I am in the process of leading our church through evaluating and selecting a new ChMS system. We have approximately 5500 members and see roughly 3500 members weekly. Has anyone recently (within the last 12 months) gone through the ChMS evaluation and selection process? Would you be willing to share documentation such as the RFP you used along with evaluation documentation? Any other documents or thoughts you may have would be greatly appreciated as I begin to move the ball forward. Thank you!
I’d like to hear if anyone has solutions, reviews, experience, for a church with 150 (English speaking) and 225 (Spanish speaking) - bilingual support, with paper directory printing options, webhosting. Thanks.
While my selection was more than a year ago, perhaps it will help. We landed on RockRMS after reviewing our options. Our congregation is large like yours and as the church grows, the sophistication of systems needed usually grows as well. This tends to narrow the field to a smaller handful of options. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned if you (or anyone, really) want to email me at email@example.com
Disclosure: I serve on the board of the nonprofit that produces RockRMS. But I’m also a happy end user.
We switched back in June 2017 to RockRMS. Our staff has been very happy with the move. Multiple people on staff that have been through changes like this said, “it was the smoothest transition we have ever had.” We looked at a couple different ChMS before we made the change. RockRMS does a great job at keeping up with the fast pace that technology changes. We couldn’t find any other ChMS that could compare.
Let me see if I can find our documents and I can send you what we have.
We are just beginning this process as well and would be interested in any documentation available. We are currently interested in the Rock, Ministry Platform and Realm. Have you already narrowed down some of the choices out there?
while our selection process was quite a bit more fluid than you describe but we moved to Ministry Platform last September 2017 after a 22 year stint using ACS. We average 5500 on weekends and have just over 100 staff.
Our two main options we explored were MP & Rock.
If you’d like to talk thru details let me know.
I don’t have a formal RFP, but I echo others when I say that our final 2 choices were Ministry Platform (MP) and RockRMS (Rock). We chose Rock; once we dug into the details and took a look at how we operate, our organization culture, etc. they were the obvious and only choice for us. ACS People Suite, like @Jason.Lee was our previous ChMS.
We finished our migration in October 2017 (using BEMA, a ChurchIT Network partner to help), and couldn’t be happier with RockRMS. It’s made a significant ministry impact already (and the best is yet to come).
I would suggest that whomever makes your final few in your evaluation, that you take some time to figure out who else is using it so you can ‘rub shoulders’. If possible, attend community and community+org events (like Rock Roadshows, Rock Experience conference, and MP User Groups). You’re talking about a significant investment for your organization, as the time your staff invests will outstrip the cost of the software. Knowing how your staff will operate is critical in my experience.
If you have specific questions, this forum is a great place to ask them (and Slack is an option if you’re looking for something more instant and with less history)
Thanks for the response. I appreciate your opinion on both MP and RockRMS. My concern is supporting an open platform system. I see both MP and RockRMS are both open platform. A few questions -
How many IT staff members do you have to support ChMS?
How are you supporting the RockRMS platform/Are you supporting with your in-house IT team?
Will you make any changes to RockRMS or use the platform as it is out of the box?
Do you have it installed on site or hosting through a third party?
If you used a third party to assist with the installation (BEMA for example), how was your experience?
Help me understand what you mean by ‘supporting an open platform’ system. I’m not sure I understand, but I’ll make some assumptions…
If you’re looking for something that can’t be customized to integrate deeply with how your ministry works, then there are multiple vendors out there that can sell you a ‘software box+support’ (but IMO Rock still fits perfectly there). We didn’t want to change our ministry processes for the software to work; we wanted the software to flex to the needs of the ministry.
To summarize answers and not ramble too much:
- ~2500/weekend attendance
- I’m the only IT person (my boss is the Executive Pastor). Anything technology that isn’t ‘arts’ I am the primary stakeholder for. We have 2 staff with other roles that co-manage the TechArts (AVL) portion.
- Rock falls under my responsibility. We have been shifting our culture to put more of the technology tools directly in the hands of the staff. In Rock, we do this by providing training and opportunities for staff to learn, make mistakes, and take more ownership of the technology (we would have done the same w/ a different ChMS)
- We started with Rock ‘out of the box’ and have since then added a couple plug-ins (for example, to manage room reservations, sync with Planning Center Online, automate prayer request processes, etc.)
