A Call For A Parishioner Engagement System

Chances are your church has a Church Management System (CMS) such as ParishSoft, ACS, Logos, or Parish Data System.  A CMS tracks your church’s members, their pledges, donation history, sacramental history, and may help you manage your church’s finances.  It’s probably installed on one computer in the office somewhere and, if your lucky, it’s networked to a few other machines in the office.  Chances are it’s built on such leading technologies like Foxpro, Paradox, or Microsoft Access (please forgive the sarcasm).  It may be Internet-enabled but is probably only used for transmitting data to your diocese, to receive software updates, and/or ensure software license compliance from the vendor.  There’s actually more than one of the top CMS vendors that feel offering their application on the web through Microsoft Terminal Services, Citrix, or the like actually makes it a web-enabled application (again, a little sarcasm coming through…).

Beyond the aging technology of some of these systems, I believe the orientation of these systems are wrong.     These systems are meant to help you manage your church.  Instead I believe they should be used to engage your church.  I’ve seen far too many churches with an underused or unused CMS implementation.  Their lament is a almost always the same.  They can’t get the data they need from the parishioners to make the system really work or it’s too labor intensive to obtain and keep current the data in the system.  If the system could help engage the parishioners would the parishioners be willing to self-service their data online?

Here’s some of the key differences I see in what we’ll call a Parishioner Engagement System versus a traditional Church Management System:

  • It doesn’t just store parishioner data but rather encourages parishioners to update their profile online.
  • The email field for each parishioner is always filled in because it actively encourages parishioners to communicate with the church and each other online.
  • Ministry scheduling is expanded to volunteer management and people can signup for events and volunteer online.
  • It extends church communication not just to email, but facilitates email newsletters, and Social Media communication Ala Facebook and Twitter.
  • It offers a place for parishioners to communicate with both church leaders and fellow parishioners online.
  • Pledges and online donations are integrated.  Not only can parishioners donate online, but they can measure their progress toward their annual pledge.
  • It takes data privacy seriously and competently providing a safe and secure online environment.

Besides the huge benefit of increasing parishioner involvement, a Parishioner Engagement System gets the church’s Business Manager the data they need to do their job.

I believe the next generation of Church Management Systems needs to be created.  A few may just now be starting to appear or just on the horizon.  The next generation Church Management Systems will (hopefully) end up being a parishioner-focused, Internet-based, socially-enabled Parishioner Engagement Systems.

I can’t wait!

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Author:Joe Luedtke

Joe Luedtke is the Chief Operating Officer for Liturgical Publications (LPi). Joe specializes in Social Media and Web 2.0 and is currently leading LPi’s efforts to move into the on-line world. Joe works for the world's largest and oldest social network, religion, and believes that this social network could benefit tremendously from the the proper use of Internet technologies.
  • http://twitter.com/Kristine717 Kristine Jenkins

    this would be AWESOME!

  • Brad

    What’s interesting is this is pretty much the exact scenario I was trying to help get my parish away from.  Here’s why it’s costly, creates more work than needed, and what I see being the solution:

    1.  Internal servers in a parish take maintenance and someone with higher degree of technical knowledge to maintain the network.  

    Solution:  Move to the cloud for email, document storage, and even PDS offers a web-based solution for the database.  I like Google apps for the email and doc storage but there are other inexpensive solutions.

    2.  Keying envelopes weekly from donations is time consuming and tedious.  Plus the employee costs.

    Solution: Online donations.  Even if used by 30% – 50% of the parish you will save a ton of time in workload.  Promote it promote promote it to grow participation.

    3.  Registration forms for new parishioners and keying them in.  Again this is time consuming and because of time constraints “corners” are cut like not keying email addresses.  In turn, you raise expenses and lose more time having to utilize mail more and answer phones more.  

    Solution:  Great website that provides online registration wit fields that match up with your database system.  The parishioner enters all the information and then a simple approval needs to happen at the office to have the information added to the database.  Now you can insure you have email addresses and you cut way down on keying info in.  You can also add in the ability for parishioners to update their own info.  

    4. Don’t have email addresses to begin utilizing mass email campaigns?  So you just keep doing it the way you are doing it.  Costly and time consuming.  

