I got asked recently about what to look for in a church database, which led me to write the post Why Have A Church Database. I’d now like to expand on that post and more fully answer the question about what you should be looking for in a church database or Church Management System (ChMS).
Make A List of All the Features You Might Ever Want
Look for something that can do all the database things you think you want now, or ever. I know there’s no real way to know what you’ll ever want, but try and think big. You might not want to have multiple church newsletters now, but maybe you will some day. Transferring data isn’t a huge deal, but it’s a pain in the butt. Many services have multiple add-ons or plugins you can buy so that you’re not paying for more then you need now, but can easily add on features later if you’d like.
Along those lines, I’d make sure you can also either send newsletters, or integrate into other newsletter programs. Integration is key to me, as I’d like to be able to use the best programs for what I’m doing in each area and have them work well together. Some people though prefer to have everything in one place, which I understand as well. Either way, you want to be able to easily communicate with everyone in your database.
It’s also great to be able to give everyone multiple “tags” so that you can target them differently, or find them easily. For example someone might have “regular worship, kids at Uni, Turkey Supper, not members, love music events”. Once that’s set up, if you want to email everyone with kids at University it’s a breeze. Or maybe you’re trying to find someone who loves music and is generally at church Sunday morning so you can ask them to help out, if you’ve got tags for that it will be easy to do.
You should also look at using an online (cloud based) service so that information can be accessed and shared easily among different people and in different locations. This is great if you want to send something out while you’re working from home as well as letting multiple people access the database at the same time.
Try, and Compare Before You Commit
Most of the software out there gives you an option to try it out before you commit to buying it. Make sure you do so. Set up a few people and see if you can find them, send them emails, etc. You should already have a list of the features you want to be using, so now’s the time to make sure the software you’re looking at does what you want. You should also make sure you like the interface. Is it easy for you to use? Will it also be easy for others to use? This may seem like a silly thing to consider, but if the software is a pain to use, you’re not going to want to do it, which means eventually you’ll stop using it, which defeats the whole point of getting it.
I’d also make sure to look at church specific databases as well as generic not for profit ones. You may end up paying a bit more for a not for profit one, but it may end up doing more of what you need. Then again, maybe not. That’s why it’s good to check things out.
The more time I spend thinking, the more ideas I get about how to use a church database. This is a good start though for what you should be considering as you look at improving how you organize your churches data.
What features am I missing? What’s the best way to use a church database?
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