This is actually a very challenging topic because churches usually look at this from a couple distinct points-of-view.
STARTING WITH PRICE
In a world with homogenous products, like “apples”, it’s easy to start the conversation with price. It is literally and figuratively an ‘apples-to-apples’ comparison. Traditional church management software provides a lot of the same type of functionality but over the years, many options have entered the marketplace that provide different flavors and focal points for the software. It is more important than ever for a church to learn more about how software is designed and what it is going to do for the church overall so that the price has context. For example, product A may be more expensive than product B but if product A has additional functionality that will allow me to reduce the burden on my administrative staff (saving time and money) or replace some of the 3rd party software that I’m having to pay outside of my ChMS cost, then the higher price may actually be a better value for my church. Additionally, if the software can help to intentionally get families on mission with our church, statistics show that this will account for thousands of dollars in increased giving for the budget. If a church rules out a software option based on price without that context, they could pass up the ideal software for their ministry.
STARTING WITH FUNCTIONALITY
There are a lot of reasons why starting with a functionality comparison is not ideal for church. First of all, the “list” of functionality that is used for any comparison is going to greatly influence the options that a church might consider. There are many reasons why a list might be less than ideal:
- The list could be slanted toward a certain type of software (i.e. administrative software like the list above)
- The list could be slanted toward a church’s past usage of software (i.e. They may not know that there is a better way to accomplish what they’ve used the software for in the past. They could be looking for functionality that is actually outdated or less efficient.)
- The list could be slanted toward a particular revenue stream (i.e. A consultant could slant you toward software that his company services or a website could lead you to software that has paid more in advertising than others.)
- The list could be geared toward the front lines (volunteers) and functionality, as opposed to the bigger picture of the church’s mission, values and goals - which is more of a leadership-level discussion.
These first two categories (price & functionality) are usually included in most RFPs or RFIs that churches send out to try to ‘narrow’ down the software that they will consider. After 10 years of helping churches through this process, I’m convinced that this mainstay from the secular business world has led many churches down a wrong path. Unfortunately, a mistake at this level wastes time, energy and money, while damaging the trust of the congregation when the church has to go through this process to change everything again in 2-3 years.
STARTING WITH THE BIGGER PICTURE
The most successful churches I’ve seen go through this process, regardless of the ChMS that they eventually chose, have been the churches that understand the importance of looking at the overall needs of the ministry first and foremost. Involving the church leaders in the conversation that can speak to that topic is crucial. Finding out WHAT the church needs the software to do can allow the software company to explain HOW it can (or cannot) accomplish the task at hand. It also allows the church to learn more about the vision and focus behind the software - what it was designed to do. It also allows a church to find out what type of relationship and support for their ministry that they can expect from the company in the future.
Just like it is important to understand the bigger picture of the needs of the church, there is also a bigger picture to consider about the company that is behind the software. Is this organization seeking to be a partner with you in your ministry or simply a software merchant? The main difference is that a software provider wants to sell you software as the main goal. A ministry partner would work with you to find the best software solution for your church, even if that is not their particular software offering. The needs of the church are greater than the desire for a sale.
For example, I was speaking with the son of a Pastor here in our hometown. He was extremely excited about how “easy” it was to sign up for their new ChMS. They didn’t even have to speak with a salesperson or go through a long process. They signed up, paid and they were ready to go. Fast forward two years later, they’ve realized that their choice was a disaster and that “easy and cheap” is not always the best way to go when dealing with something as important as ministry. The next time around, they started the conversation with the needs of the church and that led them to a new provider that we all hope will be able to serve them for years to come.
In summary, I just want to say that I believe that pricing or functionality alone are horrible starting points for a church’s ChMS evaluation. Starting with the needs of the church and then moving down through software options and how they would be able to solve those needs is the best way to find the right software for a church. I also believe that when dealing with something as important as ministry (and the eternity of individuals), looking for a quick shortcut to find a software package is simply poor stewardship. That’s just my 10 cents, for what its worth.
NOTE: Even though I work for a ChMS company, I admit that we aren’t right for every church. There is no silver bullet or perfect system. My hope is that churches will realize this as well and actually go through with the due diligence to find the right choice for their church. I hope that makes sense.