Back in the 80s, Meineke ran a memorable advertising campaign based around the slogan, “I’m not gonna pay a lot for this muffler!”
The ads played on the fear that when you’re in a jam, some opportunistic company is going to take advantage of your situation and shake you down for everything you have.
You may be feeling that way if your church has grown to the point that spreadsheets aren’t cutting it anymore, and you need a church accounting software solution.
We’re here to help!
A word of warning: you know the old saying, “you get what you pay for?” That rings true when it comes to church accounting software. When you’re paying zero dollars and zero cents for something that typically costs hundreds of dollars, you are sacrificing things like added features, updates, customer service, and sometimes even user interface.
But if all you need is something basic and it must be free, there are options.
After scouring the web, here are the three best free church accounting software solutions available.
What church accounting software does
In its most basic form, church accounting software manages payroll, tracks budget, and records donations.
If you have stacks of fading receipts wrapped in rubber bands if you find yourself “guesstimating” your budget for the rest of the year, and if you keep track of donations on sticky notes, you most certainly need church accounting software.
And if you think the French Riviera is a foreign car, you might be a redneck!
While there are lots of general free accounting software options available, and even some specifically catered toward non-profit organizations, we all know that churches have unique accounting needs that must be addressed in any church financial software.
For instance, the best church accounting software incorporates membership data to make donation accounting easier at tax time, and uses specific church terminology.
As Jeff Campbell, General Manager at PowerChurch Software, pointed out: “Churches struggle to keep track of donor restriction and track those balances … for example, a college will have a huge donor restriction fund, while a church will have lots of little ones.”
But we’re not just looking for accounting software tailored to the needs of churches. No, that would be too easy. We also need it to be free, because Millennials.
Here is our list of the best FREE and/or open source church accounting software.
GnuCash is a free, open-source double-entry bookkeeping system created with the goal of providing capabilities similar to Quicken.
GnuCash has been around since 1998, so it has almost two decades of development and refinement on its side.
While GnuCash isn’t specifically designed for churches, it does have features tailored for small businesses.
Even more helpful, Jacob Oommen of Finance and Accounting for Churches created a comprehensive, 14-part guide on using GnuCash for church accounting.
Oommen stumbled upon GnuCash when he was tasked with taking charge of the accounting at St. Stephens Mar Thoma Syrian Church in Bangalore.
“On taking over my duties, I discovered that the accounts in our church were maintained using the old method of Physical Ledgers,” he wrote. “We decided at the outset to migrate to a software system to maintain the accounts.”
“I decided to do a prototype bookkeeping implementation using (GnuCash), to evaluate how it could be used for our purposes,” he added. “If it worked, it could potentially save, our church, and possibly other churches, a lot of money.”
Oommen documented the process on his blog, which provides detailed instructions on everything from the basics through advanced features like year-end reports.
Although Oommen originally implemented GnuCash at his church in 2013, he updated the guide in February of 2017 to reflect several new features including auctions and split transactions.
If you have enough free time and computer expertise, you can follow Oommen’s plan to download GnuCash and customize it for your church, all for the bargain price of $0 (minus your own labor).
ChurchTrac Online is one of the most affordable and user-friendly church management solutions according to Capterra.
Starting at less than $10 per month, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more affordable church management package.
But it’s not free, and that’s where ChurchTrac 9 comes in.
Retired in 2012 due to compatibility issues after 10 years of service, the desktop based ChurchTrac 9 is still available for free download for churches with less than 100 names, though you may need an older operating system to successfully run the program.
ChurchTrac says that it will still provide basic tech support on ChurchTrac 9 through the end of this year, and ChurchTrac 9 users can easily be migrated to the fully supported ChurchTrac Online product.
While ChurchTrac 9 provides basic accounting features, it lacks some advanced features like online giving, volunteer management, name archiving, family check-in, congregation access, and fund-based accounting.
But if your church’s computer is still running on a Pentium 4 chip and you have a small congregation, ChurchTrac 9 could be all you need.
ACTS is a free, open source church management system that has been in development in China for more than 10 years. In 2015, the OpenOffice-based program was translated into English.
Because ACTS is native to China, some of the instructions may be a little difficult to understand for English speakers. But the development team does offer support in the form of a comprehensive manual, a Facebook developer community, and even email support.
The developers report that the program has been downloaded more than 13,000 times as of February of 2017.
ACTS has an impressive list of features—including membership data management, facility management, donation management, and accounting functionality like vouchers, profit and loss and balance sheets, and unlimited account codes—and is completely free.
It is available for download via SourceForge.
For a few dollars more…
It’s probably dawning on you by now that the pickings are slim when it comes to fully functional church accounting software that is also completely free.
Remember that the additional time you spend customizing a catch-all accounting program or wrestling with an outdated, unsupported piece of abandonware could be worth more to you than a few dollars per month.
As this Elexio article argues, the money you save up front could be lost over time in man-hours.
If you come to the conclusion that paying a reasonable price for your church accounting software isn’t the end of the world, check out our Top 20 Most Affordable Church Management Software research.
Also, if we missed an awesome, totally free church accounting software solution, let us know about it in the comments!
Looking for Church Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Church Management software solutions.