As a church leader, you owe it to your supporters to be as financially responsible with their donations as possible. But is free church management software a realistic way to save budget?
If you’re a church leader, you know how important it is to stretch your budget as far as possible. It’s not just important to make sure that you have enough funding to go around, but you also owe it to your donors to be as responsible with their donations as possible.
One area where you might be thinking about a budget is on the software that you use to run your church operations. Church management software helps church leaders keep track of church members, accept and manage donations, plan church groups and events, and much more. It’s a must-have for churches of all sizes.
And yes, there is such a thing as free church software.
In this article we’ll look at four options for free church management software, listed in alphabetical order: two limited-capacity versions of paid products, along with two open source products that churches can download for free and host and maintain themselves.
In each case, there are advantages and disadvantages which we’ll discuss below.
But first, how did we choose these products?
For the two hosted systems, we used our Top 20 report of the most popular church software on the market based on verified user reviews (read the full methodology here), and picked the two products that offer free versions (not limited-time free trials).
For the two open source options, we performed a Google search for “open source church management software” in May of 2021 and picked the two options that appeared on the first page of the search results.
Let’s take a look.
Free church management software
Free church management software is typically a limited version of a paid church management system. The two options you’ll learn about below offer several core features with limited capacity. These are viable options for very small churches with basic member directory needs and not much else. Vendors typically offer this type of pricing model with the goal of upgrading churches into one of their paid tiers as the church grows with the software.
A member profile in ChurchTrac (Source)
ChurchTrac was founded in 2002 in Florida with hopes of providing software that makes church leaders’ jobs easier at a reasonable price. ChurchTrac includes features for membership management, donations, check-in, worship planning, church accounting, event planning, website management, and more.
Intro to ChurchTrac (Source)
What you get for free: ChurchTrac offers a free plan with membership management for up to 75 individuals, with family management, reports, directories, and tech support.
Cost to upgrade: With the $5/month Standard plan, churches can add online donation management, child check-in, attendance tracking, volunteer scheduling, event management, priority support, and more for up to 75 members.
With the $15/month Plus plan, churches can add everything in Standard plus financial management and accounting, advanced scheduling, worship planning, song library, and more for up to 75 members. Prices increase based on the number of members, and churches can get two months free with an annual commitment.
Have you used ChurchTrac? Leave a review here.
Donations management in Planning Center (Source)
Planning Center may have a secular sounding name, but it is 100% designed for churches from the ground up. The software was first developed in California in 2006 by two full-time church leaders scrambling to stay on top of all facets of worship planning, from scheduling volunteers to preparing music by manually updating spreadsheets. Planning Center claims to serve 90 of the 100 largest churches in the country, but also caters to small, neighborhood churches. The software itself is packaged as a collection of apps, from calendar and donations to publishing.
Intro to Planning Center (Source)
What you get for free: Planning Center’s free version includes an unlimited membership database with communication tools, a calendar with unlimited events and up to two meeting rooms, 15 daily check-ins, up to 10 monthly donations, small group planning for up to 25 members, event registration for as many as five attendees, and service planning for up to five administrators.
Cost to upgrade: Users can expand each application to accommodate the size of their congregation. For example, a 10-room calendar, 50 daily check-ins, 100 monthly donations, 125 small group members, 20 event attendees, and service planning for 25 administrators would cost a church $84/month. Publishing plans start at $14/month. All apps are optional and include a 30-day free trial.
Have you used Planning Center? Leave a review here.
Open source church management software
Open source church management software is completely free to download and use. In fact, users can even alter the code themselves to tailor it for their specific needs. So what’s the catch?
Open source church management software, like any open source software, requires the user to host (meaning that you’re responsible for storing the data), maintain, and update the software as necessary.
In other words, if the system crashes at 8 a.m. on Sunday morning and you can’t retrieve your sermon notes, there won’t be a technical support team standing by to help you.
The ChurchCRM home screen (Source)
ChurchCRM is built off of the ChurchInfo open source framework. Because it runs on LAMP, you can use it on any device with an internet browser, including tablets and smartphones. ChurchCRM also offers membership management for unlimited members, calendar, donation tracking, volunteer management features, and more. An active developer community is constantly working on new features, and is available for support via chat.
Intro to ChurchCRM (Source)
Have you used ChurchCRM? Leave a review here.
A member profile in ChurchInfo (Source)
ChurchInfo is a free, open source database that helps your church manage and track members, groups, donations, and payments. It is supported by an open source community of volunteer developers who work to make it as accessible as possible to churches. It is a web-based solution, meaning that you can run it through any internet browser.
ChurchInfo installation walkthrough (Source)
Have you used ChurchInfo? Leave a review here.
Why you should consider paid church management software
Hopefully one of the options we looked at above works out for you and your church. But if a free option isn’t right for you—whether that’s because it doesn’t offer enough functionality, capacity, or support—you should consider paid options.
While it’s always tempting to try and get something for free, the time and energy you spend attempting to make the “free” system work might be costing you more than the modest monthly fee for a paid solution in the long run.
This article was updated in May of 2021. Free products considered for this article had to be in the 2021 Capterra Top 20 report for church management software and:
- Offer a free, stand-alone version of the software (not a trial version of the software where you must purchase a product after a limited amount of time).
- Meet our church management software definition: Church Management software helps churches and other religious organizations track members, manage small groups, and engage with visitors in order to grow the congregation.
- “Top” free tools had a minimum overall rating of 4.5/5 stars from reviewers on Capterra at the time of publication.
The two open source options appeared on the first page of Google search results in an Incognito search for “open source church management software” in May of 2021.