What You Should Know About Church Management System Business Trends

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 2:16:00 AM Categories: Ministry & Technology
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Like many of you, I've always been a fan of ministry best practices, technology and systems or process. When I was still in elementary school, I remember my mom talking with our pastor.  He said, “It seems like Boyd is always trying to figure out a better way to do things more efficiently.”  That insight helped me understand myself and realize that God gave me this interest.  It was this interest in improvement and efficiency that led me to start our Churchteams 15 years ago.  Now making systems better is what I get to do every day!  

Over the next few weeks, I’ll write a few blog posts that will share some of the trends and possibilities I'm seeing and hearing in relation to Church Management Systems (ChMS or CMS).  Some of these ideas are obvious.  Some have just recently become possible.  Some are a stretch, but they are fun to think about!
I've learned that figuring out which is which is absolutely critical.  Why?  Because investing too early in technology that is not yet adopted can be a waste of time and resources.  It helps that I spent over 20 in ministry before transitioning into the ChMS technology arena.

You've probably noticed there has been a big change in how Church Management Software companies use technology and do business in the past decade.  It reflects the changes technology has brought to our culture as a whole.  Today we're going to look at how the business side of CMS is trending.

THE CLOUD - Most obvious is the fact that everything has moved, or is moving, to the cloud.  Solutions that are hosted on site require church staff to either hire or become IT specialists in order to manage the church server, downloads, upgrades, backups and maintenance.  Moving these applications to the Internet frees you from these costs and concerns.

SAAS - The business model for cloud based software is called “Software as a Service” or SAAS for short.  The old SaaP model (software as a product) relied on you paying for modules, upgrades and service to stay viable.  SAAS, on the other hand, is built on a fixed monthly to annual fee that you pay for the complete service.  You have every upgrade immediately.  You no longer worry about backups. Some use a hybrid model of modules and support, but more and more have a single fixed fee for most services.  The difference between SaaP and SAAS is similar to buying a generator for electricity versus paying the electric company for power.  Buying a generator means you have to watch, fuel and maintain the equipment.  Paying for monthly electric service takes care of everything for you.

BUY-OUTS AND MERGERS - Naturally, the older systems are aware of the changes and want to adapt new technologies to attract a new customer base, while at the same time staying predictable for their current customer base.  Several of these older CMS companies have purchased cloud based software systems to integrate into their products, become a second product line, or to merge their clients into their current system.  ACS purchased The City, for example.  New companies come up regularly with ideas and features built around web empowered design and functionality.  Many find it hard to get traction and deplete their financing which forces them to shut down and leave their clients holding the bag.  Still others get acquired by other companies to stay out of the market or to become a loss leader product for another service.  

STARTUPS - I see 2 or 3 startups in the ChMS field every year, and I've discovered 2 key indicators that nearly always determine which of these new companies has a real shot at making it.  Interestingly, these keys do not include basic function or design expectations.  Rather, they are funding and the executive team.  Startups who utilize outside investors need to produce a serious return on their investors’ money in a relatively short time.  The painful truth is that churches are slow to adopt, so a quick financial turnaround is seldom a reality for church-related businesses.  It's the companies that bootstrap their development (especially the ones with a programmer as part of the executive team) that have the best chance of making it.

OPEN SOURCE - Similar to startups are open source initiatives.  Open source CMS is usually the result of a large church who paid to develop their own Church Management Software.  Since software business isn't their focus, they offer their code “open source” and rely on others to come along to provide hosting, further development and service.  

MOBILE COMPATIBILITY - The proliferation and adoption of smart phones and tablets requires that ChMS companies adapt their products to smaller and more mobile devices.  Some wonder why Churchteams hasn’t yet created an app.  It’s simple: we are staying true to our SAAS roots.  Rather than spending money and energy on creating apps (which are really just a new version of SaaP), we’ve opted to use a responsive design platform that reads and adjusts screen size and usability to the mobile device being used.  We like our way best because it helps keep costs low for our customers, but either way, mobile compatibility is becoming widely adopted by CMS companies.

NICHE SOFTWARE TO FULL ChMS – Not every Church Management Software company started out providing a full-service solution.  Many started out filling a niche. Churchteams started out as a small group software but over 15 years we’ve evolved into a complete church management software system.  Today we offer solutions for volunteer check-in, kids check-in, online giving, donor tracking, digital giving statements, automatically generated reporting, small groups, event registration, discipleship tools, and more.  My programmer often tells me that he can do about anything we imagine with software, so we are continually adding new features and improving existing ones.  What we’ve learned over the years is that church leaders want all their data integrated, thus most CMS companies are striving to provide software solutions that cover a wide range of church management needs. 
So those are my thoughts regarding trends and ideas on the business side of ChMS.  Later I’ll write about the latest possibilities related to Church Management Software data collection and input. 

Boyd Pelley. Is Co-founder and CEO of Churchteams.com. He served for 18 years as Discipleship Pastor, Church Administrator and Family Pastor for churches in New Mexico, Nebraska and Texas. He has a bent toward improving processes and a passion for making disciples. Married for 27 years, he and Pam have 2 grown children.