Friday, July 18, 2008

A serious technical detour

I rarely talk about technical issues on my blog, but I've been putting so much work into this I want to share the effort with others, so bear with me. Our church currently uses a combination of products to meet our Church Management Software (ChMS) needs. While things haven't been perfect, we have been able to get along with them for quite some time. We have been using Roll Call to handle our membership database needs for over ten years. In 2007 we switched from CMS to CDM+ for our accounting.

CDM+ has done a decent job as our accounting software, although we do have a few complaints. My biggest wish is that they had a more expensive support option that would provide me with instant access to help when we need it, as well as making tracking down and fixing bugs we find the highest priority. I think we are one of the larger churches using this software, and we seem to find issues that nobody else has, but they are show stoppers for us at times. Other than that, I do like the software.

However, on the other front, we really need a lot more from our software than Roll Call can provide. We need to move forward, way forward, to something that will help us minister to our people more effectively as opposed to simply facilitating mailings and contribution tracking. Thus began the journey I'm about to take you on...

I searched for Church Management Software on Google and found this helpful list. 147 solutions listed. 147 products somehow related to my problem. Hoo boy, this is going to take a while. I read the brief descriptions and visited the website of almost all of those companies. From the site I made a list of anything that looked even possibly usable. Then I looked them over and made a quick summary.

Before you look at my notes remember these things: We are a large church. We are looking for the "next thing" not the tried and true. We have complex needs, and I expect the software to be expensive. I am looking for a company that we will partner with and that will be around for the next ten+ years. Also, we are 100% mac based, so a windows only solution or something that is pure microsoft is of little interest to me. With that in mind, here are my comments from round one:

ACS Technologies - ACS Church Management Software
Quick Summary - Old School

Advanced Church Technology Systems Group - ProVisionCRM
Quick Summary - Microsoft All the Way

Ascribe Data Systems - Ascribe
Quick Summary - Young Product, looks decent.

CCIS Software - Creative Church Information System
Quick Summary - Windows only, not for us

Church Community Builder - CCB
Quick Summary - Very full featured, looks excellent, worth Consideration

Church Growth Software - Church Growth Software
Quick Summary - Looks very windows centric, but could be good.

Church Management Solutions - CMS
Quick Summary - It's improved from when we ran it, but the web side seems tacked on -
Quick Summary - free? really, really basic.

Client Management Solutions - EzRA Church Management
Quick Summary - Nice, odd, but intriguing.

Congregation Builder - Church Management Software
Quick Summary - Low End

Connect Our People - Connect Our People
Quick Summary - Facebook for church. Good idea, but is it still alive? Who uses this? More research needed.

ConnectionPower - Church Ministry Software
Quick Summary - Worth Consideration, seems pretty complete.

Database Designs - ChurchPro
Quick Summary - hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

Daymark Software Systems - Church Partner
Quick Summary - Out of business

E-Church Essentials - The Essential Solution
Quick Summary - Interesting, doesn't really work with Safari, more fluff than substance

Faith Partnership Technologies - Nativity
Quick Summary - Seems incomplete, kinda lame.

Fellowship Technologies - Fellowship One
Quick Summary - Killer product, expensive

Five Talent Software - Soul Management
Quick Summary - Intriguing, but looks immature - Groopik
Quick Summary - Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot ... Software Company.

GroupStewardship - GroupStewardship Church Software
Quick Summary - Focus is on fund raising. Um, yeah.

Helpmate Technology Solutions - Church Helpmate
Quick Summary - Not exciting

Icon Systems - IconCMO & Revelations
Quick Summary - Worth Consideration

iMinistries - iMinistries Hosting Solutions
Quick Summary - Not church management, simply website.

Kingdom Tools - Web-Based Church Management
Quick Summary - Deserves Further Consideration

Kintera - Kintera Sphere
Quick Summary - Focused on Fundraising.

Last Days Software - The Lords List
Quick Summary - The worst name ever, and the software isn't much better.

Logos Management Software - Logos II Church/Donor
Quick Summary - Seems Fragmented, runs on Visual Fox Pro 9. Didn't know there was a version of FoxPro past 3... - Religious Suite
Quick Summary - Contributions management for $199!

Micro System Design - Excellerate
Quick Summary - Further Consideration

Ministry Management Solutions - Proclaim CRM
Quick Summary - Compatible with Vista! More "microsofts" per page than any other CRM solution. Oh yeah, and 404's...

Nspire Software - Nspire Software
Quick Summary - Pretty website, new facelift on old ideas.

ParishSOFT - ParishSOFT Family Suite
Quick Summary - Catholic software for catholic churches, looks better than you'd expect, but there have to be better options.

RDS Publishing - RDS Advantage
Quick Summary - Old School CMS

Scout Applications - MemberSystems
Quick Summary - One of the better looking options out there.

Serenic - MinistryView
Quick Summary - Like it says, financial management.

Servant PC Resources - Servant Keeper
Quick Summary - Don't forget the $7 for shipping...

Shelby Systems - Arena
Summary - Interesting but probably not us.

Shelby Systems - shelbychurch
Quick Summary - Windows only, everything + the kitchen sink, impossible to use.

SignUsUp - SignUsUp Suite
Quick Summary - Not a total solution, not sure they are technically there yet.

SmartDox - iChurch
Quick Summary - Includes special themes for Christmas and Valentines Day!

Suran Systems - CDM Plus
Quick Summary - We definitely need to look closer, need higher end support options.

TopLine Software - Advanced Church Parish Pro
Quick Summary - Probably don't need the Bishop PRO module, nor the cemetery management. Also make real estate software ?

Visual Data Products - SheepsPen
Quick Summary - If I cant' find them with google, I am not about to trust them with our data.

Weblications - Anatomy
Quick Summary - Apparently "full featured" doesn't include tracking contributions...

That's it. Remember that if you are a smaller church or have different needs than we do, some of the software that I panned may be perfect for you. Each of the people on this list want to create great software and have happy customers. Many of them are striving to save churches money on software costs, something that is not our first concern. But if you are similar to us, you might find this list saves you some time and gives you some direction. After round 1, I culled the list down to a smaller subset and created a set of questions to ask for round two. I will put those up next time after I'm finished with my research (it takes a LOT longer, and I'm only about halfway through).



Tony Dye said...

Nice information! Because our church has been on this same quest for years, I'm curious to know if you have a list of features you are specifically looking for. (we claim we do, but I'd be hard pressed to show it to you). Also, if you're not already aware of it, there is a relatively low-volume discussion of ChMS systems here:

Thanks for your very useful post!

Kevin said...

Love the list and the one sentence summary.

MemberSystems was developed by my friend Stephen and he is no longer at that company. Nothing has changed on the website since he left 4 years ago. I don't know about the software.

If some of the marketing folks at these companies were paying attention they would have already been here with a comment or two either in thanks or in defense of their product/service.

renewingmind said...

Thanks! The phone numbers for membersystems do not work, and their SSL certificate expired in 2006. You'll see that in my longer reviews that are coming...


Trevor said...

My name is Trevor and I'm with Micro System Design ( I'm pleased to see that we're on your list for further consideration. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at or 1-888-371-6878.