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ChurchMS Mess

**Wow, great discussion on here so far. Although the poll results may be skewed, keep voting and share your experiences with your church’s ChMS in the comments below. It would be great to hear about some of the products that haven’t been mentioned yet.**

I don’t know if you can say the same, but in all of the time I’ve spent in the ministry/tech community, I have yet to meet a church staff that was remotely satisfied with their church management system. There’s a lot of factors that can play into this, but it seems like every solution out there has its own unique Achilles heel: it’s too expensive, the reporting sucks, the web integration sucks, it’s really buggy… the list goes on.

As my staff has run into similar issues with our solution, I’ve had the opportunity to demo and preview just about every solution out in the marketplace. Even after all of this research, I can still say that none of these solutions stand out head-and-shoulders as a clear winner.

That’s where you come in! I want to hear what your favorite solution is and hear any advice you can give in the comments below. Whether it’s horror stories or huge wins, it would be a huge help to me (and many of you, I’m sure) to hear where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Please note: I don’t want to turn this into a “hate-fest” against any of the solutions out there. Despite the aggravations we may have, it’s important to remember that there are real people and passions driving many of the solutions. Let’s keep it fruitful ;-)

I’ll add my input in the comments and voting after most of you have had a chance (as not to skew the votes).

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  1. Tony Dye (Reply) on September 27th, 2010

    OK, I’ll jump in. I’ll start with complaints, in general.

    1. Most of the current systems out there have poor user interfaces. By poor, I mean old-fashioned, or clunky, terribly inconsistent, not very discoverable, and little hint of following anybody’s user interface design guide.

    2. Way too often, there are issues of “I can’t get my data back out.” This isn’t an ownership of data problem, it’s an inability of most of the systems to support a user-oriented query of data that’s been collected. Most systems are great at collecting data, poor at letting you get it back out the way you want.

    3. Expounding on #2, reporting is generally bad news.

    4. Most systems fail to understand that different churches have different internal processes. To use a particular ChMS, your church needs to model itself after the ChMS, not vice versa.

    5. Multi-site, volunteer management, event management, facility management. These are pain points in most current systems.

    OK, enough complaining. Some bright spots.
    Prior to 2004, there were a few big players, and a bunch of smaller ones. Churches sometimes made a switch, but the gains were small. In 2004, Fellowship One came along and shook up the world, in a good way. They weren’t a perfect system, but they showed that change was possible!

    Church Community Builder, BVCMS, and others, have come along and shown that, just maybe, it is possible to create a user-friendly system. EventU, Planning Center, and others showed that it’s possible to implement piece-wise solutions that meet specific needs and do them well.

    Now I know I’m biased here, but I think MinistryPlatform is the next great system. Ease of use, better access to the data, multi-site from the start, and a wide variety of early churches, makes it so different from systems of the past. Let me avoid blatant advertising — but if you want to know more about it, just ask me!

    I hope some of the vendors will offer [brief] comments here as well.

  2. Mike (Reply) on September 27th, 2010

    One of the biggest frustrations for me is finding information on each of the systems. Many of the ChMS websites don’t show screenshots and require you to sit through an hour long demo just to get an overview of the system. I like to do research on my own, and I don’t like the high pressure demo based sales model.

  3. Matt Harrell (Reply) on September 27th, 2010

    Our product, MemberHub.com, is not listed here, but we’re serving churches all over the country and are just now coming into the membership management side of things. The product is very heavy on the member side with not much admin, but we’ve recently begun to release significant changes to help church admins manage their members. Our customers all comment on the design and usability of our site. We are paying close attention to these sort of polls and feedback outlets should we decide to fully engage into the ChMS landscape with a focus on the small to medium size churches.

  4. David Carroll (Reply) on September 27th, 2010

    I guess I just skewed the results. Not a scientific poll. I just used a feature of BVCMS to email users of the 23 churches we are currently hosting and asked them to vote if they liked the system. Should have asked them to comment. We’re getting lots of good testimonies. We may not be as slick, but we make jobs easier, we listen, and we’re agile. And we’re way cheaper and get the job done too.

    David Carroll
    BVCMS developer

  5. David Carroll (Reply) on September 27th, 2010

    Sure appreciate Mike’s comment. Need to get to work on those screenshots!

  6. Jonathan Kitchen (Reply) on September 27th, 2010

    We are using BVCMS and it meets all our needs and will meet additional plans for future growth with the system. We currently have about 750 people in the database and expect to double that within the next few months as we plan to start using the membership and contribution features. The developers are extremely responsive and really value the input from their user community to make the product better. There’s been several occasions where I have emailed the developer and received a response back within the hour with either a resolution, a plan to resolve, or pushback that made good sense why something was deployed the way it was making us reconsider our processes to match. The sytem is feature packed, and though still growing, I can’t believe that anything out there would be an order of magnitude better. The documentation wiki is comprehensive but some of the information is outdated as the program has changed quickly and the documentation hasn’t kept pace. This is a minor issue in my book because the customer support is supperior. Finally, the price just can’t be beat. My favorite thing about the program is not a feature or a service but the fact that a user of these types of systems recognized a need for a better mouse trap and made it happen for other church bodies that needed the tool.

