Although RefreshCache is generally a meeting of Arena developers, this year two guys that work on BVCMS were invited to present as well. This provided me with a great opportunity to see bvcms and ask questions of Dave Carroll who is the primary driver behind bvcms and the owner of bvcms.com, an organization offering hosting, service and support for bvcms.
BVCMS was the internal database project of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. After putting a lot of time and money into its development, their elders decided to release it as an open source project in April of 2009.
It's impossible to tell how many churches are using bvcms because anyone can download it, install it and get it running without telling anyone; however, bvcms.com has 74 churches that are using the database and paying for their support. Additionally, Dave said there are at least five churches that have contacted him for some assistance that are not clients of bvcms.com, meaning the real number is probably right around 80. Six of these clients have over 5000 records in their databases (averaging 18,347), and 51 have fewer than 1000 records. This data indicates that bvcms is becoming a web based database of choice for smaller churches, but scales well enough to be used by some of the largest churches in the country.
One of the things I did not realize about bvcms until this week is that it is available as a fully hosted and supported solution through bvcms.com. This means that you don't have to have a big IT staff and a group of programmers to run bvcms at your church.
After the initial release by Bellevue, the banner of BVCMS has been carried by David Carroll & bvcms.com. If I understand it correctly, the lion's share of development since 2009 has been done by David himself. At RefreshCache 2011 David said some of the keys to making this possible were a methodology of do the simplest thing that could work, avoid complexity unless necessary, don't repeat yourself and don't build things you're not going to need. David details his approach to development on his blog under the title Agile Methodology.
David also uses a novel approach to support that I really like. He takes support questions by email, writes the answer on the wiki and then replies with the link to the wiki. By doing this he insures that the wiki continually grows with valuable information on how to solve real world problems, and he doesn't spend time rehashing the same solutions over and over again. As a bonus, that creates a nice documentation library for anyone to access on how to use the software.
The biggest shortfall that I can see with bvcms support is that there is no set of community forums for the churches that are using bvcms to help each other and discuss things. With the open source nature of bvcms any church could set one of these up, but so far it does not exist. Based on our experience with the Arena community, this is a big loss. Hopefully as this product grows this shortfall will be addressed.
Because bvcms is open source, you can investigate it yourself if you have the IT staff or expertise to pull it off. All you need to do is download the code and then follow the directions that are posted on Dave's development blog.
So, what does bvcms offer? Quite a lot actually. Aside from the usual basic chms requirements, it has a very nice query builder, online registration, a check-in solution, iphone app, etc. In short, bvcms stacks up nicely against the rest of the market, with the huge benefit of being free out of the gate.
Unlike most of the solutions, there is zero risk to test out bvcms. From bvcms.com you can watch video demos on a lot of the basic features, and then connect to a demo site you can play with. If you want to investigate further, you can download the source and install it and start playing on your own.
There are two ways to run bvcms. The first approach is the traditional open source approach. Download it, install it, and start using it! This is a solid option if you have the technical expertise to pull it off, and if you have programmers on staff or volunteers, you can begin to customize the product and make it your own. The second approach is to contact bvcms.com about getting setup as one of their customer churches, and letting them do all the heavy lifting. Either way, bvcms is a solid option in your search for the right ChMS for your church.