- We host Rock in Azure using Microsoft’s Philanthropy Azure credit (TechSoup can help get you setup). I don’t know about running MP on Azure. Currently I manage that myself (it’s not much, and easy), but we may have a ChurchIT Network partner manage it at some point. It’s a VM running IIS and an instance of Azure SQL. Setting Azure resources up is pretty easy; a typical IT person or a partner can easily do this for you.
- Our experience with BEMA was very good. There was some feedback we had on how to improve the process; their senior leadership wanted and was receptive to this. We already had an IT relationship with BEMA; that also helped. It was significantly better than experiences I have had with other vendors (who also cost a lot more money).
Rock gives us an ‘open platform’ that we can choose to make changes to. However, it’s not required for us to make code-level changes, and we have not needed to do. Everything we’ve needed to do has been available using stock tools (HTML, CSS, Lava, SQL) or a plug-in from the Rock Shop. This is a fit for the culture of how we use technology in our organization.
Our thinking on Rock and Spark (makers of Rock) is shifting, and we don’t see it as the typical vendor/customer relationship anymore. When we invest (time/effort/money) in Spark and the Rock Community, the KINGDOM wins.
We do outsource some ongoing IT needs (server & network management, etc.) to a ChurchIT Network partner. You’re not required to have a developer or other full-time staff person for RockRMS (or MinistryPlatform?). That being said, you probably won’t be writing custom C# code for your organization’s sole use only without one. I doubt we’ll ever have that kind of person on staff, as we’d prefer to have a well defined target/solution we’re looking for (preferably not code that only applies to us), and from there hire someone to write that. I know churches that have successfully used this approach with both RockRMS and Ministry Platform. We’ve used some SQL and other tricks from Rock community members (other churches) for a couple things that aren’t ‘out of the box’ via the Shoulder the Boulder blog
Here are some links to some survey results that we conducted about 2 years ago.
Also, something we reported to our leadership team.
This was done at the end of 2016, so things may have changed since then.
I apologize that this will be long, but it is our process thus far and I hope might be helpful to someone.
We have recently gone through the process and will be starting implementation with Ministry Platform in September with a Go-Live date in early November. We are currently on Arena. I came into the process after it had already started, but I can tell you what the team did before I came and what we’ve done since. Side note: I am NOT an IT person. My background is in project management and training. I’m learning to speak the language a bit, but that is definitely not my background. We have one IT person on staff (who really doesn’t do much with our CMS), a contract with an outside firm to help us with Arena and I have one person who works part time who is a former IT person who writes code for us periodically. Our Finance Administrator writes SQL and likes that stuff, but that’s not his primary job. That sounds like a lot, but we aren’t a church that has a big department of people writing code and such. And our goal is to get away from needing outside stuff done.
A CMS team was brought together of key stakeholders to discuss needs and wants for a new system. People at the table were/are: Database Manager (in the beginning one of our pastors was holding that position, now it is me), Executive Pastor, Discipleship Pastor, Communications Director, Finance Administrator, Support Services Director and IT staff member. After fleshing out wants and needs, team members did some research on their own of systems they had heard about or found in research and brought them back to the team for discussion. One hour remote presentations were done by four systems. Just the CMS team was present for these sessions unless there were a few key people they wanted to bring in. Based on those presentations, two systems were chosen to bring in for Deep Dives—Rock and Ministry Platform.
I held listening sessions with each ministry area to hear their pain points with Arena… what had to work just as well, what had to be amazing on day one and what they could leave behind. I built scorecards for each session based on listening sessions, notes from original team meetings, and research I did. They are very detailed and specific in some ways and general in others, but we had to have a way to capture people’s thoughts on the system during the deep dives so we could objectively evaluate.
We currently use Kingdom First Solutions to assist us with Arena. Since Rock doesn’t have a sales team, Trey Hendon from KFS did the deep dive for Rock. Kevin McCord came from Ministry Platform. Both were amazing at presenting and answering questions. Those were two very long days and they were great!
