By Cynthia Terpstra
Churches have several choices today when it comes to content management systems (CMS). They can choose a low cost CMS for putting together a basic website with a few simple pages. They can use a CMS with add-on features such as event management. Or they can use a robust CMS integrated with church management software, check-in solutions and mobile apps. Which CMS is right for your church?
Choosing the right CMS for your church website depends on several factors.
Your website is your most valuable online asset. It speaks volumes about your church. It might say, “We’re growing, we’re relevant, and we care about the impression we make.” Or it can say, “We’re small but we still take the time to look professional.” Hopefully it doesn’t say, “We didn’t give our website much thought, it is managed by volunteers with no experience, and it shows.” Sadly, an astonishing number of churches fall into the last category.
Define Your Website’s Purpose
Before you decide which CMS is right for your church, clearly define the purpose of your website. There are four basic purposes:
1. Be found
2. Provide information
3. Generate interest
4. Create a virtual church experience
You need to have a clear purpose in mind for your website to understand which CMS is best suited to your needs.
Decide Who Will Manage Your Website
This is one of the most important decisions you can make. Your website is a marketing tool. It should be managed by an experienced digital marketing professional. Just because nearly anyone can put together a basic website using free templates available from hosting companies doesn’t mean they will put together a good website.
What experience does the person have with websites? They might be excellent at writing content but have no real website administration experience. Conversely, they might be good with the technical aspects of putting together a website but have no experience with creating content that engages visitors and gets found by search engines. Again, just because someone is capable of putting together a basic website, doesn’t mean it is a good website.
Choose a Content Management System
Let’s look at the two most popular choices for churches: church website CMS and WordPress
A church website CMS is designed specifically to address the unique requirements of churches. A good church website CMS should be fairly simple to use, include standard templates or allow for custom design, integrate with your church database, and include features such as a media center and an event management tool.
WordPress is an open source blogging and website CMS. It is based on themes and a plug-in software architecture. Numerous designers sell templates for WordPress sites; these templates vary greatly in terms of functionality and ease of use.
There are a lot of factors to consider when comparing a church website CMS to WordPress:
Whereas most church website CMS providers host the website on their servers, organizations using the WordPress CMS need to select a hosting company for their website. Important hosting features to compare include routine site backup, security, data storage, number of emails, number of domains and subdomains included, and support. Prices vary from provider to provider so it is important to compare apples-to-apples and research the reputation of the hosting company.
Websites are constantly under attack from groups that want to inject the site with malware, steal personal information, or both. Sadly, too many people fail to take security seriously. Besides the basics of having secure passwords, website administrators need to understand security vulnerabilities of their site and how to safeguard against them. You need to protect your data AND your members’ data. One of the reasons websites based on open source CMS such as WordPress are under constant attack is because users fail to implement proper security measures. Of course, even experienced site administrators can become victims of aggressive hackers, but you need to think very carefully about who will set up your website and manage it.
3. Software Updates
Who is responsible for software updates? Security threats often necessitate software updates. New features or changes to existing ones also require software updates. A church website CMS provider is responsible for updates. If you use an open source CMS, you have to track updates and decide whether or not to implement them. Because many of the templates and plugins used for open source sites are free or low cost, you are depending on the programmer to update the template or plugin each time the CMS updates. You have no way of knowing how a software update will affect the template or other plugins you are using. This is where reputation and experience really matter. Sometimes an update is seamless. Sometimes your site stops working until you figure out which software update caused the issue. How experienced are you at managing software updates?
4. Content and Features
What do you want your website to include? You need to look at this from two perspectives: what your site visitors will see and what you will have access to in the CMS (in other words, what’s under the hood?).
Typical church website features for site visitors include an events calendar, media library, online giving, staff blogs, links to the church’s social media sites, and the ability for visitors to share content from the church’s website to their personal social networks.
The ease of setting all this up on the backend depends on the CMS, the template and plugins used if open-source CMS, and the experience of the website administrator. A good church website CMS also allows for integration with church management software, mass communications, check-in solutions and mobile apps.
