It’s still too early to be thinking about particular products and companies, but it is time to think about your environment, and especially your technical environment. If you have a big IT staff, that offers different opportunities than if you don’t have (or don’t want) an IT staff. That’s not to say one environment is better than the other – it’s a choice each church makes and that choice will weigh heavily into the ChMS decision.
Think of these questions from two perspectives: 1) what do we have today? and 2) what do we want to have in the future? Here’s maybe a very high level question – how much are you willing to change your staff and environment to fit a new ChMS need? There are plenty of choices without changing the rest of your environment, but there are some products that may be ruled out. Be sure you know your answer before you start looking at products; it will make your life a lot easier!
- Do you have an IT staff than can support a product, or do you need (or want) to select a product that doesn’t require any internal IT staff?
- Do you have a bias for “cloud” vs. locally hosted? Can you quantify that bias? Maybe more importantly can you explain the reason for any bias you have? Be sure you look honestly at the situations.
- Do you want both on-site and off-site access for staff? (Who wouldn't?!)
- Do you want lay-leaders to have access to the ChMS, or at least some features of it? Can you fully describe what you want them to be able to access? Is it view only, or should they be able to update the data?
- Do you want the contregation to have access to the ChMS? What features? What specficially do you want the congregation to do with that access?
- How do you want the ChMS to integrate with your website? (somewhat related to #5). How important is it to "skin" the ChMS to look like your website, and to be able to reskin it when your site changes?
- Can you describe in detail the kinds of reports you want to receive from the system? How dynamic are your reporting needs? Do you have someone on staff who understands the concept of report writing, and the tools to "build" reports? (An unfortunate reality -- there aren't any reporting tools that can read your mind and produce what you think you want)
- Do you anticipate wanting to extend the product with custom programming, and do you have the staff to do it? If you don’t’ have the staff, are you prepared to invest in those extensions through outside vendors? (Even without looking at products, you probably already have a great idea of how much you want to go outside the box)
- How much integration do you expect between the ChMS and your email system? Your address book system? Your staff calendars? (think “Exchange/Outlook integration,” but applies just as much to any other email-contact-calendaring system). What is the business purpose behind that integration? Is it really necessary or do you just think it is? If you haven't already thought through the Single Source of Truth concept, this would be a good time to consider it
- Can you quantify the balance point between “ease of use” and “powerful?” For example, if you can get 100% of your staff to use the product for maintaining basic contact info, are you willing to give up complex reports? Of course, we all want the product that is both easy and powerful. That doesn’t exist yet, so can you pick your point on the continuum between those two typically-opposite endpoints? Counter-argument: Easy and powerful aren't so much polar opposites as in the past. There has been a lot of progress toward providing both together. Still, think through the types of tasks you want ALL your staff to do regularly - what if some of those tasks aren't easy? Also keep in mind that some things are difficult, and that's just the way it is. (Gee, Rocket Science is hard!)
- What’s the IT adoption quotient of your congregation? Many ChMS solutions now rely on user defined interaction (i.e. logging on to update address changes, prayer requests, small group self management, etc). How is the congregation going to be engaged to encourage the greatest effectiveness with your ChMS solution. Does the congregation want this, is there perceived benefit for them? You have to determine what they will want by making it worthwhile. If you provide a good reason for them to login, they will. Many churches have failed to provide truly compelling content that motivates people to login
- Mobile integration. To what degree do your staff & congregation embrace mobile technology? Do they want ChMS functionality on smart phones? (does anybody ever say 'no, I don't want that?')
- Social media integration. Does seamless integration with Facebook, Twitter, etc. mean anything to your staff & congregation. No one wants another tool to update, but integration with their current media is sometime desired. Do you desire to build a church social network, or to integrate with existing social networking platforms such as facebook, or both?
Steve Caton (disclamer, works for CCB, but that's not the point of this post) had some similar Questions to Ask about a ChMS recently. Worth a read.
Thanks again to Joel Lingenfelter who contributed heavily to this post. (to put this nicely, and not overly embarrass myself, Joel was very good at completing some of my insufficient thoughts). Jerry Fultz also contributed some key segments.
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