Is Free Church Management Software Worth the Download?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 6:50:00 AM Categories: Ministry & Technology
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Ever seen “free” church management software?  Let's say you downloaded the free version of “free” ChMS (or CMS), now what?  What does it look like to manage your church with this type of solution?  To do this well, you must do four things:

1) Understand the limitations of the downloaded software. 

2) Be prepared to back it up. 

3) Have good security in place. 

4) Accept the fact that your new ChMS will have limited access.

The biggest issue with free software is understanding what “free” actually means.  In some cases downloading the software is free but to access all of its features, you have to pay for a registration code.  Sometimes “free” is a demo version that is stripped of the most important features of the tool.  Other times “free” refers to software that is difficult to use on your own essentially requiring you to sign up for a support contract.  Finally, “free” on the cloud might mean the code is free but you still have to host it or pay someone to host and/or support it.  “Free” almost never really means free, so be sure you know what you’re getting into before clicking that download link.

Remember, if you download a free software, you will import and / or input all your member information into the system.  That makes the system have value to you and losing it would be a set back.  All computers eventually have a meltdown, churches sometimes get robbed and computers get stolen, servers crash and natural disasters destroy property. If you decide to go with a free CMS, you need to make provision for these eventualities either with physical backups or online backups of your information.  Be sure your back up is stored off-site.  For best results, you need to develop a routine allowing this to happen at least weekly if not daily.

Another potential disaster comes from the Internet itself.  If your computer is linked to the web, it is susceptible to any kind of malware or virus that comes your way.  It is important to make sure you have basic protocols in place like not downloading anything suspicious, using your computers virus tools, and taking advantage of third party solutions to help with malware.  You don't want to loose the information you've worked hard to gather.  There are great tools out there to help you.

Finally, you need to decide who needs to use the free church management software?  The biggest limitation of free software is that downloaded, free ChMS systems are only available on one computer.  Anyone using the software will need to have access to the same computer.  You may have a server that allows multiple devices access, but often that is limited and costs extra to have more than one user.  Be sure you know who needs what information, how it will be gathered and how the right people have the access they need.

Like any relationship, your relationship with your CMS requires your time and attention.  Don't let the idea of “free” software fool you into thinking it will take care of itself, be easy to use and solve all your problems.  It won't.  You will need to invest time and resources into working within its limitations, its maintenance and security requirements, and user-accessibility.

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.