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Selecting a church member database (Part 1)

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Chris

    June 20, 2012 at 3:32 am

    Looking forward to Tuesdays!

  2. Pingback: 241 – Summer Software Showcase: Google Calendar

  3. Ashley Crane

    June 20, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Look forward to the series – one reflection is that I think the word “database” has some stigma associated with it. Many people have a (less then positive) perception of what a database is and that isn’t matched by some of the systems you’ll be reviewing. For example, Jethro has a web front end so it’s much more then a basic “database” in the sense of the basic elements of a relational database (tables, views, queries, etc).

    Perhaps there is another term which might more closely align with the intent – “member management application”, “church management solution” ? What do others think?

  4. Steven Kryger

    June 21, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    This is a good point Ashley. 

    The terminology question is tricky. Whilst I agree that ‘database’ can be unhelpful, the term ‘church management solution/system’ can also be confusing. I’m also aware that many of the people who will read this series aren’t particularly tech-savvy, so ‘database’ is a term they can relate to.

  5. Michelle

    June 23, 2012 at 1:48 am

    Thanks, I’m looking forward to reading your conclusions over the coming weeks. As a full-time church administrator in a growing church I’m feeling the need to implement a better solution for the future. We currently use The City, though this doesn’t really provide an adequate database facility. We previously subscribed to Connection Power but never really got this off the ground as it required too much of our small team to master the process.

    Our Technical Teams are looking into Planning Centre, though I have concerns about moving away from a central dataset when really I’d like asystem which can handle giving records, contact information, teams, meetings, services and pastoral referrals. Perhaps I am asking too much!

  6. Wayne

    June 23, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    We’ve been using Jethro since September last year for our new church plant, it exceptional for keeping tabs on people and sending sms or email updates, BUT we have 3 or 4 new people every week and it is so tedious to enter them each week (making a new ‘family’ then adding the new ‘person’), so we have ditched it and going back to excel and pieces of paper for now. The time taken to enter new people is critical, I think it needs to be under 30 seconds per person. Also nice to be able to automatically print name tags for people each week.

  7. Steven Kryger

    June 25, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    3-4 new people each week – even at 5 minutes per person (and Jethro is still much less than that), that’s 20 minutes per week, which isn’t a lot of time. We need to look not just at the initial ‘cost’, but also the longer term costs and benefits.

    I’d argue that the long term benefits of adding people into a more comprehensive system far outweighs the 30 second+ initial time.

  8. Boyd

    July 18, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    Thanks for the invitation to comment on your posts.  Churchteams started out of a similar desire to serve the church.  I was a discipleship / small group pastor for 18 years and we needed a way to effectively connect people, empower leaders to communicate and get the feedback on how people are doing for good leadership and shepherding.  Over the past 12 years we grew organically as people told others and so on.  When it got to the size to support us I left church staff to focus full time on sales and development.  We have always been web-based and now serve almost 700 churches with 600,000 to a million hits per month.  The key for us is the synergy of my ministry ministry experience and my partner’s software architecture experience, bringing the best of both disciplines together.  www.churchteams.com

  9. Kevin McCord

    July 19, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Steven,

    I like the fact that you are talking about selecting a church database.  Those of us who deal with the topic daily know what “ChMS” means.  We know that it means so much more than “Church Database”, but it’s good to use a term that a lay person searching the web might use.  It is also important to note that a ChMS is, at its core, a church database and you might have really pretty software that has a really ugly database!

  10. Berine

    December 19, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Steven,

    Great article…I wish you had added a little more content about each church database and what their good points are. I’ve been looking for a church database and I’ve demo’d a few but haven’t really chose one, the ones that we have trialed are WCC Church database and Logos, and CCIS the best out of all three as far as price and features are concerned was http://www.webchurchconnect.com but we’re still undecided! I guess we’ll keep using the demo and reading reviews until we come to a decision…

  11. Church Software

    August 31, 2013 at 5:00 am

    we are comparing church software at our site. any thoughts you have are welcome.
    http://www.comparechurchsoftware.com

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