I've spent a lot of time researching church member databases. Many, many hours have been spent researching, comparing, trialling and note-taking.
UPDATE: Here's a list I've compiled of more than 100 products on the market.
It was a painful process - perhaps one that you are going through right now. But the outcome was well worth it! We decided on Elvanto, and haven't looked back! It's a church member database (or church management system) that is really assisting the ministries of my church, and I now wholeheartedly recommend it to others. After many conversations with pastors at numerous churches, I thought I'd share with you the reasons why we made the switch to Elvanto and haven't looked back. I should point out that the reasons below are based on the features we're making use of, but there's a lot more to Elvanto than the 10 features listed below.
I know this sounds obvious, but there are many church member databases out there, and not all are easy to use. But they need to be, if anyone is going to use them - which is the point of having one! This might sound crazy, but I've spoken to too many people who are paying for church management systems that are too difficult to use and are nothing more than a glorified Excel spreadsheet. It doesn't matter how good the features might be. If you can't use it, it's a waste of time and money.
I can't speak highly enough of the support provided by the team at Elvanto. Similar to the customer service I've always received from companies like Wufoo, Buffer and WPCurve (a few of my favourites). I've never waited more than a couple of hours to receive a reply to a question or issue. And I can't emphasise this enough either - support matters. With any church management software, you will have questions and there will be issues, and it's essential to be well supported to make the most of your system.
People can easily be added to groups, and groups are powerful and can be used to collect people in different ways. People can be added to groups such as:
For example, these are the groups I am a member of:
Within groups in Elvanto, you can easily contact people and mark attendance (e.g. at church or small group), create events for group members, and more. Related to groups and a commonly requested feature from many of the churches I've spoken with is the ability to create a member directory. It's now very easy to generate a member directory from Elvanto, to view online, or print/email as a PDF.
Most church database solutions include reporting tools. However, these can be complex, and not necessarily customisable. With Elvanto, you can easily create detailed reports on just about any piece of data you've stored. For example, you can report on:
There's a bunch of standard reports, or you can create your own. For example, I've created a report to tell me which people are serving in kids ministry whose Safe Ministry qualifications are due to expire in the next 6 months. The reports can be easily shared, or exported to another format (e.g. CSV). Here's a video from Elvanto that explains this further:
You can easily view all data in Elvanto on your phone or tablet. When I say 'easily', I don't mean pinching and scrolling until you eventually find the phone number. No, Elvanto knows when you're using a phone or tablet, and adjusts accordingly. This makes it easy to look up a phone number, check the roster or send an email.
People categories are a great way to arrange the people in your church, to care for them as best as possible. For example, you could set up categories such as:
You can use these categories to pray for people, and consider how you might help to move people from Crowd (e.g. fringe of church life) to Core (a committed and involved member). In addition to people categories, you have complete flexibility to store other helpful information, including:
Or anything else you can think of. For example, I set up these fields in our database to record the details of a first visit to our church:
UPDATE: We also use Elvanto to maintain our Safe Ministry records, to keep kids safe. Find out more.
Communicating with the people in your church is another key area where Elvanto stands out from many of its competitors.
You can create template emails and letters, that save you from typing out the same messages, over and over again. For example, reminder emails, welcome emails, etc.
You can then select an individual, group or congregation and send an email (or letter) using that template.
It is super-easy to do, and this functionality is very handy. I can't stress this enough - I believe this alone makes Elvanto a worthwhile solution for most churches, even if it didn't have any other features!
You can set-up SMS messaging (where members agree to receive them). You need to select a provider, but I think this can be really useful - we're currently exploring sending text messages to parents in church, letting them know if their children need attention in Kids' Church.
We use MailChimp at Church by the Bridge to send our weekly email newsletter. Elvanto integrates with this seamlessly, allowing us to easily add people to receive E-News from within the database.
With Elvanto you can create online forms and collect any sort of data you like - e.g. feedback forms (be careful with this one!), event registrations, first impressions etc. There's lots of providers that you can use to create forms, but where Elvanto comes into its own is its ability to integrate this data. For example, we've created a simple sign-up form for people who'd like to participate in the Christianity Explored course:
The information provided on this form can be used to create a new person on the database, or update the details of an existing person. This saves a lot of time, and deals with the challenges of having data in multiple places.
Once the form is submitted, you can set up processes for what should happen next - e.g. send an email, give them a phone call, update their details, add to a group, etc.
We are about to make We made the the switch from Planning Center Online to use Elvanto for our service planning and rostering. I've been impressed with the extent of the features offered by Elvanto that replicate those of Planning Center Online - so much so that we're ready to move across. By using the service planning and rostering tools in Elvanto, not only will we save $100 a month, we'll also and make use of having all of our information in one place. Previously, when someone left church, or their details changed, we'd have to update their details on our database and in Planning Center Online. Now, one change is all we need.
This functionality we haven't really got into yet, but it will be really useful once set-up. People flows allow you to create processes to love people and reduce the number of 'cracks' in your ministry systems and process. With a people flow, you map out the steps for caring for people - e.g. from sending a welcome email, to following up to see how a newcomer is going a month after their first visit. Here's a template people flow provided with Elvanto:
Disclosure: I am writing about Elvanto because I use it and highly recommend it. In the interests of full disclosure, I want to let you know that if you sign-up to Elvanto using the links in this article, I'll receive a (modest) referral fee.