Many churches who begin their search for church management software (ChMS) do so with the assumption and belief that the new ChMS product must include a full accounting system (general ledger, accounts payable, payroll, etc.) along with church-specific functionality (member profiles, discipleship tracking, contributions, attendance, ministry involvement, communications, etc.). However, some would argue that an “all in one” ChMS may actually in fact not be the best solution for most churches today.
It is no secret that there are several well-known, well-supported, and very affordable accounting software products on the market; QuickBooks and Peachtree are just two examples. These products have been around for decades – during which their manufactures have literally spent millions on developing, improving, and fine-tuning their product. For a ChMS company to invest in developing a proprietary accounting system to include with their product would in many ways be like re-inventing the wheel.
Several ChMS companies have chosen to integrate with these mainstream accounting software systems, rather than build their own accounting module within their church membership product. At first glance this may seem like a disadvantage, however, these produces have intentionally chosen to focus their efforts on designing the “best of breed” church membership management system – focusing on the membership & visitor management, group/activity/ministry/interest management, contributions & pledges management, meetings & attendance management, visitations management, communications, and church health analysis….essentially all of the church-specific elements.
Put another way, some products are “member centric” systems….meaning that they are centered around the families and individuals that interact with you and your church. Therefore, such a product covers all of the information directly linked to these people (including their contribution data)….but it does NOT cover the general accounting tasks (such as accounts payable, payroll, etc.) since these tasks are typically not directly linked to the people in your congregation.
Every week, there is actually very little data that would flow from your ChMS product to your accounting software. In your ChMS software you would track your contributors (names, addresses, ph#’s, etc) and their contributions, and then produce all of the individualized contribution reporting such as donor financial statements for income tax return purposes. The ChMS software would hold all the detail about who gave how much, to what fund (or purpose), and on what date (for example, John & Amy Smith gave $100 towards the Building Fund on April 28, 2013).
When churches utilize mainstream accounting software packages in conjunction with these ChMS companies’ products, their accounting software does not hold any information about the individual contributors. The accounting software program only needs to hold the fund summary totals received by the church on a particular date – for example, on April 28, 2013, $5,500 was received towards the Building Fund, $8,750 was received towards the General Operating Fund, and $3,250 was received towards the Missions Fund. It is necessary to have these fund summary totals in the accounting software system to represent the actual deposit amount, and so that the church can manage the individual fund balances for budgeting purposes. This will enable the church to know, for example, how much money in the bank account is reserved for the purpose of the Building Fund. It is not, however, necessary in the accounting software to know that John & Amy Smith made up $100 of the total $5,500 Building Fund deposit amount.
ChMS products provide a simple method for users to deliver this fund summary total data from their ChMS database to the accounting software (without having to re-enter any data). So, even for churches that utilize dozens of funds every week, the process is still quite simple. The main thing to understand is that when using a ChMS product alongside a mainstream accounting system such as QuickBooks or Peachtree, you would not store any contributor data in your accounting system – thus there is absolutely no duplication of data nor the inherent inefficiencies of having to enter and maintain people profiles in more than one database.
If you are searching for a ChMS product and have limited yourself to considering only products having both church membership and church accounting features, I encourage you to give some thought to this. Is this really necessary? Is an “all in one” solution really the best solution for your church? If you are like many churches today, you will find that a “best of breed” church membership management system paired with one of the well-known and well-supported mainstream accounting products is the way to go.
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