5. Training and Support
Training for setting up your church website comes in several forms: personal training, documentation, and video libraries. What type of initial and ongoing training do you and your staff require? If personal training with Q&A sessions are required for your church, than make sure that option is available when purchasing a church website CMS. An open source CMS such as WordPress does not include personal training.
What type of support is available for resolving issues? How quickly can you expect an answer? Who is providing the support – the CMS provider, the hosting company, the template provider, or the plugin provider? Who has ownership for resolving the issue?
Need help deciding which church website CMS is right for your church? Get a free trial.
Image Credits: istockphoto
By Emily Kantner
As a church, it’s important to stay connected with your community—from visitors to volunteers to the entire church body. Email is a great tool! But you should operate with some best practices in mind so you don’t make these email marketing mistakes.
1. Hoard email addresses
If people include their email addresses on a sign-up form for an event you’re hosting, that doesn’t mean they’re giving you the license to add them to your regular email list for eternity. They are signing up for a picnic, not subscribing to your newsletter. If you take any email addresses you can find and send those people hundreds of emails, you’re just asking for them to be reported as spam.
Create separate email lists. If someone voluntarily gives you his email address, he probably anticipates getting an email from you at some point. But not every single email you send out. If you need to contact small group leaders, send the email to them only. Keep your lists separate so you aren’t flooding inboxes with irrelevant messages.
2. Use terrible subject lines
Subject lines containing these types of words will almost guarantee your email goes directly into the spam folder, never to return. And even if your email somehow finagles its way into someone’s inbox, there’s a good chance it still won’t get opened. They sound generic, like they came directly from a used car salesman’s manual. You want those recipients to open the email and find all that great content inside! A great guideline to go by is, “the best subject lines tell what’s inside and the worst sell what’s inside.” Keep it short, sweet, and honest.
3. Talk like a robot
If your email flows off the tongue as easy as Exodus 29, consider how this might discourage your audience from attending your conference or visiting your church. People want to hear from other people. You don’t have to impress people with your vast vocabulary. Stay conversational. But that doesn’t mean you want to use junior high text lingo like “how r u 2day?” You still want to maintain some level of professionalism while sounding personable. Find the right balance.
4. Make it impossible to unsubscribe
Another sure fire way to get reported for sending spam is not giving people the option to opt out of future emails. Sure, you don’t want them to unsubscribe, but you have to make that option available or their only alternative will be to flag your emails as spam. It can be placed discreetly at the bottom of the email—where they are typically located. Make it easy to find, but if you are following other best practices, hopefully they won’t need to use it. Most ChMS solutions also provide these services in their communication tools so you don’t even have to think about adding it to your emails.
5. Leave people wondering the purpose of your email
Never send an email just because you haven’t sent one out in a while. If you don’t have anything important to say, don’t say anything at all. That being said, you do want to maintain some kind of regular communication schedule. Odds are you will have an update or announcement important enough to shoot into your subscribers’ inboxes from time to time. Be sure that anytime you send an email you include some useful content that gives value to the readers. And make what you would like them to do with that information very clear through strong calls-to-action. If people feel like they truly gain something from your emails, they will remain loyal subscribers.
Email, when used properly, can be an effective tool to communicate with your community and “market” your church. What are some rules you go by when creating an email for your church?
Check out these other great resources for more insight when developing your church’s email marketing plan:
7 Email Marketing Best Practices for Small Businesses and Organizations
10 Ways to Avoid Common Email Marketing Mistakes in 2014
Image Credits: istockphoto
By Cynthia Terpstra
Have you ever panicked just before it’s time to get together with your small group to discuss the current sermon series? You went to church, you tried your best to stay awake, but you just couldn’t keep up with all the twists and turns of the message.
Anyone who has experienced the frustration of trying to make sense of a disjointed sermon that rambles from the Old Testament to current events to the Middle Ages to the Oscars will appreciate what I am talking about. Especially those who stayed up late Saturday night to watch the Midwest Regional of the NCAA tournament (was that painful or what?). Thankfully, Elexio has provided a great solution: the Sermon SparkNotes Mobile App.