  7. Debra Larkin (Reply) on September 27th, 2010

    I work with the BVCMS each Sunday supporting our product in helping assist the parents checking in. I meet parents each week that are thankful that we’ve taken such measures to help protect the ssafety of their most precious possessions on earth, their children.
    I also work with supporting physicians with our software in our hospitals, I’d much rather be dealing with grateful parents each week.

  8. Kevin (Reply) on September 27th, 2010

    We are making our own system at the church I work at. We have Shelby and only the accounting department is really attached to it because of the time they spent learning it. Our system will be entirely web-based, and the work is slow going with all the other day-to-day projects, but we hope to have it at a place where we could share it with other churches someday. The staff love the features we have developed so far!

  9. Jesse Carpenter (Reply) on September 27th, 2010

    Have been using BVCMS only a few weeks. Have been able to navigate thru the system fairly well. Learning to use new software is cumbersome at first but get eaiser with consistant use. Bottom line: I like it.

  10. Robin (Reply) on September 27th, 2010

    I spent 9 years using Shelby and the last year using Arena. That’s not completely true. In between I had a brief stint in a church that used Access and Quickbooks for a 3000 member church. Shelby and Arena are far superior, especially for accountability, process and procedures, just good management in general, especially reporting. I’ve had to do everything, from membership to financials, to events, project management, AR/AP etc. Budgets are especially easy in Shelby Financials. Whilst in my imaginary world, I’m Shelby to the core, I am having fun running data in Arena.

  11. Abu Roo (Reply) on September 28th, 2010

    As a former staff member of a church currently using BvCMS, I now serve overseas in a hostile ministry environment. Recently I was granted access to my home fellowship’s system to help me keep updated contact information on friends and supporters . I can only say that during the twenty years I served on staff at this church I struggled with inadequate and user-unfriendly systems which were never able to provide the member data we needed. I watched with great heartache as significant funds were spent either on new or updating present systems, none of which ever met our unique needs. The BvCMS is an answer to prayer, and I can only say that I wish we would have had this system when I was on staff because it is all we had ever prayed for, and much more!

  12. David Carroll (Reply) on September 28th, 2010

    Let me clarify. All I did was invite qualified, actual users of bvcms to vote “IF” they liked bvcms. The gist of the article was “I have yet to meet a church staff that was remotely satisfied with their church management system.” So now we have evidence that there are in fact 23 churches using a church management system where they in fact are satisfied.

  13. Jim Michael (Reply) on September 28th, 2010

    After much research, earlier this year we switched our ChMS from our long-time vendor to Arena. We checked out most of the “big players” and got live demos. Once we saw Arena, we knew it was the product for us. See, we don’t just need a “management system”, but something that can integrate seamlessly with our web site (the “public facing” portion of a ChMS) — and most importantly– allow us complete control over what the user sees and how information is presented. This was the main factor that drove us to seek a new product, and Arena, being a native content management system (CMS), was the only product we found that gave us the level of customization and control we desired. It can even be extended with completely new modules if you have the talent to write them. Is Arena for everyone? I don’t think so. It takes a large investment in time and development effort to tweak the product to your exact needs… but if you NEED that kind of power like we do, it’s a no-brainer. Just make sure you have some good CSS/.net talent on staff ;-)

  14. chrisrivers (Reply) on September 28th, 2010

    I think its cool that BvCMS literally started in a church that is 2 minutes from Shelby Systems…. Love me some Rock and Roll… Must be some smart people in Memphis :)

    We are about to go LIVE with Arena here at newspring.cc. We have been very satisfied so far as we have been able to develop a custom check-in application as well as build some web-services that tie our website into Arena utilizing Shadetree. We couldn’t do that with F1.

  15. Zach R (Reply) on September 29th, 2010

    I come from a academic and business background with a lot of experience with well-developed CRM and ERP software. BVCMS is a great system that connects staff with pertinent information in a very easy format. Knowledge is power and I’ve found BVCMS to be easy to use and flexible.

    I’m impressed with the hard work of David Carrol and others in constructing this solution.

  16. Eric Granata (Reply) on September 29th, 2010

    +1 For CCB. Great product with a long history, not to mention some swell guys on their team. The biggest thing I think ChMS developers could do is embrace standards like RSS for data portability. Like Mr. Dye said above, much of the time I just can’t get my data back out.

