A number of years ago I started researching for a new church database for my church. I checked out 100 church database providers.
In the end I chose Elvanto – with quality support and an ever-expanding list of useful features, I continue to recommend it to others. Other promising options I've seen more recently include UCare and ChurchApp.
While many churches are able to see the potential of a new church database, not all who sign-up make the most of their investment.
Unfortunately, good intentions don’t translate into good implementation. This is seen in numerous ways, for example:
- New people not being added.
- Details of existing people not being keep up to date.
- Staff or ministry leaders not being trained in how to use it.
- Staff or ministry leaders not using it.
I have observed that the time between deciding to use a church database and setup is critical to using it well in the long term. By asking some questions before you get started, you are more likely to make the most of it.
To help you, here are 8 questions to ask (and answer) in this pre-launch phase.
1. Is the whole team on board?
When the Senior Minister isn’t 100% on board with using the church database, don’t proceed. This might sound dramatic, but the leader sets the culture, and if they aren’t going to get behind it no one else will.
Similarly, this is the time to confirm that all staff are on board and stop using other systems and processes (e.g. their own spreadsheets, mailing lists, sign-up forms, etc). and start using the same database. It only takes one person refusing to get on the bus for the bus to go nowhere.
2. Why are we making the switch?
When you are clear from the outset why you are switching to the new church database, you’ll be better prepared if (when) the road gets bumpy.
For example, you might question why you switched when:
- The budget is tight and you’re questioning the extra expense, or
- People complain about the need to learn new systems.
To help you be clear on the why, you could compile as a team your responses to the following:
“Our goals in using this church database are…”.
You can then return to this list and be reminded that there are good reasons to push through the pain.
3. Who will be the champion?
If one person isn’t responsible for overseeing the church database, a number of things will most likely happen:
- Setup will drag on indefinitely, and
- New users won’t be trained, and
- Existing users wno’t be
Your church database needs a champion to get the church started and then keep moving – ensuring data is kept up to date, reports are run, new users trained, etc.
4. What measures are important to us?
Rick Warren has observed:
“Since the church is a living organism, it’s natural for it to grow if it’s healthy. The church is a Body, not a business—an organism, not an organization. It’s alive. If a church is not growing, it is dying.”
The reports in many church databases are a powerful tool for helping you measure both the health and growth of your church. However to do this, you need to be clear on what measures of health and growth you want to track.
To get you thinking, here’s some suggestions for different measures of church health.
5. What systems and processes do we need to confirm or improve?
Every church has systems and processes. Some have been carefully crafted, others are just “the way things have always been.” For example:
- How people join a small group.
- How people serve in formal roles.
- How guests are followed up.
A church database can help with these systems and processes – but only if you know what you want to achieve.
Again, here’s 25 examples of church systems and processes to get you thinking.
6. How will we roll it out?
Many church databases are rich with features – but you don’t need to use them all from day one. In fact, you shouldn’t! Start with the basics and go from there.
When I first setup Elvanto we did it in stages:
- Stage 1: Import people into Elvanto from all other sources.
- Stage 2: Set up access permissions and train the leadership team.
- Stage 3: Create services and departments, and assign people to roles.
- Stage 4: Train volunteers in how to share their availability and view rosters.
This provided a firm foundation to build on, where people had confidence in the basic functions are were then ready to learn and do more. If you launch too much too soon, you risk things not working smoothly and people losing confidence.
It’s also important to consider how you will get the church on board. You will need to persuade, not force people to use it. Share how Elvanto will benefit the ministry of the church and the advance of the gospel, and give people as much help as they need to use it well.
7. How will we respond to questions about security?
There will always be church members who have questions about the security of data and especially when it’s stored in the cloud. These questions are perfectly reasonable and deserve a satisfactory answer.
On a technical level, Elvanto provides some FAQS about how it keeps data secure and you can use these (or similar, from the provider you choose) to prepare a response when questions are asked.
On a more practical level, people may also ask about the type of information that will be stored. For example, will the details of pastoral conversations be recorded in the church database? Who will have access to these? These are important policy questions that need to be agreed upon from the beginning.
And if people still aren’t comfortable with their data being stored in the church database then you need to be prepared to do as they wish.
8. How will we continue to get the most out of the database?
Asking these questions will get you off to a great start. But you don’t want to just start well – you want to keep the momentum going!
A common scenario I have seen with church website redevelopments is that a new site is built and it looks great – but then nothing happens again for months or even years!
Don’t let this happen to your church database! To explore how you will get the most out of it post-launch you could ask:
- How often will we review our progress and make any adjustments?
- When will we check for new features and consider if they’re suitable?
- What training will be provided to new users (staff and members)?
- Who will be responsible for making this happen? (see #3)?