Perfect for anyone who needs a little help deciphering the latest sermon – and who hasn’t needed a little help from time to time – Elexio’s Sermon SparkNotes App records the sermon and breaks it down into talking points you can remember.
- The topic - Let’s face it, sometimes even that is hard to figure out.
- Biblical References (who can keep up?).
- “The Top 5/7/10/20 Things God Wants You to Do” after hearing the message.
- The pastor’s favorite sports team.
You are probably asking yourself, can an app really do this? Yes, it can!
As someone who participated in the Beta trial, I was able to secretly test out the app for 3 weeks. The results were impressive. My small group had no idea I was cheating, er, getting help.
“Please tell us how you kept up with the message this week!” they begged. “I couldn’t figure out WHAT he was talking about – how did you?” “Pastor Paul said there were ‘5 Things God Wants You to Remember’ but I only counted 3.”
Results, however, were slightly suspect at times. I have to say, the App seemed to overreach a bit and came up with a few study guide extras that made my group a little suspicious.
“I don’t get how Pastor Paul’s reference to his favorite flavor of ice cream was a metaphor for Moses’ mad dash to Midian,” said my group leader Mark. And, “How did you come up with a list of 20 literary devices found in this week’s message?”
Look, the App isn’t perfect but it sure beats showing up at small group meetings unprepared. The App is also a great crutch for people who’ve always wanted to lead a small group but let their fear of not “getting” the sermon hold them back.
Some of my favorite features of the App include:
- Full translation of the sermon into Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek (for the over achievers among us).
- Optimized Offerings – let the pastor know you appreciated the shorter sermon this week with a little extra giving via the in-app contributions feature.
- Optional homework completion – this is a paid feature but SO worth it. Never show up to your small group meeting again without your homework done.
- Lists of the pastor’s favorite Bible passages, authors, historical events, sports teams, etc.
- Sample summaries to help you boil down the sermon into 10 words or less.
Interested in impressing your small group with Elexio’s Sermon SparkNotes App? It's free. Download it now.
By Cynthia Terpstra
Volunteers are a precious commodity for most non-profit organizations, including churches. Anyone who has spent significant time volunteering knows the stats: roughly 20% volunteer (do all the work) while the other 80% do not. We begin to feel like Martha, complaining about our work load while Mary gets to enjoy listening to the message.
How do we find the balance between Martha and Mary? How do we encourage more people to volunteer, not only at the busiest of times like Easter but throughout the year?
10 Ways to Encourage Volunteers
1. Encourage and thank your existing volunteers.
The fastest way to lose the 20% who faithfully volunteer is to make them feel underappreciated. Send a hand-written thank you note. Host a volunteer appreciation breakfast, lunch or brunch. Thank with a gift certificate for above and beyond service or hold a monthly drawing to select a winner for the month. It is important to do something to make your volunteers feel appreciated. Encourage them by taking the time to recognize their contributions.
How often do you ask for volunteers? Do you ask everyone at once during worship or do you assign lead volunteers to create a more personal invitation? Do you encourage small groups to sign up to volunteer? Sometimes getting more volunteers is simply a matter of asking. Those of us with a Martha complex know deep down that often we take on too much by choice. To encourage discipleship we must be willing to share the responsibility.
3. Tell them your needs
How often do you keep your membership up-to-date on volunteer needs? Are you updating your website, mobile app or self-service kiosk regularly with a list of current volunteer requests? Let your members and visitors know how they can access this information and make it readily available to them.
4. Provide the right opportunity
Volunteers enjoy using their unique gifts to serve. Whether it is a work skill (e.g. management/organization), a recreational talent they enjoy (e.g., photography), or something they simply have an aptitude for (e.g., carpentry), provide volunteers with opportunities best suited to their gifts and their personalities. Some people like serving out front and have the perfect personality for greeting people and making them feel welcome. Others prefer to work behind the scenes and prefer to be assigned specific tasks. Whether you need to tap into someone’s artistic ability to design a new worship set or simply need people to set up tables and chairs, provide a variety of opportunities that volunteers can choose from and enjoy.
5. Let them grow
Give volunteers an opportunity to try something new and learn from others. Maybe someone has always wanted to help build a worship set but was too afraid to try. If this is their first time helping, ease them into it by assigning a partner or mentor who can guide them or help them develop their talents.
