When you’re looking for Church Management Software (ChMS), you might come across some horror stories.
Whether it’s a vendor who disappeared, hidden costs, or software that plain doesn’t work, plenty of pitfalls await the new ChMS buyer.
In fact, so many churches have had trouble finding the right ChMS that you may be wondering how to avoid making the same mistakes.
I looked at the most common complaints that churches have about their software–using a combination of online forums and reviews from “That Works” – SLG’s church software directory–and compiled them into this guide.
After reading this article you should have a good idea of how to avoid the most common ChMS hangups and buy the software that’s right for your church.
1. Inadequate Training & Support
Surprisingly, the most frustrating thing that ChMS users complain about is not usually the product itself.
Since neither software nor software users are perfect, even the best program is going to have issues somewhere along the way. The difference is how the software vendor deals with those problems.
Of course, if a program has none of the features you want, it doesn’t matter how great their support is, but having someone available to work out problems with you can make the difference between a good vendor and a great one.
On the other side of the support coin, few negative reviews for any given vendor had a clear common denominator. Unless a product is just very badly designed, customers are likely to have various issues depending on their own training with the product, their needs, and their expectations. However, these various issues can all be resolved, to a large extent, with good support, making it a key player (albeit an unnamed one) in the negative reviews as well.
How to avoid this hangup:
Once you’ve decided the product has the features you want, do a demo, and check out their support and training options.
If the vendor offers a free trial, go all the way and test out their support by asking questions and seeing how long they take to respond by email, chat, and phone.
See how far free support will take you. ChMS vendors provide several types of support, and free support could start with as little as an FAQ page and email support or as much as livechat, forums, and training videos. If their email support is quick and helpful when they respond, that might be enough for your church, but don’t wait to find out!
You should also see what other churches have to say about their support by checking them out on online forums and review sites.
If you really love the product and know that’s what you want to use, go for the support option that lets you get immediate help, and offers plenty of training. No matter how well you think you know it, over the years you are probably going to have a lot of people learn how to use it, especially if you have part-time volunteers.
Think about it: even if you have to pay for a more expensive support plan, it’s going to be cheaper than deciding you can’t use that product when issues arise and then having to buy something else or revert to a manual process.
Unless, of course, this product really doesn’t have what you need. To avoid this equally frustrating problem, do two things: make a list of features you absolutely can’t do without, and read below for two more ChMS hangups to avoid.
2. Limited Integration
Though I had a hard time finding specific features that users were most frustrated with, integration was a common theme.
Normally vendors are clear about what products their software can integrate with, and most users did not seem to think they had been lied to. It was more often that a user was already using another program for a certain aspect of their church management (such as payroll) and they wished that the two products could be used alongside each other more easily.
How to avoid this hangup:
A lot of this can be resolved by doing thorough research into a specific product. Make sure to list all the different programs you are using in your church office, even for minor tasks, and see if the software features integrations with them.
If you find that you really love the product, and you’ve made your choice, check with the vendor to see what other programs they recommend working with. For instance, it might be worth it to switch your church from Gmail to Outlook if your favorite product features mail merge with Outlook only.
In a perfect world, every ChMS product would be able to do everything your church office does. There are a few solutions out there that approach this, but not every church can afford them, and even very comprehensive solutions have their strengths and weaknesses. Remember that training is a very real part of any software purchase, and try to find the balance between programs that your office feels comfortable using and programs that work well with your specific church management software solution.
3. Unsatisfactory Updates
There are several different types of updates that I found users complaining about.
First, sometimes a vendor releases unaffordable updates. There isn’t much of a way around expensive updates, but a little research should help you figure out if a vendor is known for doing this.
A second common complaint I found was about a lack of updates. Some users find that after they’ve been using their ChMS for a little while, they wish it had social media integration, or a more updated user interface, but the vendor isn’t providing these.
You can’t predict the future when you buy your ChMS, so it’s hard to know to look for these features. However, finding a product with a history of reliable updates ensures that your product will at least try to keep up with the times. Check a vendor’s blog or the “news” section on their website to see how often they release updates.
The other types of unsatisfactory updates are ones that don’t solve any problems, or even that cause problems.
It’s hard to know in advance if a vendor is going to release a version of their product that is much better than the one before, or pretty similar, or even worse. However, there are a few clues. The way vendors figure out how to make their product the best it can be is often by listening to you, and listening to you means offering good support.
If you find software that has been praised for its super support, take note! The better church management vendors are at solving problems with their current software, the better they should be at incorporating solutions to those problems in their next update.
This also means that their updates won’t cause as many problems for your church office.
How can an update cause more problems? Well, aside from some possible glitches, if a software company isn’t listening to its customers, the next time it rolls out an update it might be so different and new that you don’t know how to use it anymore! A good software company will offer training for its updates, in addition to making sure the update doesn’t eliminate features that your church was using.
There are also some types of software that are inherently easier to update–SaaS (Software as a Service, or web-based) solutions typically require less hassle over updates since they’re accessed from an internet browser and don’t rely on making changes to your computer. They might still require a bit of training, but again, that’s an important part of choosing your software in the first place.
So here’s how to avoid those common church software woes: look for a product that offers great support, integrates with the programs that your church office needs it to, and has available updates.
Want to learn more about how to buy ChMS? Check out this free eBook! And if you have any suggestions or want to share your own ChMS woes, head to the comment section below!