The majority of churches today have an online church software package, but there are still some that don’t which begs the question – why? Is it because of the perceived cost, church leadership is nervous about change or unfamiliar with current software on the market, lack of technical savviness, or some other reason?
For churches that have been online for the past five to ten years other question arises. How’s it going? Do you see the benefits of having online software? Were you able to communicate better, keep records updated more easily, reallocate technical support costs elsewhere, and so on?
Let’s first focus on the churches that have not made the switch to an online system and discuss some of the reasons why. Next, we will review some learned lessons from using online church software. And lastly, we will summarize the findings.
Hang-ups On Using Online Church Software
Is cost an issue with implementing online church software? If so, there are ways to mitigate cost provided the software can provide time savings, make processes more efficient, and so on. Software cost can be expensive but evaluating software on the bottom number only is short-sighted. In fact, the evaluation could show the software cost twice as much as other software but saves the organization four times the expenses each year.
Let’s look at a very simple example.
Solution #1 costs $1,000.00 and saves the organization 4,000.00 per year. Solution #2 costs $1,500.00 and saves the organization $10,000.00 per year. In this example, solution #2 is 1.5 times more expensive than solution #1. If cost is the only factor everyone would select solution #1 because of the lower price. This is called making a bottom number decision. However, organizations need to consider all the factors before choosing software. For example, the more expensive solution (#2) saves the organization $10,000.00 per year, a 2.5 times savings per year ($4,000 vs $10,000).
There’s one more item to consider in regards to cost and that’s the ROI (return on investment). This is where you take your cost-saving minus the investment and divide it by the investment. So for solution #1 it would look something like this => ($4,000 – $1,000)/$1,000. This would equal a 300% ROI. Solution #2’s equation would be => ($10,000 – $1,500)/$1,500. This would be a 566% ROI. The higher the ROI the better. Solution #2 wins the ROI battle.
Is getting online with your church software running into a brick wall with the church leadership? For all the hang-ups this is probably the hardest one to overcome but as younger generations are becoming leaders, it is becoming a little easier. How do we overcome hesitant leaders?
There are several approaches that help encourage church leaders to move in the direction of online church software.
- stay positive and supportive,
- allow feedback,
- show passion of the change,
- explaining the ‘what’ and ‘why’, not just the ‘what’,
Probably the biggest takeaway from this is to drill down and really figure out why there is resistance to change. It could be certain members of the church are fearful of technology. Maybe one of them was a victim of identity theft which would put fear into anyone. Private conversations addressing these issues and reviewing online security can be beneficial.
Needs Not Met
Unless you want the software to do everything under the sun and give you a world of unicorns, this is probably the easiest one to change. To do it right, it will take time of course but at least there are solutions out there and you don’t have to create a software package by yourself.
Another part of the confusion is deciding what is a need versus a want in software. Understanding what’s a ‘need’ and a ‘want’ is a crucial process that transcends just about any purchasing decision. The team must decide what they really need first and ensure the software has those features. Everything else is icing on the cake.
Staff Isn’t Tech Savvy
Some churches are hesitant about online church software because staff may lack computer technical skills. They may be more comfortable with pen and paper. Let’s review an easier technical item to implement like a church website and compare it to church software.
A 2018 Lifeway post said that 84% of churches have websites, which means that 16% have yet to create a church website. Since church databases are more detailed and difficult to set up than a website, we can expect fewer churches to have a database. Using this logic, we can assume less than 84% of churches use an online database. The number is probably closer to 65-70% of churches that are using a church management database or about 105,000 US churches.
Security is one of the most frightening aspects of online church software, or any online software for that matter. Some of the criticism is rightly deserved because of past security events. Data security breaches are very public when failure happens. What isn’t so public is when a church has a data breach on their own internal network and data is compromised. These internal network events don’t make the five o’clock news, but they do happen.
Let’s be honest, when it comes to data security. There is no system, online or offline, that is 100% safe from data breaches. Every system has weaknesses that can be exploited. Any software company that says they are 100% safe against a data breach is not being honest with you and you should run from them! Now that we have the bad news out of the way let’s talk about online data security.
When using online software the application’s host has a team of security experts that are constantly watching servers for unauthorized access. They put in safety protocols for data security. Can the same be said for software that is on the church’s servers? Probably not. Churches normally do not have computer security professionals on staff. This is the biggest difference between online software and offline church software.
