Spend less time managing and more time ministering. Nspire Software makes this possible by giving you a robust set of user-friendly software tools enabling you to manage information better.  Nspire includes: People Management, Volunteer Tracking, Built-in TXT Messaging, Bulk E-mail, Automated Barcode Attendance, Fingerprint Attendance Tracking, Child Security through Check-in/out, Contributions, Pledge Drives, QuickBooks Compatibility, Automated Online Backup, Event Financial Tracking, Assimilation Tools, Photo Directories, Integrated Calendar and more.

ConnectionPower offers fully scalable Web-based church growth and truly enterprise level church management software, for churches of every size. ConnectionPower has the lessons learned and best practices from 25 years of working with thousands of churches to successfully increase visitor retention and member assimilation. They embed proven and flexible ministry processes that help you to double and even triple your power to connect newcomers, which is 100 percent of your church's growth potential. 

Five Talent Church
Five Talent Church Web-based church management software has all the items necessary, plus a lot more, for managing your church's people, activities, communications, and financials. Aside from the mainstream features, Five Talent Church also offers Web site integration and a new visitation and volunteer management module that will really boost your church's outreach efforts. Not only does it have everything you need, it is also extremely easy to use. It is free to get started and easy to convert your data from other programs. 

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