The deep dives were full one day presentations. All staff were asked to attend the first Introduction session for each system and then could come and go as they pleased from the other sessions. The sessions we held were:
- Intro (1 hr)
- Event Registrations, Payments & Facilities Calendar (45 min)
- Groups Mgmt, Volunteer Mgmt, Communications, Leader Toolbox (45 min)
- Check-in, Attendance Configuration & Reporting (45 min)
- Administration, Security, Automation Agents (45 min)
- Data Mgmt & Reporting (45 min)
- Finance & Contributions (30 min)
- Mission Trip Setup/Payments & Benevolence (30 mins)
After the deep dives, I compiled the data from the scorecards, compiled financial data and presented to the CMS team. We decided to go with Ministry Platform. I can update after implementation and let you know how it has gone. Thus far I am very impressed with their implementation team and process. Our staff has buy in for the system given all of the lead up we did before the deep dives and after. We all know it will be a lot of work, but the momentum is high right now and people are anxious to move toward the new system.
Let me know how I can help.
Does your church still use ACS for financials? If not, what platform did you go with assuming Ministry Platform only handles contributions? We are a long time ACS church and are going to look at all options before simply going to Realm.
Hey @bcrawley that was the boat we were in about 15 months ago. We came to the conclusion moving to Realm was going to be as disruptive as moving to a completely new ChMS. We were concerned that a move to Realm without shopping the landscape would potentially cause us to move and then 6-8 months later realize it wasn’t the best fit for us and we’d have to do something else… which would be a moral killer for our staff.
As we shopped around the customization of MP (Integrations with 3rd parties, well documented API, customizable database) we came to the conclusion that while Realm was a much better solution than ACS desktop it was going to be a lateral move since we couldn’t customize the database like we could with MP. We had a HUGE investment in Realm our team had worked with ACS for 3-4 years developing Realm for what we’d need… but in the end, even with the relational equity and deep level of partnership with the team at ACS, we came to the conclusion that the long term solution for our organization wasn’t Realm.
We are still using ACS Financials. Our finance team is OK with ACS financials so no reason yet to disrupt something that they are ok with… I know there are some pain points with how it handles multi site accounting structure but we’ve got some workarounds in place. We did explore ACS Financials on Demand but having ACS host the same software we have now was not worth the monthly cost for our IT team to support internally. It’s possible in the future we may explore Realm Financials or another solution but that isn’t on our road map this year or next year a this point.
Our transition from ACS Desktop to MP was remarkably smooth because of the support of both ACS Professional Services (getting the data out) and the support of MP Professional Services getting the data setup. I can’t say enough about the commitment to the Kingdom to have a vendor loosing your business to assist in your migration away from their product.
ON the MP side … Think Ministry has several tools built to make using ACS financials easier to take the batches out of MP into the GL of ACS.
For a season we continued to use ACS Online giving while we made the transition and allowed donors to stay on ACS Online Giving 6 months after we started accepting donations with OnlineGiving.org. This was to allow donors with recurring donations to choose a time that was a good time for them to migrate… and avoid a move around the end of a calendar year.
Our finance team is very pleased with how MP handles contributions. The move to MP has also allowed us to migrate mission trips to FocusMissions which integrates with MP so monies given to mission trips automagically show up on the same contribution statement vs the manual process before.
Hope that helps.
Hey Jason - this helps a lot. I appreciate the insight. We are currently ACS on Demand but it has its limitations especially when it comes to groups and check-in. Due to those limitations we supplement by using Church Teams for most of our adult groups and our new Paragould Campus is using Church Teams for Check-in because we are at a school and only have Wifi and ACS on Demand CheckPoint has to be hardwired from our experience due to how picky it is with its connections. Any minor blip in the data stream it kills the RDP session and you have to log back in. We don’t have this issue if hardwired.
Our finance team has always played a major role in the ChMS decision making process in the past. I’ve got our leadership on board with looking at all options before making the switch and I’ve also got them on board that our financial suite and ChMS doesn’t have to be the same system.
Our newest campus launched yesterday so this is a project that is about to get pushed to the front. It’s my goal to have a decision made next spring so we can convert over the summer. I will be sharing your experience with our leadership for additional ammo on the fact that we do not have to have the same financials and ChMS platform.
What has been your experience with OnlineGiving.org? We moved to PushPay last year and while their platform is easy for online giving, it’s quite expensive. We do get an app, but I’m convinced we could contract SubSplash to do an app for us and still save money over what we are paying Push Pay annually. Also Push Pay registrations is awful we we moved back to Church Teams for registrations. We had issues with the ACS online giving platform but I can’t say what it was as we had moved to Secure Give when I came on staff and have changed twice since then.
