This is part 4 in the series. See all articles here.
When you buy a car, you don’t necessarily need all the bells and whistles. A sunroof might be nice, but it may not be necessary. But if you find yourself frequently backing into the car behind when you park, perhaps it’s time to get a car with reverse parking sensors!
Likewise with a church database, you don’t necessarily need every feature, but it’s good to know what’s possible. You can then make an informed decision about which features will be of most benefit to your ministry context.
Top 20 Features
We’ve already explored the benefit of using semi-automated processes to love people. Here’s a list of the 20 key features you’ll often find in solutions today:
- Keep track of attendance (and report on who has been away from church, in order to follow them up).
- Generate reports to track your progress (e.g. how many people are in a Connect Group, serving on a Sunday, etc).
- Send bulk emails and SMS’s.
- Safely check-in children to kid’s ministries (as well as adults to events).
- Book rooms and other resources (e.g. data projector).
- Display a calendar of church events.
- Allow people to edit their information (e.g. update their address).
- Keep private notes on individuals and families in order for the ministry team/pastoral care leaders to disciple and care.
- Enable people to register for events, Connect Groups and sign-up to serve.
- Record which ministries people are serving in.
- Record spiritual gifts and serving experience (to match people to serving opportunities).
- Allow people to see and update information based on their roles.
- Facilitate communication between group members (e.g. Connect Groups, kids church leaders, etc).
- Access information on different devices (e.g. an iPhone, iPad, etc.)
- Enable members to access an up-to-date directory online.
- Set reminders to follow-up people (e.g. ask Kate in December to join the Kid’s Church team).
- Manage and report on church finances.
- Facilitate giving (and thank people who give).
- Print out mailing lists and name tags.
- Keep track of who has completed courses (e.g. Safe Ministry/Child Protection training), and when they need to be renewed.
In recent times, more providers are introducing functionality similar to Planning Center Online. This functionality makes it possible to plan services, roster people to serve at weekend services, and resource and support band members. From my discussions with churches, I still think Planning Center Online is the superior tool for serving these goals.
I think the reporting functionality is the most valuable of all. You can report on:
- The number of people in Connect Groups
- The number of people who have decided to follow Jesus
- The number of men who have aren’t serving at the 6pm service
- The number of married couples who’ve joined in the last 12 months
- The number of people who live in each surrounding suburb
- The average attendance each weekend
- The list goes on!
This is important, because this information helps you to track how you’re going, to care for people, mobilise people and plan for the future. I was surprised by the large number of churches are still using Word, Excel or nothing at all. If only for the reporting functionality, churches using these tools are really missing out.
Explore the list of features above, and learn how these can be helpful for ministries. You don’t need to make any decisions yet – just get familiar with what’s possible. You might like to review this list of 220+ providers to learn more about the different features.
If you’d like your church member database to be more than a list of names and addresses, the next step is to start mapping out how your church functions. If it’s not functioning so well at the moment, now’s the time to think about how it should function!
While there are many functions you could map out, start with thinking about how to love the people God has given you.
The benefits of people processes
A church member database (or church management solution) can be a very powerful tool for loving people (and after all, that’s core to any church’s purpose!). This happens when processes for loving people are mapped out and then semi-automated using the member database.
How do they work?
Here’s an example:
- A person attends church, and shares their details on a contact card/response slip.
- They are added to the church member database.
An action plan is then triggered:
- Reminding the pastor to send them a welcome letter /email/phone (“It was great you could join us!”),
- 3 weeks later, they are reminded to make a follow-up phone call (“How are you settling into church?”)
- 5 weeks later, they are reminded to invite them to a Belonging course/newcomers dinner, etc.
This is a very basic example, and it can be apply to numerous scenarios. You can watch a video from Elvanto that explains this in more detail. As I say, these processes are semi-automated. They don’t do the work for you – but act as a guide to love the people entrusted to your care.