  17. Jonathan Ott (Reply) on September 29th, 2010

    I agree–after investigating multiple big players for our church of ~3000 members, there isn’t a great solution yet.

    We spent several years on Shelby V5 but never fully moved to it because its check-in application did not suit our children’s ministry needs, and volunteer use for following up with new members would have required VPN and/or a terminal server to access the legacy Windows client. And our Mac users couldn’t easily use it either.

    I really liked The City, but it didn’t have children’s check-in yet, and it didn’t have much in the way of reporting or other traditional ChMS features that we needed. Although they started out as bridging a gap between ChMS and social networking, they realized they had to build in ChMS features since they were competing with ChMS budget. They have a phenomenal product team and I think The City is going to be a serious player in the next 1-2 years.

    I really liked Arena, but we wanted a hosted solution, and our church just doesn’t have sufficient dedicated staff with the appropriate skillsets to really do justice to implement Arena. With large churches that have hefty budgets implementing Arena and contributing modules back to the community, I expect the feature set to really blossom for churches that want to host their own ChMS on-site.

    I looked at Ministry Platform, and although it wasn’t a right fit since they only wanted to add multi-campus churches at that point, it also looked like it still needed to grow in user friendliness. It looks fast and has some good features, but looks written by a database expert with database efficiency as a core competency. I’m sure it has continued to improve since I had the opportunity to preview it.

    That left Fellowship One. We were already using it for children’s check-in, and we decided to move to it for everything except for keeping general ledger and accounts payable on Shelby V5 (since Fellowship One doesn’t do that). The downsides of Fellowship One are that the self check-in and web integration user interfaces need freshening up, the API needs more building out, the custom report builder is being integrated but not yet released, and Fellowship Technologies is very slow to release new functionality. On the other hand, it had the best balance of ChMS features that we needed, its check-in software works very well (even with its outdated user interface), it is a fully hosted solution, it is cross-platform since it is web-based, the company’s values and principles are solid, they have a great product roadmap, and their staff are great to work with. So although it didn’t give us everything we need, we decided to partner with them. Our implementation went well and our staff adoption has been positive.

  18. Jeremy Hoff (Reply) on September 29th, 2010

    There are plenty of great options out there, and more on the way. But we went Arena and don’t look back.

    Where else can I get great out-of-the-box functionality, a community of awesome users who each contribute time and talent to the product as well as to other users, great support, a rapid development cycle, and killer third-party options from a system that allows me to integrate my own custom modules seamlessly?

    The product stands on its own. The Community is icing on the cake.

  19. Chris Kehayias (Reply) on October 1st, 2010

    +1 Vote for Ministry Platform. We went with Ministry Platform because it is truly Multi-Site focused, the team is awesome and everything we needed worked from day one. It simplified church management and became our Holy Grail database. Everything from our previous systems was merged together beautifullly.

    Love it! Can’t wait to see what they release next!

  20. Joshua Parker (Reply) on October 31st, 2010

    @Eric, thanks for the opportunity to let ChMS developers talk about their product. I am the developer of a new ChMS called Church Member. There is a lite version and a pro version. It is in no way shape or form like the other big name players because Church Member has a different audience and vision. I developed this specifically for small churches with small budgets. Also, since it is web based, I wanted to make sure that it was lightweight and not a resource hog.

    Before I go on about Church Member, I do want to say that there are a few of the big name players out there that have a fantastic product with a beautiful UI and awesome features like children check-in.

    However, when I developed Church Member, I wanted to give small churches a product that looked and acted like something they’ve seen before. Basically, a clone of something else even though it did not start out that way. Church Member’s feature set is very small at the moment but will continue to grow with each new version. At the moment it has the wall, directory, pms, forum, gravatars, event module, profile, and news module. There is a plan to implement more communication features for elders, ministry leaders, and small group leaders as well as online giving, reporting, giving statements, Google Maps, sermon browser, mailing label generator, newsletter module, and a few other needed improvements and enhancements to make it a true ChMS.

    I would appreciate it if people would check out the demo and give feedback if you so choose. You can check out Church Member at http://www.churchmember.us. Check out the demo page which will give you links to the lite and pro version as well as login credentials for a test account. I hope that the conversation around ChMS’s will continue because whether you agree or not, they are needed in this age of technology.

  21. Kim Slaughter (Reply) on December 1st, 2010


    After choosing Shelby Arena and making such a significant investment…why did build a custom check-in application? I thought it came with check-in.

  22. Kim Slaughter (Reply) on December 1st, 2010

    Hi Chris Rivers,

    You and your church obviously made a huge organizational and financially expensive decision to move to Shelby-Arena. After making such an investment, why would you build a custom children’s check-in application?

  23. [...] enabler of new ideas and opportunities. This is not a formula a good business wants to deal with. Read an article about the general frustration in Church Management Systems. Be sure to view the results of the straw [...]

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