Friday, October 9, 2009

ChMS - What do the big guys use?

The worst possible way to choose a church management system is simply to look at another church and say "They use X, so we should too!" ChMS is a complex product and is absolutely not a one-size-fits-all solution. What is important to HDC might not at all be what you want out of a ChMS for your church. With that said, one factor that should be on everyone's mind is scalability. Scalability is the ability for a software product to grow with your church up to any size. One of the products I looked at in our survey had popup windows throughout the database that were populated with the entire database. In the case of HDC that means to choose a person we would have to scroll through a 25000 person list every single time. This is a perfect example of poor scalability.

It was with this in mind that I decided to do a little research into what the top ten largest churches in America use. Outreach Magazine publishes a list of the top 100 largest churches in America. As with any survey of this type it isn't perfect, but it gave me a place to start.

I then looked at what information was publicly available to see what these churches use as their ChMS solution. If I couldn't figure it out from their website I found it in interviews or other information. In the case of the Arena churches I know them all personally so that part was easy. If all that failed I emailed their IT guys and asked...

Here's what I found:

3 Churches use FellowshipOne (Lakewood Church,, and Fellowship Church)
3 Churches use Arena (Willow Creek, North Point Community Church, and Southeast Christian Church)
1 Church uses iMIS from Advanced Solutions International (Second Baptist Houston)
1 Church uses ACS (Woodlands Church)
1 Church wrote their own database. (Saddleback)
1 Church still uses Shelby V5 with a lot of custom code on top, but is evaluating other solutions (Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale)

So what can we learn from this?

First off, Arena and Fellowship One have clearly shown their ability to handle the largest congregations in America. An important comment though: This is not a customer satisfaction survey. Keep that in mind. We know this is what they use, not how well it works for them. For that you will probably have to ask them yourself. But it is still valuable to know that these two solutions are being used by these churches as you consider them.

Secondly, it's clear that Arena and F1 are not the only options if you are a big church. There are four other solutions represented here. Shelby and ACS are two of them, and they are two of the oldest providers in church software.

Third, it is fantastic news that only one of the churches on this list is using a home grown church management solution (well, two if you count Fellowship Church that created FellowshipOne before spinning it off to a separate company). The point here is that you should think twice before writing your own system, no matter how much better you think it will be. The work involved and the money that you will spend is huge, and only one of the ten largest churches in america uses this approach.

Finally, just because it isn't represented on this list doesn't mean it is not something you should use. There are a lot of very good solutions that are out there in the marketplace, and you should work to find the best one for your church. Scalability is only one factor, and only important if God decides to make your church large enough to create a problem with your database... Also, things change. F1 and Arena didn't even exist ten years ago. By the time you need scalability (if are thinking 5 years down the road, for example) the options may be completely different.


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