    Solution: First, make any form necessary for your parish available online through your website with online doc storage,  Second add an “Enter Your Email Address” field that ties in with your new email campaign system.  These become automatically update on the person’s record.  PDS now has a relationship with Constant Contact.  Or you can set up FlockNote.  Plus you can leverage that Facebook page to better communicate and engage your community.  

    Those tweaks will automate a ton of the operations.  You’ll save a ton of time and money.  Plus by moving to the cloud, you become less dependent on equipment and costly software upgrades.  You get more choice of equipment which means lower price.  

    Great great article.

  • http://twitter.com/Kristine717 Kristine Jenkins

    Brad, I can see where you’re coming from, but I think the main resistance to cloud computing is security issues.  Perceived, anyway, when you figure that most churches don’t have a tech person on staff… or if they do, there’s a whole “culture” that resists all this newfangled stuff.  Feeding into that— the database we use is mandated by our diocese– how much leeway do churches get for this stuff?

    What I mean to say, is that I love Joe’s article and am totally energized by his vision and your solutions… but I think we have major hurdles in “the way we do things” and the attitude and money needed to switch gears.  Even if that course makes us MORE efficient, MORE relevant, and BETTER able to equip our parishioners to spread the Gospel…

    • Brad

      I agree, Kristine.  The “cloud” leaves many feeling uneasy.  I actually use it quite a bit both personally and professionally.  In terms of the mandated database, check with that vendor.  Some (such as PDS) offer cloud storage.  

    • http://twitter.com/CathTechTalk Catholic Tech

      Kristine, perception is unfortunately reality.  I personally believe cloud-based solutions are not only the wave of the future, but they’re a necessary part of overcoming the technical  challenges churches face.  Churches don’t have a IT staff.  Heck sometimes they don’t even have an IT person or the volunteer comes and goes overtime.  Keeping the system in the cloud moves some (not all, but some) of the IT work over to the vendor.  No need to install software, no worry about system compatibility, memory upgrades, etc.  If you have a browser and Internet access you have access to your system. 

      As far as security, I’d make the case its actually more secure.  The vendors need to worry about data privacy, PCI Audits and even SSAE-16 (formerly called SAS-70) compliance AND they’re big enough and technically adept enough to do so (hopefully!)

      However, as you said its often a perception issue.  That’s what I’m hoping to do with this blog, get our collective voices heard and let the momentum build on changing these perceptions. 

      Its been at least a year since someone at a church told me they felt the Internet was the devil’s work.  If you look at the forest through the trees, I believe we are making progress!

      • http://www.lifeisaprayer.com/ Jeff Geerling

        Slowly but surely, we are :-)

    • Ryan Foley

      Kristine, you make a good point about the challenge of switching gears. In our work at Faith Interactive we’ve developed a way for each parish to keep their database in place. using our Connected Community software we integrate with the parish database via web services and by doing so extend the value of the investment or mandated system. The data between our community tool and the parish database stays in sync with one another. This is the key to online communities for parishes.

  • http://www.flockNote.com Matthew Warner

    Great article! And, yes, this is exactly what we’ve done with flockNote, actually. And a couple of the features you mention that we don’t do (i.e. eTithing, etc.) are on their way. But there are still some hurdles, for sure. But we’re slowly overcoming them. 

    Thanks for the great article!

    • http://twitter.com/ccerveny Caroline Cerveny

      I agree, a wonderful article!  And thanks Matthew for reminding us of Flocknote.  For those curious about a story  of actual use of Flocknote in a parish, go to Brandon Vogt’s book – New Media – http://astore.amazon.com/interacconnec-20/detail/1592760333 – Pages 61-65, See “Innovation”.  A wonderful story of how “registration” of parish members may be accomplished with the use of technology.

      What I feel we need to remember is that we are now in a Digital Culture, where we need to learn the language and the culture.  If we were being sent to China, South America, or any other country to be a missionary, we would first learn the language and culture of this group.  Today, Digital Natives are typically 35 and younger and Digital Immigrants are over 35.  The majority of our church leadership is over 35!  The majority do not walk the walk or talk the talk of Digital Natives.  There is little or no training offered for folks to learn more about this ever evolving Digital Culture! 

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