6. Make it Meaningful
A Barna Group study found that “the most positive church experiences among Millennials are relational.” Of Millennials who remain active in church, 59% had a close adult friend at church and 28% had an adult mentor at church who was not a pastor or staff member. Through these relationships, 46% learned that Christians can have a positive outcome on society. Developing a volunteer mentor program can have a positive outcome on deepening faith for the next generation.
Millennials also want to contribute. The same study found that 33% of Millennials who are active in church found a cause or issue at church that motivated them. Do you know what motivates Millennials or anyone at your church to volunteer?
7. Give them an opportunity to provide input
What do members and visitors feel most passionate about? Perhaps they’ve identified a need you haven’t. Give them an opportunity to provide feedback. There are numerous ways to do this: via social media, a comment form on your website, through small group leaders, or during worship (have fun asking people to text their thoughts and share as part of a sermon message on the topic). Ask and respond by providing opportunities for people to get involved.
8. Track participation
Intentions and reality are two different things. Do you know which volunteer opportunities resulted in the most participation? Did the time of year make a difference? Which age groups participated? Did some events attract entire groups – e.g., families, small groups, boy/girl scouts, etc. – to participate? Track and evaluate participation then adapt your volunteer opportunities accordingly.
9. Plan ahead
Yes, too many of us are overscheduled and overcommitted. Accept it and work with it. Plan ahead. Ministry leaders need to work together to plan volunteer opportunities tied to its mission. They need to coordinate calendars to understand church-wide needs for the year. Avoid scheduling major events close together. Both staff and volunteers suffer from burnout when asked to do too much in too short of a period. Be considerate of their time and give them sufficient time to coordinate and balance their work schedule, family time and volunteer service.
10. Give them a break
We all deserve time off. A shallow volunteer pool is not sufficient reason to exhaust your most faithful and dedicated helpers. Reward them by insisting that they schedule time off from their regular volunteer schedule. Resist the temptation to ask them to participate in every big event at the church. Encourage them to each enlist one new person to serve.
Developing discipleship through volunteers is critical to church growth. Take a step back and consider if a fresh approach to attracting and retaining volunteers is required.
Need help connecting with volunteers? Contact us.
By Cynthia Terpstra
Americans are now using smartphones and tablets more than PCs to access the Internet. During January 2014, mobile devices accounted for 55% of Internet usage in the United States and 12% of America’s media consumption. By the end of 2014 it is expected that more than 79% of Internet users worldwide will access the Web from a mobile device.
Apps comprised nearly half (47%) of all Internet traffic during January 2014 and mobile browsers accounted for 8% of traffic. In contrast to mobile websites, which are accessed within a browser, mobile apps are downloaded and installed on smartphones and tablets. They can access information from the Internet or they enable a user to download content so that it can be retrieved without an Internet connection. Mobile apps are preferred over mobile websites by an overwhelming majority of users (85%) because they are perceived as:
So what does faith in a mobile world look like?
Need help identifying mobile solutions? Elexio has an integrated suite of solutions that will help your staff be more efficient, connect with your community, grow, and relate to a constantly changing demographic? Contact us!
By Cynthia Terpstra
Lent is here. That means Easter is fast approaching and church staff is putting in overtime to prepare for this most holy of seasons. While it is easy to fall back on traditions and get caught up in busyness, it is important to take a step back and ask, “Are we making an impact? Are Easter worshipers engaged after Easter?”
Easter traditionally brings more people to church than any other time of year. However, even this most sacred of Christian celebrations is facing lackluster attendance. According to a poll conducted by LifeWay Research, 41% of Americans planned to attend an Easter worship service last year, almost the same as the number who planned not to attend (39%). Another 20% were unsure. Among Christians, only slightly more than half planned to attend. Protestant (58%) and Catholics (57%) were most likely to attend while only 45% of nondenominational Christians planned to attend.
