A good database system is really critical to the smooth running of any organisation, including a church. As we look at being more efficient as a church, I've been evaluating the various options currently available.
The key criteria include:
- A Hosted Third-Party Solution Online. I'm not looking for a system to integrate with our own website (e.g., via a WordPress plugin), a separate script to run on a webserver (for which there are a few good ones), or a local server based system. Basically, I don't want to support the infrastructure of a server, and I want it to be accessible from anywhere.
- Reasonably Priced. Some systems are extremely expensive. I'm not a fan of the systems that scale features based upon your size or who have pricing scales so complex that you need to apply for a quote.
- Database Management (i.e., the Parish Roll). The system should be able to replace the current roll and have import/export capabilities so that we can move in the future. Thus it should also allow us to easily produce letters, emails, and even SMS's to parishioners.
- Following-Up Newcomers. We want a system that helps us better follow-up new people in a personal way.
- Worship and Rostering. As we add more services of varying styles, rostering (and people's availability) is becoming more complex. Similarly as we work more in teams, it is necessary to have a system that can help us to work together and readily assess who is available. Further, we want to ensure that as many people as possible are able to use their gifts in the ministry of the church. Such a system should also help us in our CCLI reporting.
- Ministry Groups. We have various types of groups that meet (e.g., the Small Group programme) and want leaders to be able to communicate with members as easily as possible.
There's lots of other features that are usually part of these systems (e.g., 'checking-in/out' children, financial management, iPhone/Android applications etc), but the key ones for us are listed above. The systems that I narrowed down for consideration included:
- Planning Center Online (www.planningcenteronline.com)
- Church Community Builder (www.churchcommunitybuilder.com)
- Elvanto (www.elvanto.com)
- FellowshipOne (www.fellowshipone.com)
Immediately I ruled out Church Community Builder due to its significant complexity (and cost), and Planning Center Online because it is mainly focused on organising worship (not a church database). FellowshipOne has some extremely attractive features, however I was turned off by its cost and the way in which they scale features based upon the price you pay (i.e., they scale prices based upon both your size AND the 'edition' you select). They also require you to pay a setup fee and offer no free trial. This left me with one option - Elvanto - which I was warmly surprised to discover offered both a free trial and were Australian based (and QLD at that!).
Evaluating Elvanto - First Impressions
There's a lot to like about Elvanto, including:
- Free trial and Australian-based.
- Reasonable costing (for a church sized up to 99 people, it's only $30 per month AUD). They also don't scale features based upon how much you pay. Whatever your size, you get all the features. Simple.
- People Flows: This feature is extremely flexible and allows you to setup all sorts of processes to keep you on task. For example, when a newcomer is added, it can prompt you to get in contact (with a proforma that can be personalised each time) and then follow-up. You can really create a flow for almost any scenario.
- Departments: I'm not sure about the name of this area - but basically it helps you organise people in various areas of ministry. It really is extraordinarily flexible and looks to be amazing in helping enable people to participate more. It is fantastic when it comes to rostering.
- Groups: This feature allows you to group people for specific purposes: for example, you can setup all your small groups with custom roles (e.g., Leaders, Assistants, Members). You can then do a search (and save the search) so that you could easily contact everyone, or specific segments (e.g., just Small Group Leaders, or Small Group Members who have joined in the last 6 months).
- Messaging: When sending to a group or individuals, you can choose from email (with the ability to save templates), letter (for printing), or even SMS.
Overall, my first impressions are that I like this product. I think it really has the potential to help us in ministry - particularly in the management of our roll, but also in the planning of worship. It ticks all the boxes for us in regards to features - but, I do wish it had a native iPhone Application (and Android), although the mobile version of the site is excellent (including a 'live' feature for running sheets during worship that even allows for the sending of messages between devices). I would also love to see an API that would allow linking with services like MailChimp that we use to send our weekly news update (automatically, from the RSS of our blog feed) and weekly Bible reading plan (also driven from an RSS feed on our website). It seems to be actively developed however, so I'm sure more good things are yet to come.
As I get to evaluate it more, I'll share some further reflections later.