Here’s an example of a process we’ve mapped out at my church. This process describes how we encourage Christians who have recently started attending regularly to get connected with our church family. You can click on the image to enlarge:
Responding to the objections
Some people object to these types of people processes – shouldn’t loving people be an organic overflow of the heart? Sure, there’s a time for spontenaeity, but love isn’t always spontaneous – it’s often very intentional.
- I write dates in my calendar to remind me of birthdays and anniversaries because I want to love people.
- I plan out my week, thinking about how I will love my wife (to my shame, not as often as I would like or as she deserves).
To be sure:
- A process won’t cover every possible scenario.
- A process must be flexible.
- A process should help love people, not hinder.
However, to care for a church that is growing (with more people coming along, and more staff/volunteers shepherding them), you need systems and processes. This point from Darrin Patrick rings true, doesn’t it?
“Most pastors don’t know how to build systems, structures and processes that aren’t contingent on them”.
Start mapping out your big-picture processes for caring for people. This takes time (which is why this is early on in the series!). Here’s a couple of suggestions for processes to consider:
- How you follow up first-time guests.
- How you disciple people who attend but don’t yet follow Jesus.
- How you follow-up people who become believers (praise God!).
- How you integrate Christians who move to your church.
- How you love people who stop attending frequently (or all together).
Do you live in Sydney, Australia?
Do you want to learn from others, and share what you’ve learnt?
Join others for a night of idea sharing, encouragement, networking and more.
Come along prepared to share – something interesting or inspiring you’ve seen, worked on or would like to see come to life.
The event is free, but bring $10 for Thai/pizza.
What does this look like? Bill Hybels continues:
Over the lunch table I gave him our vision. “We want to help every church on planet Earth reach its full redemptive potential,” I told him. “We want to see churches led by leaders, taught by teachers, and administrated by administrators. We want to help church leaders establish clear missions and values so they can reach lost people in their communities and guide them toward spiritual maturity. Until our dying breath we want to help the bride of Christ become a force against which the very gates of hell cannot prevail.”
When I finally stopped talking, he was wide-eyed. “That’s huge!” he said. “You bet your life it is,” I answered. “And we need some huge investors to turn this vision into reality. Will you pray and find out if God wants you to help us?”
Perhaps one of the reasons people don’t give (more) is how the opportunity is positioned.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed it, but very few people get fired up about financing mundane needs. I don’t blame them. If they’re like me, they want to invest their limited funds in a vision far grander than paying utility bills, restocking janitorial supplies, or maintaining the church copy machine. They’re not going to put their annual bonus in the Christmas Eve offering unless they have some assurance that it’s going to make a significant difference in the world. They want to know that their hard-earned money will be used to fund authentic ministry that impacts real people.”
Read more in Courageous Leadership.
Christians are familiar with confusing terminology, aren’t we?
In part 1, I began and named this series using the term ‘Church Member Database’, but there are other similar names that are used to describe (mostly) the same thing. The most common of these other terms are ‘Church Database Software’, ‘Church Membership Database’, ‘Church Management Solutions’ and ‘Church Management Software’.
For this series, I’ll be using the term ‘Church Member Database’, as a catchall phrase, incorporating all solutions in the same genre.
I understand that the solutions out there are for more than just ‘church members’ and that ‘database’ has some negative, technical connotations. I also understand that many of the newer products bill themselves as being full-scale ‘management solutions’ and see themselves as more than ‘just a database’.
So why am I using the term ‘Church Member Database’? Two main reasons:
- I want people to be able to find this series. Church Member Database is still the more commonly understood and searched-for term (68,300,000 results in Google, as opposed to 12,200,00 results for ‘Church Management Software’, and 11,800,00 for ‘Church Management Solutions’).
- I want to make this series is as accessible as possible to as many readers as possible. I think ‘Church Member Database’ is a more understandable term for many of the less ‘tech savvy’ readers, and using this term will, I pray, be helpful for these readers as they start to get their heads around this topic.
I’ll be talking about a process for finding the right solution for your church in this broad genre of tools, but I want to use terminology that is helpful for others.