When my wife and I were shopping for a new (used) car a few years ago, we had a list of “must-haves.” We need a car that I (being 6' 4") could fit in, but one that wasn't too big for my wife (who is 5' 1"). Of course, a roomy backseat was needed (as we wanted to start a family), as well as a large trunk for storage. We reviewed many different cars, and, with this list of qualities in mind, found a car that we’ve had ever since.
Shopping for church management software is really no different—it’s an expensive purchase that you’ll hopefully use for years to come. Just as we asked questions about what we wanted and needed in a car, so should you and whoever will be using the software answer a list of simple questions to find the program that best suits your needs.
“What do you not like about your current software solution?”
When you use something day in and day out, the little annoyances become unbearable and you become acutely aware of the flaws. Document all the things you would change to make a “wish list” for your next software.
“What do you like about your current software solution?”
Even though you are ready for a change, each software features at least one redeeming quality (if not more) that your next software solution might not have. Be sure to know what you like about your current software to help you avoid purchasing a different solution that omits the features you currently enjoy.
“What’s your budget?”
Your church can only afford so much, and the pricing of church management software varies greatly. In most cases, you get what you pay for, so depending on how large your budget is, you may have to be willing to give up certain features for a lower price.
“What level of computer knowledge do the users have?”Some software is designed for novice users, while other software is better suited for users with moderate to advanced software skills. Having a good understanding of your users’ strengths and weaknesses will prevent you from selecting a software that is a mismatch.
“Do you prefer a web-based or server-based solution?”
If the computer setup at your church permits you this option, it’s still important to determine your preference of web-based versus server-based software. There are dozens of different church management software options, and the answer you come up with for this question can quickly narrow your options.
“Do you prefer a one-time fee or regular billing?”
Most web-based solutions offer only regular billing, so if you’re looking to pay for software once and use it forever, a server-based solution may be your best bet. Just remember: most companies require annual support contracts for technical support and product upgrades.
“How many people do you have recorded in your database?”
Since most pricing is based on church membership size, this key element will give you and sales representatives a good indication on how much you’ll end up spending.
“Do you want the software to communicate with your website?”
While most churches do have a website, many still do not utilize it as anything other than an online bulletin board. There are many ways that church management software can improve and integrate with your website.
“How do you track attendance at your church?”
There is no right way to take attendance, and it seems like there are usually just a few people at the church who actually do this. Answer this question early on so everyone on your committee has a good understanding of this task and the expectations that go along with it.
“Do you have a need for secure check-in?”
If you answer “no” to this question, then you can move on to the next section. However, be careful how you answer this, because even if you don’t use a check-in software now, think about whether your church might move toward that direction in the future.
“In what ways do members tithe?”
Members often give their offerings to the church in a variety of ways and expect the church to report it accurately. If your members give by cash, by check, electronically, or with gifts-in-kind, your church management software should be able to handle the variety.
“How do you distribute contribution statements?”
Churches may send out giving information in person, in the mail, or via email. Make sure the decision makers understand the preferred methods for distribution and the “why” behind the method.
“What is your staff or volunteers’ level of accounting knowledge?”
Many churches do not have the luxury of having an accountant to manage their finances. If that’s the case for your church, you’ll want to get a software that’s easy to use and does not utilize a lot of financial jargon.
This blog post is an excerpt from our ebook “106 Questions to Ask before You Buy Church Management Software.” For a complete list of questions to ask your staff and volunteers, download the free ebook by clicking the button below!