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!