After a long day of sharing at the IT Roundtable about everything from WiFi to training and volunteers, we took a break around 4:30 pm and began a lot of conversations in groups of 2 to 5 people. The reps from Shelby, ACS, and Fellowship Tech joined in those conversations. That went on for a couple of hours until the long-awaited Church Management System (ChMS) discussion began. We were just warming up when the pizza arrived courtesy of Shelby and suddenly food seemed more important than ChMS (imagine that!). After pizza we toured the facility and had more conversation in small groups. I think I was one of the last to leave at 10:00 pm. So we started the conversation (or more accurately we continued the conversation that has already begun in the blogosphere and on Tony’s Google group), but we didn’t finish it. Reflecting on that, I realized we will never finish it. So here is another installment in the conversation …
To open the discussion I put up the question: “What do we need the system to do?” This is the usual starting place because we typically think system selection is mostly a matter of determining which system’s features have the best match with our needs. Everyone around the table, with the notable exception of Terry Chapman, agreed with my assertion that no available system perfectly meets our needs today. (Terry is the CIO at Fellowship Church, so Fellowship One is a hand-in-glove fit for them.) John Dolan then rephrased my question as: “Which system stinks the least?” And Tony Dye focused in on the “we” in my original question. “Who is ‘we’?” he asked.
Exactly. Depending on who “we” are, a given system might meet our needs. But unless we built it ourselves, as Fellowship Church did, we’re probably stuck forever with the question, “Which system stinks the least?” (And by the way, Terry said he doesn’t recommend building your own ChMS.) So we start with the assumption that, at a high level, the first issue is “build it or buy it?” And most of us get to “buy it” pretty quickly, perhaps without even consciously considering “build it,” because that option is simply not feasible for most of us.
I then wondered out loud whether “What do we need the system to do?” is the right question with which to begin. I would like to ask what I think is a pre-requisite question. In fact, my question challenges the assumption that our top-level options are build it or buy it. My question challenges the assumption that we have to choose a commercial or open source system and run with it. My question is, “What kind of structure do we need in the ChMS market?” Or, “What kind of business model would optimize the relationships among churches and ChMS suppliers?” Or, “Why should I have to choose whether to run Shelby, ACS, or Fellowship exclusive of the others?” Either/or choices might be our only choices today, but can we imagine a marketplace in which both/and is a possibility? That would radically alter the risk calculation and make my job as IT Director much easier. What technical and non-technical principles would need to be in place for such a world to come into existence?
Ruminate on that a bit while I compose my next post. And feel free to comment. 😉