This is part 5 in the series. See all articles here.
This question is important, because where your database lives impacts who is able to access it.
Example: When I first started joined the staff team at a church, the church member database we were using could only be accessed on one computer (and that had to be a PC, not a Mac). This was very limiting, particularly as more staff joined the team and wanted access to this information (on Macs, and not just when they were in the church office). If your church is growing, or you are praying for growth, this type of solution is probably not for you.
However, let me give you an overview of your options.
Broadly speaking and to keep things as simple as possible, your church member database can ‘live’ (or be hosted) in 4 different places:
- On one person’s computer (i.e. accessible only on your computer – as in the example above, or in an Excel spreadsheet, etc.).
- On a local network (i.e. accessible by anyone in the church office).
- On a local network that’s accessible remotely (i.e. accessible online, via the church’s network).
- On a server anywhere in the world, managed by a service provider and accessed whenever you have internet access (also known as ‘cloud’ storage). Here’s a great beginners overview of cloud computing.
The limitations of each option
I’ll try to keep this un-technical, and explain the limitations of each:
- This works if you are the only person wanting to use the church member database.
- This works if you have a reliable server, and are happy to only have access when you are in a set location.
- This works if you have a reliable server that can be set-up with remote access.
- This works from anywhere, as long as the host’s server stays online.
I realise that much of the above is perhaps more technical than most people would prefer, and one of the goals of this series is to be accessible to readers regardless of technical knowledge. I do this because I know how many smaller churches there are who want good systems, but often don’t have the benefit of people with technical expertise.
So let me make a recommendation:
If your church has (or in the future can imagine having) more than one person who would like to access the church member database, and you would like access outside of the church office (e.g. from home), I would suggest either option 3 or 4.
Option 3 – On a local common network that’s accessible online
Jethro is one of the solutions that fits into this category.
- This can be cheaper than paying a monthly/annual subscription (as is often the case with option 4 solutions).
- You can choose which organisation will host the data.
- This requires your church to have the right hardware (server), and some technical know-how to get it set-up.
- You are responsible for implementing any upgrades.
- You are responsible for working out any ongoing technical issues.
- You are responsible for keeping the hardware up to date.
Option 4 – On a server anywhere in the world, managed by a service provider and accessed whenever you have internet access
- You can access anywhere in the world, on any computer or device, as long as you have internet access.
- You don’t need any technical expertise.
- You don’t need to worry about hardware, hosting, upgrades, etc.
- These solutions can be more expensive.
- Sometimes people raise issues to do with hosting private details in ‘the cloud’. Personally, I think these issues can be managed and I’ll try to expand on this in a later post. However, if you’re outside the U.S. (particularly Australia and Canada), you should read this post about privacy and the cloud.
My apologies if this explanation was too technical – I tried to keep it as simple as possible! However, feel free to ask any clarifying questions in the comments below.
Review the different options above, and consider which option is best for your church’s future needs. Feel free to ask questions via the comments below, to help clarify what would be most beneficial for your church.