Every church has a member database.
In some cases, this may be as basic as the address book on the sole pastor's phone. In other cases, it may be a simple Excel spreadsheet, or an Access database. Still in others, it may be the latest solution to hit the market.
At its most basic, a database is simply a method of storing information about people (though it can do much more, as we'll discover). And regardless of style or denomination, every church has some storage system in place.
The question is – what is the best system for your church?
This is a question I've considered twice, as I've looked for member database solutions for my church. The first database we were using was hopelessly inadequate for a growing church – it only ran on PCs (and only one PC at a time, for that matter), and half the growing staff were using Macs. If we wanted more people than our office administrator to have access to a database, we would need a new system! The first product we chose was adequate, but basic, and again, not suitable for our growing church.
So I embarked on a more detailed journey. However to be perfectly honest, I was in unfamiliar territory. For a start:
- I didn't know how to evaluate our current and future needs.
- I didn't know what what best for my church's current and future needs.
- I didn't know how to work out what was a ‘must have', and what was a ‘nice to have'.
- I didn't know what questions to ask of the various providers.
- I didn't know how to narrow down the huge list of options.
- I didn't know which stakeholders to involve in the selection process.
As you can see – I I felt ill-equipped to make a decision. Perhaps you know what this feels like. Based on the emails I receive from people around the world, I know I'm not alone!
With no idea where to begin, I began to research what was possible, and what other churches were using.
After a brief selection process that I documented on Communicate Jesus in 2009, we selected a database called Jethro. It's not the fanciest looking solution but it's great, and I continue to recommend it.
However, I've returned to this topic again in 2012 for 5 reasons:
- The church I serve at has been steadily growing, and we want to build in systems that will continue to serve us in the future. I'm reviewing the needs for my church.
- I've discovered that many churches are using very basic systems (e.g. 16% in this survey are using an Excel spreadsheet). These simple systems may be adequate for the church's needs, but are most likely very limiting.
- I regularly hear stories of churches spending a lot of money on databases they don't know how to use. This isn't good stewardship, nor is the amount of time that is unnecessarily spent by many church's making a decision on the tool they will use.
- Most churches don't know how to select a database, and there's a lot of complex questions to consider. There's a need for a simple guide to work through this decision from someone who isn't an expert (raising hand quickly!), but who's spent more time than most thinking about this topic.
- I want to serve Jesus' church.
So, each Tuesday in the coming weeks, I'll be sharing my experiences and I invite you to follow along with me (you might like to subscribe via email). If you've got experience on this topic, I encourage you to join in and share it in the comments below each post, or send me an email.
May the church be edified through this series, on a topic as practical as church member databases!
“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:4-8