Lessons Learned Using Online Church Software
When online church software first came out many people did not know if it would work. Some questions that came up was, will the telecom lines handle the data? Will data be corrupted in anyway? Keep in mind that this was when a lot of people were still on dial up modems. So let’s see how things went.
Is Communication Easier?
Communication in the “old days” took the form of, mailed letters, the grapevine, or landline telephones. If the church needed to get the word out most people can agree the fastest way to do it was via the grapevine, which had its own downsides – ie missing information. Mailed letters were probably the most accurate but it was also the slowest. Landline phones had the same issue as the grapevine in that many times the information was wrong once it went through many people. How do newer forms of communication help?
Email and text messaging helped in big ways by addressing two major issues that the previous communication methods failed at – speed and accuracy. Online church software can send the same accurate information via email or text, to large groups of people, at a very fast speed, simultaneously. Text messages and emails are sent within seconds of clicking the send button to a group of people.
Has Donations Increased Via Online Donations?
Society has changed dramatically since grandma went to church. Grandma and Grandpa use to bring cash or a checkbook to church and may even do so today. But their grandchildren and the younger generation carry a debit or credit card. Most young people today don’t even have money in their purse or wallet. The church needs to meet the younger generation on how they give so that they continue to donate.
There’s a side benefit to online donations in that the finance secretary can import those donations instead of entering each one manually into the system. As we all know churches must send donor statements of all their giving. We go over many of the reasons churches should send these donation statements in this blog post. Entering donation data throughout the year is a huge undertaking for the church’s staff.
Creating multiple ways for donors to give will increase donations. The one caveat to this is you need to watch how much these services are costing the church to use. In other words, you could bring in all kinds of money, but fees can cut into the gross proceeds.
Has Record Keeping Been Easier?
In the past, churches would have handwritten information about their families. Some churches would have a glorified Rolodex on the pastor’s desk. Many churches have paper logs to record events such as baptism, marriages, and communion. There are two time-consuming issues using paper records. The first issue is recording the data in the paper logbook. And the other issue is looking through a large logbook for data about someone when it’s needed. These tasks get increasingly longer as the church gets older.
In many ways, recording data in online church software is easier than non-internet systems. It gives the church the ability to have people log into the system at any time to update records. It also allows the church’s members to log in and change their own family’s profile. The church families that update their family profiles help the church staff. The last thing most church staff want to do is update the database as their time is better spent furthering the mission of the church.
Did Online Church Software Save The Church Money?
There are many different opinions about what saves money. A group of people can view the benefits of a software package differently. Simply put, humans think differently about decisions when they are trying to save money. A great question to ask yourself is, do you and a young child think the same about money and how to invest it? Probably not!
So in regards to an online church software package, you can have one member say it would save money while another says it won’t. How does the church cut through these disagreements when comparing products?
Short answer — evaluation consistency.
The long answer is that before making a decision, the group of individuals need to agree on how each product or service will be evaluated for saving money. The reason a group of individuals has a hard time agreeing is that they are looking at the product from their personal perspectives, instead of one unified perspective. By having an evaluation process in place on how cost savings will be evaluated, we sidestep personal issues. Every product will be evaluated (ie. graded) the same way regardless of an individual’s personal preference.
Note: There is a difference between ‘cost savings’ and the ‘cost’ of something. You can certainly pay more for a product than all the other products that were evaluated but still save money. The question is, does it save you more money than the other products even though it cost more?
Did The Church Save Time With Online Church Software?
Evaluating time savings should follow a similar process as evaluating cost savings. The evaluation process must be agreed on before the evaluation starts. Every person will have a different idea of what saving time means and what should or shouldn’t be counted. When it comes to time savings the church should pick the one that saves the most time, without giving up needed capabilities. Sometimes this can be a delicate balancing act since the right choice might be the one that takes a little more time but has all the needed capabilities.
Online Church Software Summary
As with most things, there are pros and cons. What the church has to ask is – do the pros outnumber the cons? When choosing church software, the church should want to save time, money, and so on as we discussed earlier. The hang-ups we reviewed earlier should not be the reason why a church doesn’t move forward with online software. Of course, the church should do its due diligence and educate staff, church leaders, and volunteers on the importance of technology and moving forward.