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Why Churches Change ChMS Providers

January 17, 2014

© 2014 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine 

Churches change solutions of various kinds often, and those changes cost money and time. Sometimes the changes are needed, but sometimes not! So how can you tell? We all want to be good stewards of the resources given us to accomplish our ministries, so let’s explore this further.

A Brief Story to Get Us Going
We felt called to serve The Church in the mid-1980s to help them with their administrative and operational needs. One of our first decisions was to write a database and accounting solution because there “must not be anything good available.” I’m glad we crossed the path of a ChMS provider who challenged us to research what is available before pursuing that task. As I’ve written in my annual ChMS article, we discovered there were already more than 200 providers! And some of them are very thorough and good. So, instead of creating yet another ChMS, we did our first ChMS article research to identify the leaders of the pack and find solutions we could recommend.

It’s Human Nature
When we inherit a solution of any kind we tend to look at it as suspect. Maybe it’s an American cultural thing in that we don’t like being told we have to use something we didn’t personally choose to use, or that we don’t want to do something we didn’t personally choose to do. We often think that because something wasn’t our choice, it should probably be replaced.

This is probably the second most common reason why churches change ChMSes. (I wrote an article a couple of months ago on the most common reason– I’ll tell you what it was again a few paragraphs further on in this article.) It can be at an individual or a departmental level. It can be caused by previous workplace experience, or by hearing that another respected church uses a different solution. Regardless, it’s a bias that can have a large price tag.

Horizontal Comparisons
We often hear from our pulpits that when we focus on The Lord, we are better off than when we focus on our surroundings or on what others have. This is true in the area of churches comparing solutions too! Bear with me, and you’ll see what I mean.

Many churches change their software solutions because they learn that another church is using something different. This is probably the third most common reason why churches change ChMSes. There can be two problems with this line of thinking:

  1. Having worked with so many hundreds of churches over the years, I’ve observed that most churches do most of the same kinds of operational tasks, but do them differently. These differences in accomplishing similar tasks are due to differences in staff and personalities, budgets and capacities, and/ or chosen business practices. These aren’t necessarily right vs wrong issues (though they sometimes can be legal issues!), these are style differences. Different software solutions can tend to work better in some organizations because of those intangible style differences. So changing to a solution because another church is using it can sometimes fail because of those style differences.
  2. A mistake churches often make when looking at what solutions other churches have implemented is they assume those other churches did their own due diligence in approaching their decision to select a solution, and that they did it well. But it’s more often true that those other churches allowed their decisions to be heavily influenced by what other churches were using and never did very deep research and analysis in their decision-making process! That means your church, when basing a decision on what another church decided, may be making a decision that has been passed down from church to church and that was never originally researched at all!

What Should You Do?
All of us in ministry want to be as productive as possible and are glad when we can save time on projects like choosing a ChMS. I get that, and agree with it! Believing things can improve and getting recommendations from other churches are good things! So, how do you avoid the bad decisions and their resulting expense– both monetary and in lost production (unavoidable during a software transition)– when considering changing ChMSes?

  • Don’t assume that what you’ve got is bad just because you don’t understand it or feel like it’s too complex. Check with the ChMS provider and do your research!
  • Make certain you’re using their most recent version, and that you have all of the optional modules necessary to meet your church’s needs. That means helping the ChMS provider understand what you want to accomplish and where you feel the pain when using their solution.
  • Determine if training (the neglect of which is the most common reason churches change ChMS providers) would help you and your team.
  • Ask for a list of other churches that are similar to yours in ministry style and size so you can call them and see if they’re happy or unhappy with the solution. If they’re unhappy with it, ask them what they’re doing to overcome that and decide if you think they’re doing their due diligence.
  • If you’re going to pursue a new ChMS, do your research!
  • Decide to make your search for a solution larger than just your department’s needs. The best solutions are those that help your church benefit from the synergy of being a church-wide solution. With appropriate church leadership approval to spend time researching, meet with people in each department and ask them what features they like and depend on in your current ChMS, what they don’t like about the current ChMS, and what additional features they’d like in a new ChMS.
  • Create a needs list of features based on your time with your church team members and run it by appropriate church leadership to ensure that it’s accurate. Then put it in a format you can send to prospective ChMS providers so they can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on each of the needs you have listed.
  • Look at published ChMS lists and send the needs list to each ChMS provider– including your current ChMS provider.
  • Invite the three highest-scoring ChMS providers to come to your church and do a demonstration of their software to your entire team. Make certain the providers know the length of time they and the other two will each have (I recommend three hours, and anticipate that each will say they’d like more than that) and what items you’d like them to talk about and demonstrate. This will help your staff compare them more objectively.
  • Debrief your team after each demo, asking the same questions. At the end of the debrief ask each to score the provider from one to five.
  • After the third debrief take a short break. Then come back and let the team talk through which ChMS they believe will best meet the needs of your church. Make certain each person contributes to the discussion, and then conclude with a vote.

That process may seem like a lot of work, and it is! That’s the due diligence that most are not willing to do! But we’ve done that for many Christian churches and ministries, and the results are surprisingly good in many respects:

  • Higher team buy-in,
  • Greater momentum into and through the change process, and
  • Choosing a solution that is a best fit and will stay in place longer.
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