We have had great success pulling the fragmented systems we had to “add to” acs into MP. And where MP Hasn’t been the end all solution the strategic partnerships with leaders in those verticals has been helpful.
We’ve had great success with OnlineGiving.org. They have a very very high level of integration with MP.
We also have a great relationship with BlackPulp Designs who does a fair bit of our development work on customizing MP. Both companies have MP integrated apps that do many of the things you mention. We will be going with BlackPulp’s mobile platform called PocketPlatform which is giving system agnostic.
Feel free as your project moves forward to ping me with questions.
I’ve written and deleted this response multiple times because I don’t want to be kicked out of this group. I’ve been helping churches through this process for the last 12 years and my focus now is specifically assisting churches that are over 2,000 in attendance. For that reason, I wanted to share some of the wisdom that I’ve gleaned as I helped churches recover from bad ChMS decisions. I would love to talk in more detail about all of this but hopefully it gets your mind thinking.
I’m just one guy but these are some words of advice that I would throw your way.
- There is no one system that is perfect for every church.
- There is no one system that can be excellent at everything.
- Just because software has potential to be excellent, that doesn’t guarantee that your church has the resources to take full advantage of that excellence.
- Church recommendations are great but keep in mind that they are often going to be biased. (see #1 above)
- Third party comparison tools, RFPs and matrices can very often be biased and slanted to a particular point of view of toward specific solutions and services.
- There are non-christian, money-focused organizations and people in the world who will say or do whatever it takes to get you to purchase their software (including lies, plagiarism, and blatant dishonesty. There are so many of these stories out there.)
- Functionality is important but is only an accurate comparison until one of the companies has a software update. Functionality changes but the vision and focus of the organization behind it does not.
- Who owns the software and is determining the direction of the organization is EXTREMELY important when you consider a ChMS Partnership. Are they kingdom minded or will they be jumping ship when the right money is offered and potentially throwing you under the bus in the process?
- Church Management shouldn’t be seen as just an IT decision or an Administrative decision. It should be a bigger picture ministry decision with multiple stakeholders in the process.
- I believe that there is only one reason that you should choose a church management system or change to a new one. A church should move to a new system if they’re convinced that it is going to best support the mission and focus of their church.
I don’t mean to seem super-negative about this industry. Every industry has its positive and negative aspects and just because this industry serves churches is not going to make it perfect.
I do want to end this post with more positive advice for you. I believe that there should be three levels of value that you should be looking for when evaluating software and partners. I also believe that you should tackle them in this order.
VISION & FOCUS // What is the software designed to do? What does the company behind it truly care about? Are you on the same page in terms of where you want to go and where the software is designed to take you? I believe this is the most important because if you’re not on the same page here, the other two aspects are irrelevant. If a Church Management company can’t discuss ministry with you at this level, are you really wanting to “hitch your wagon” to them for the next 10-15 years?
FUNCTIONALITY // It’s important to make sure that the software is going to be be able to do the things that you need it to do. I want to caution you at this level though. Not all software is designed alike and there are multiple ways to skin a cat. This is where I would recommend that you share with church management companies what you are trying to accomplish, as opposed to the specific functionality that you’re requiring from them. The reason behind this is that they may have a better way to accomplish the goals of your ministry that uses different (and sometimes better) functions than the ones on your list.
USER-FRIENDLINESS // Of course, the proof is in the pudding. Getting a hands-on evaluation of the software will allow you to put it in the hands of the “right people” to figure out what that use-experience is actually going to be.
The reason that I’m suggesting this order is simple. It doesn’t matter how easy the software is to use if it isn’t doing the things that we need it to do. It doesn’t matter if the software meets all of our functionality needs today if they company is going to take it in a totally different direction next year.
In the same way I recommend that before making a change, churches look back through these three levels to make sure that they’re not jumping ship prematurely by looking for another system.
USER FRIENDLINESS / Is our staff trained correctly? Are we using it the way it was designed to be used? Did we give the ChMS company a chance to make things right?
FUNCTIONALITY / Does the software actually do the things that we need it to do?
VISION / FOCUS / Is the software designed at it’s heart to take us where our ministry wants to go?
Hopefully this is helpful Sorry that I threw so much in a post. Again, it’s just one man’s opinion but I would love the opportunity to speak with you about any of this to see if there are other ways that I could help your church with this conversation.
Have a blessed week.