The Skinny on Open Source Church Management Software

Tuesday, September 9, 2014 7:50:00 AM Categories: Ministry & Technology
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It seems like church leaders are always on the hunt for the best software to manage their church databases and communications. One question most churches face in their hunt is whether to pay for commercial church management software (ChMS or CMS), or to use open source software.

The open source software movement kicked off in the 1980’s and paved the way for operating systems like GNU/Linux and Internet browsers like Mozilla Firefox. Over the years, open source software has spread into countless arenas and industries including church management software.  Given the availability of open source ChMS, church leaders should consider the advantages and disadvantages of using such products before landing on a decision. So, here’s a list of several pros and cons related to open source ChMS.

ADVANTAGES

Few Licensing Fees, If Any At All – However, it’s important to understand this advantage can easily evaporate because some open source ChMS creators require maintenance charges.

Easy Compliance – You can install open source church management software on as many computers as you like without having to keep track of license compliance.

Ongoing, Real-Time Development – Since anyone can access the code, anyone can fix bugs or make upgrades. Those changes are immediate so you don’t have to wait for the next software release, which can take months.

Not Dependent Upon A Company – It’s a sad reality in a free-market system that companies sometimes fail.  If the company that created the open source CMS goes under, the code can still exist and grow under the care of the user community.

DISADVANTAGES

Free Doesn’t Always Equal Free – While it may have been free to download and install, open source church management software can result in unexpected implementation, administrative, and support costs. In other words, you may need to hire one or more programmers to set up your software, train your team, and maintain it.  Additionally, you’ll probably end up spending a considerable amount on equipment and/or hosting for your open source CMS.

Momentum Loss – Some open source projects stagnate and even die because some of the key leaders in the open source ChMS community quit, have disagreements, or simply lose interest.  Functionally, open source church management software projects are almost always led by a couple of key developers, such as large companies or churches with deep pockets. If these key players move on to something else (which happens more often than not), the project gradually decays and wilts away.

You’re Alone – Unlike commercial church management software, no one in the open source community is under any obligation to help you at all.  There is absolutely no guarantee of customer support. Instead, there’s almost a guarantee of no customer support.

Open source ChMS can be great for some churches, but the reality is most churches just need a product that is “plug and play.” That’s why our church landed on using ChurchTeams to meet our ChMS needs. Even though open source ChMS software has some benefits, it’s clear that commercial church management software is the best bet to meet the full range of your church’s needs.

Alan Danielson is the Senior Pastor of New Life Bible Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Previously he served as Central Team Leader for LifeGroups at LifeChurch.tv in Edmond, OK, where he led over a thousand small groups on LifeChurch’s thirteen campuses in six different states. He then founded 3Threat.net to help leaders master three essential leadership skills: vision-casting, creating strategy and fostering relationships. Alan is a popular conference speaker and consults regularly with ministries and leaders on topics relating to small groups and leadership. Learn more from Alan at 3Threat.net.