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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.