Attendance in General
A recent survey by Pew Research Center found that 37% of Americans reported that they attend worship services every week, and only 33% reported attending monthly or yearly. Among religiously affiliated Americans who report that they only attend worship services a few times a year, the following reasons for not attending more often were cited:
- Personal priorities (24%), including 16% who say they are too busy.
- Practical difficulties – work conflicts, health issues, or transportation difficulties (24%).
- Religious or church related issue – disagreement with the beliefs of the religion or church leaders (37%).
- No particular reason (9%).
Getting Them to Return
So, how do we engage more Christians before, during and After Easter? In an interview with TheBlaze, Thom Schultz, co-author of Why Nobody Wants to Go To Church Anymore, suggested 4 four possible solutions to the church attendance problem:
- Radical Hospitality – “embracing a church paradigm of full acceptance.”
- Fearless Conversation – sharing of divergent viewpoints.
- Genuine Humility – true concern for addressing the issues, without being a hypocrite.
- Divine Anticipation – a focus on God’s providence in today’s world.
According to ChurchLeaders.com, the majority of de-churched people (62%) are open to the idea of returning. Getting them to return may be as simple as inviting them. In fact, 41% said they would return if an acquaintance or friend invited them. Younger adults, ages 18-35, are even more likely to return if invited (60%).
Of course, the way we invite people may vary greatly. Some people are perfectly comfortable with simply inviting their friends and acquaintances to worship. Others feel more at ease inviting friends and family to celebrate a religious holiday or attend a ministry event (e.g., youth activities). Small groups are also a great way to establish a personal connection and give people who would consider coming back to church a chance to openly explore issues and share different viewpoints.
The key is to discover what matters most to the people you would like to invite and engage them on their terms. Be patient. It is not a sprint to the finish line. Give them a chance to re-engage in a way they feel comfortable with. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the de-churched who decide to return prefer to remain anonymous until their second visit. Provide a way for them to access information about small groups or learn about how various ministries serve the community without making them feel like everyone is going to pounce on them the minute they enter the worship center. A Self-Service Kiosk is a great way to let them learn more on their own while at church.
Open up to people and be authentic about your faith AND your life. Christianity is not about Christians, it is about Christ. It is about having an eternal relationship with God through Christ. Of those who left church and expressed dissatisfaction with the membership, 45% felt church members were judgmental and hypocritical. Demonstrate a little humility while extending the invitation to come to church. Listen to any objections they may have and show true concern for addressing the issues without attacking the messenger. After all, we refer to our faith walk, not our faith 400 meter dash.
Need help connecting with church attendees and finding new ways to engage those that grace your front step? Contact us.
Image Credits: iStockPhoto
By Cynthia Terpstra
Expectations of church staff in today’s digital world are high. We expect church staff to be disciples, content/program producers for their ministry, and able to keep up with millennials when it comes to technology and social media. We give them access to all kinds of tools but rarely take the time to teach them how to use these tools properly to get the most out of our investment.
How can you help your church staff overcome the technology curve?
- Demonstrate Benefit
To get church staff to embrace new technology you have to first demonstrate to them that there is clear benefit to using the new technology. Are you helping them work more efficiently? Are you eliminating frustrations caused by current systems? Are you giving them a tool that will help them connect better with their individual ministry?
- Purchase with Purpose
Technology should align with ministry goals and solve a specific need. Technology for the sake of technology is not a valid purchase decision. Identify how the technology will help your staff be more efficient, connect and engage with your community, grow, and relate to a constantly changing demographic.
- Match the Right Experience to the Right Job
Hiring a millennial-aged youth pastor might make him/her appear more relevant to teenagers but it doesn’t mean he/she automatically understands technology. For example, there is a huge difference between an effective website versus one that is poorly implemented. Don’t expect your youth pastor to be a web designer, communications specialist, and an effective social media marketer. Match the right experience to the right job. Invest in a good website designed specifically for ministry by experts and then train appropriate staff how to use it. A good church website can be a tremendous asset to helping you connect with your community and grow your ministry IF it is properly implemented and maintained.
