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Selecting a church member database (Part 7)

This is part 7 in the series. See all articles here.

Church member databases provide a growing list of features. These include:

  • 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).

I've shared a more detailed list of features here.

Some of these features are provided by other specialised service providers and you need to determine whether you want to use the features provided within the member database package, our ‘outsource' these to another provider.

Let me give you an example, Elvanto and Church Community Builder (and I'm sure others) provide “worship planning and volunteer scheduling” capabilities. This functionality is provided (in my opinion, to a much more comprehensive and polished way) by Planning Center Online (PCO). This is not to downplay either Elvanto or CCB – it simply recognises that a niche provider is usually more focussed.

Similarly, I'm a huge fan of MailChimp. While many church member database providers the ability to email the church/groups/sub-groups, the functionality of MailChimp (a specialised product) is (again in my opinion) far superior to what is offered as part of these database solutions.

Wufoo is also a superior service for forms and surveys.

This presents your church with 2 options:

  1. Find a member database that has a broad range of features, and use it for everything (even where some functions might be better performed elsewhere). The benefit of this option is integration – all functions are performed in the one place. People don't need multiple log-ins. When details change, they only need to be updated in one place. The downside is that you may need to compromise on some features.
  2. Select your preferred custom tools, and then select your member database. This is my preferred approach, because I find the extra functionality provided by both Planning Center Online and MailChimp to be so useful and I don't want to compromise on these things. The downside to this approach is data duplication – when an email address changes, we need to change it in 3 places. This is fiddly and not ideal, but a cost I'm willing to bear in order to benefit from this extra functionality. (Interestingly, PCOSync is a new tool that helps keep information in sync between CCB and PCO. I haven't used it, but I like the idea.)

Which approach you take is up to your church and its specific needs. I raise this as one of the steps to selecting a church member database because again – you don't want to pay for what you don't need, especially if you are going to pay for other services.

Action Steps

I'd recommend investigating some of the niche providers of services commonly included in church member databases, including service planning (e.g. Planning Center Online), email newsletters (e.g. MailChimp) and forms/surveys (e.g. Wufoo). Chat with other churches to see what online tools they use to help in their ministry. You can then evaluate whether or not your church would benefit from the extra functionality of these tools, and consider whether you've got the time (or inclination) to keep information current across multiple sources.

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  1. Jay

    September 14, 2012 at 12:11 am

    A 3rd option not mentioned is choose a database that actually interfaces with the custom tools that you are using, thus removing the need to change the email in three places. Many do this such as interface with Constant Contact email, VolunterSpot, Auction software, BombBomb email, and Vanco.

  2. Steven Kryger

    September 14, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Thanks for the comment Jay. This is an option, however, it becomes problematic when the church member database doesn’t interface with the desired tool.

  3. Mike Wziontek

    September 17, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Is there any solution out there that is good for a smallish church (not too pricey), that is good for both rostering and as a Database (well effectively a CRM). So you can say for example include ministry/serving availabilty.

    ie John Smith plays Guitar and is available once a month to play.
    Jane Doe has welcoming gifts and can servce once a month. And then you can generate a roster through this?

  4. Steven Kryger

    September 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Hi Mike, I’d recommend Planning Center Online. It sounds like it would do the things you’re after:

  5. Nathan Keen

    September 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Is this a really tried and true way to go for churches? I thought the whole thing about Church Management Systems was to get away from
    large admin overheads, multiple databases, multiple services, multiple insecurities, multiple training needs, and generally multiple headaches….

  6. Steven Kryger

    September 22, 2012 at 9:41 am

    Hi Nathan, I think the goal is to have systems that support your ministries. Ideally, these will be in one integrated package, but depending on your needs, this won’t always be possible. The key concept is to map out the needs, then find the solution.

  7. Mike Wziontek

    October 22, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Can you also use this to mark the roll, input new contacts and details about them as well?

  8. Steven Kryger

    October 22, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Hi Mike, Planning Center Online can’t be used to mark attendance, but you can add new people, and put them in groups.

  9. Randle

    February 8, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Did you look in detail at any of the more US centric options other than CCB or fellowship one? I’d be interested in your reasons for a final decision on elvanto. As an Australian church currently looking at a church member database. Elvanto is quite pricey and scales up very quickly (which means it costs are comparative to others).
    Background: We are disappointed that Pastoral Care doesn’t have a plan for web integration now that we are primarily a Mac environment and therefore have to look elsewhere. Our key priorities are currently: a parish directory, rostering, group management and process management

  10. Steven Kryger

    February 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Hi Randle, I looked at a bunch of them, although there are so many it was impossible to review them all in detail. I’ve been impressed with Elvanto for a number of reasons. What it does, it does very well. The support is first-class. The product continues to develop, with regular feature updates. It provides for Australian ways of doing things (e.g. phone numbers, addresses). It does cost more for more people, but in my experience, it’s worth it (and does all the things you require above).

  11. Randle

    March 14, 2013 at 9:02 am

    well, we decided to go with it and I reckon it is awesome. I keep looking forward to the enhancements they bring out each month.
    It took a while to setup with people flows, content, custom fields…etc But was definitely worth the time. I love some of the forms we’ve got for people being able to sign up for serving, making enquiries, putting in prayer requests…etc Now we’re starting the process of people updating their data 🙂

  12. Jonathan Cameron

    June 4, 2015 at 5:29 am

    Hi Steven – I realize this was a while back but just curious if you’ve seen the additional modules to Planning Center Online – is this becoming an increasingly good option in your mind or is it still a bit behind Elevanto in terms of broad usability.

  13. Steven Kryger

    June 11, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Hi Jonathan, Planning Center Online has some nice new features, but Elvanto has been improving too. For my money, it’s still Elvanto.

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