Are you prepared to choose your next church database system?
You could be using this system for the next seven to 10 years. Your database system is the electronic foundation of your entire church, keeping track of members, volunteers, donations, and more.
“Choosing the right selection method for your culture cannot be overemphasized. A good fit can produce an exciting and fruitful transition experience with high adoption rates,” says Tavie Allan, COO of Think Ministry.
But “a haphazard approach can result in (your team) feeling resentful and disappointed, then becoming disengaged users. Investing the time to choose the process that brings your team together when it’s over is worth it.”
Typically, we see churches taking one of several approaches to choosing their next database system:
- One person flies solo on the entire research and selection process.
- An internal team is assembled to bring various perspectives to the decision making process.
- An outside consultant is brought in to help make an informed decision.
While each of the above approaches can work, they have definite advantages and drawbacks, which we’ll break down below.
But no matter who is tasked with choosing your next church database system, be sure to come up with written criteria that covers your critical needs, systems that need to be replaced, existing systems that you want to integrate into your new system, and current pain points.
1. The one person approach
You go, you
Having one person pick the church database system is a more common approach than you might think.
When I took over as administrator of a church with 15 staff members and a weekly attendance of 1,500 members, I undertook a solo project to pick our new ChMS. I had the pastor’s blessing and I picked from among systems I already had some experience with. I find that most church planters do it this way.
- Speed. One person can plow through the options, meetings, and software demos in a timely manner.
- Simplicity. When weighing different church database options against each other, there are a lot of details to absorb. Keeping a team up to speed on all of those details can get complicated.
- Decisiveness. If one person is in charge of the decision, there is only one opinion and perspective to manage.
- Responsibility. If you blow this decision by making an uninformed choice, you’ll have to accept all of the fallout and blame for the mistake.
- Lack of perspective. If you’re making this decision on your own, you may not know what needs each specific department has.
- Bias. As an individual, there are more opportunities for your personal bias to affect the final choice. For example, you may place disproportionate importance on factors such as low cost, brand recognition, or niche features like 24/7 chat support.
Recommendation: Only take the solo approach when you have no other choice because of time or personnel constraints. Develop a set of requirements and parameters for making this decision. Share that criteria with your team before the selection process begins and before a finalist is selected. Allow stakeholders to review the leading candidate before the final selection is made.
If your church has an average weekly attendance of more than 500 people per week, avoid this approach entirely. At that size there will inevitably be people in your church who are equipped to help you with this research project. Chances are you have team members who should shape the decision, and it may be beneficial for them to have veto power to avoid a costly mistake.
2. The team approach
Teamwork makes the dream work
We’ve found that assembling a team to select your next ChMS is the most common approach used by larger churches. It makes sense for obvious reasons: the system needs to address the needs of staff and volunteers in a variety of roles, including the accounting team, tech team, facilities team, front-line ministries, and ministries with special concerns such as children and member care, just to name a few.
So doesn’t it make sense to have several of these different teams represented during the selection process?
- Greater perspective. The more perspectives applied during the selection process can result in a decision that suits the needs of a wider range of your staff.
- Buy-in. If stakeholders feel like their input was valued and considered during the decision making process, they are more likely to buy in once the selection has been made.
- Smoother implementation. After participating in the research, demos, and selection process, your selection team should have everything it needs to evolve into the implementation team once a selection is made.
- Reaching a consensus. Agreeing on what criteria are most important, let alone making a final decision, will take more effort and cooperation than the one-person approach.
- Departmental bias. Care must be taken to make sure that one department’s voice (for example, the lead pastors) doesn’t become disproportionately influential on the decision making process.
- Dispersion of personnel. Tying up multiple people through a lengthy research phase may impact other priorities.
Recommendation: In most cases, this is the approach to take, but keep your selection team as small as possible while still representing a cross section of the staff. Make sure to keep the rest of the staff updated along the way. Do not neglect the internal sales needed once a candidate is identified and before a contract is signed.
Refer to this helpful infographic that illustrates how such a team might work together.
Selecting a new ChMS
3. The consultant approach
“If you would, would you walk us through a typical day for you?”
The right consultant can bring experience and structure to this important decision. We don’t see this approach as often, but it always makes a positive difference in how objective the process will be. The consultant should bring a well-defined set of questions for your team to determine the key criteria you need for your new system. .
They will help you prioritize your criteria and measure candidate systems. You can expect vendors who are working with your consultant to bring their A-game to the presentation—knowing they are working with an expert—and may even have their sales engineer leading the software demos.
- A specific deadline. A good consultant should be able to give you a definitive timeline for making the final selection.
- Professionalism. You can expect a good consultant to do things such as send out a professional Request for Proposal (RFP) to prospective vendors.
- Confidence. While the consultant route may cost more than making the decision in-house, you will have the confidence of knowing that you used an expert to find the right church database system for your church.
- Cost. You will have to pay a consultant for their services.
- Unseen bias. The consultant may bring their own biases to the selection process, for example, friendly relationships with specific vendors.
- Scope. By going with the consultant route, you may exclude some smaller vendors who don’t have a proposal department in place for responding to RFPs.
Recommendation: If you can afford to hire an experienced consultant, this approach is excellent. The company or individual you retain should have an up-to-date understanding of the market and the best options available. Their knowledge about different vendors and systems can help you avoid picking systems based solely on how your team felt about a few interactions with a sales person.
An informed choice is a good choice
Whether you ultimately choose to leave this important decision to a single person, an in-house committee, or a third-party consultant, setting the expectations beforehand is key to selecting a church database system that will serve your church well for years to come.
For an even deeper look at the process involved in selecting a church management system, see A Process for Choosing a Web-based Church Management System: a Case Study by Wallis C. Metts, Jr. Ph.D.
These articles might also prove useful during the decision making process:
- Church Management Software Pricing Guide
- The Smart Guide to Buying Church Management Software
- Questions to Ask Before You Buy Church Management Software
- When Does Denomination Matter? Choosing the Right ChMS Solution for Your Church
- Comparison of the 5 Biggest Vendors in Church Management Software
Looking for Church Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Church Management software solutions.