As I alluded in the previous post, a huge consideration for me in choosing our next Church Management Systems (ChMS) is minimizing the risk of making a bad choice. The question of ChMS is the most strategically complex and the riskiest decision I’ve faced since becoming IT Director at Church of the Resurrection three years ago. Why do I say that? What makes this decision especially risky?
The risk is high mainly because Church Management Systems automate core processes. In business or church, whenever you automate core processes you set in motion a complex interplay between your operations and your technology. You adapt the automation system as best you can to fit your processes and you inevitably adapt some of your processes to fit the automation system. You train your staff on the system and over time they develop some deep expertise in its quirks. You purchase and integrate other technology with the system. Before long, the thought of changing the system becomes nearly unthinkable. Companies that build and sell systems that automate core processes understand this very well. Once they get a customer fully on board with the system, they know it will be very difficult for the customer to go another direction. The customer is “locked in” and they’re happy (that is, the vendor is happy).
Going forward from the initial implementation, a ChMS is likely to become a two-edged sword. While your operations become more efficient, operational innovation can be held back if the automation technology can’t keep pace. Curtis Harris of Fellowship Tech asked at the Roundtable if it wasn’t possible to have a set of best practices that the system would automate, benefiting all churches that use it. I don’t believe that’s 100% the case (although we all can and should be learning from each other). The best senior pastors are the innovators. They zig when everyone else is zagging. So there’s bound to be some mismatches between what any particular system does and my particular church’s unique way of doing ministry. I strongly suspect that will be the case for other churches too.
Right now Resurrection is too dependent on Shelby. If Shelby doesn’t keep pace with new technology and new ministry models, there’s not a lot we can do because we’re “locked in.” If we go out and find a new system that “stinks the least” and change to that system, we might be better off than we are now, but fundamentally it’s the same strategy. Our risk of Shelby not performing simply changes to a risk of the new vendor not performing. And ultimately, I don’t believe it will be possible for Shelby or any vendor to perfectly, exactly meet our needs.
So what could ChMS vendors do to help me with this conundrum and reduce the risk that I’ll make a bad choice? I’ll share some thoughts on that in my next post.