- Implement with a Plan
Once you have made a purchase decision, decide on an implementation plan that includes training. What are your time frames? Does the implementation require conversion from the old system to the new? What support is available to make the transition a smooth one? Is there an optimal time to launch the new technology or specific times to avoid? Take into account both the church schedule and give your staff adequate time to plan their schedules to implement and train. Nobody enjoys being set up for failure because they weren’t given sufficient time to plan and learn.
Who will use the new technology? Even if only one ministry leader is planning to use it, include others in the training so they can step in if the lead person is not available. While one person might be comfortable with a quick scan of the user manual, another person might require more direct teaching. Identify who will participate in training and then decide which training methods work best for your users: self-directed documentation, live training sessions, videos, or all of the above.
- Equip for success
Give church staff training opportunities. In a recent study, “70% of organizations cite ‘capability gaps’ as one of their top five challenges.” Churches are no different. Take time to meet with staff to have an honest discussion about their comfort level with relevant technology and identify opportunities for training, both formal and informal.
Training doesn’t have to be expensive. Give staff time and opportunity to share knowledge. Take advantage of free training. There is a wealth of information available for free on the Internet. Give staff time away from daily tasks to take advantage of it. Do your vendors offer training? For example, does your church software provider offer ongoing support? Take advantage of it! Allocate the proper resources – time and money – to help your staff become more comfortable with technology.
Need help identifying church management technology that will help your staff be more efficient, connect and engage with your community, grow, and relate to a constantly changing demographic? Contact us!
By Cynthia Terpstra
Church management has evolved significantly over the past several years. Changing demographics, use of technology, multi-site campuses, and social media all play a role in shaping the way churches connect and interact with their members and visitors. Staff is challenged to stay focused on the mission of the church while constantly adapting to change and managing with fewer resources.
How can church staff stay engaged with members and visitors and work more efficiently? Here’s a look at ways churches can simplify church management:
- Maintain a USEFUL database
One of the best ways to simplify church management is to start with your database. Your church database is only as good as the information you put into it. Take the time to assess the information stored, identify areas for improvement (cleanup!), and establish clear guidelines for how information is collected, entered, and used. All too often databases are poorly maintained and become a roadblock to ongoing communication. If you have recently merged databases, take the time to purge duplicate records. If you are converting from one database to another, take the time to clean up the database both before and after the conversion. Ask your software provider if they offer support in migrating your old database to the new system.
Next, identify the information you are going to collect and manage going forward. Think about how you are going to use the information to grow fellowship, serve unique ministries, and identify opportunities to grow. Do you know which small groups your members participate in? What about their passions and spiritual gifts and how they relate to volunteer opportunities? Are there any special event requests from a member that need to be managed (e.g., wedding)? How about tracking of contributions to thank faithful givers?
- Give Individuals the opportunity to update their own records
Save time. Decentralize your people record management by empowering individuals with secure web-based access via an online portal to your website or mobile apps. These tools provide a way for attendees to access/update personal information. Church attendees can also update information with a Self-Service Kiosk. Remind them while they are at church and give them the opportunity to update their information while they are thinking about it.
- Use Your Database to Target Communications
Church databases should be more than a place to store information. Use data in combination with mass communication tools to assist with your discipleship process. Send targeted email and text messages, post engaging content to your social networks, and send US mail only to those that prefer this communication method. Targeted communication is far more efficient and cost effective than sending out information that is not matched to interests, duplicated to multiple household members, or not sent via a recipient’s preferred communication channel (e.g., email or social networks).
- Set up Automation
Are you regularly communicating with members and visitors? Identify opportunities to connect and engage with your audience and create email templates matched to these opportunities. For example, create templates that thank first-time visitors, follow-up with people before and after an event, wish members a happy birthday or anniversary, remind people of small group opportunities, and thank them for their contributions.
- Engage Volunteers Wisely
First, a word of caution. Volunteers play a vital role in ministry. They help with discipleship and extend limited church resources. Volunteers deserve our ongoing appreciation. They also need to be matched to the right opportunity and engaged at the right time or they will suffer burnout and withdraw from volunteering altogether.
Church staff needs to work together to plan opportunities for volunteers that are tied to its mission and then coordinate calendars to understand church-wide volunteer needs for the year. All too often the same small group of people is asked to volunteer for every need the church has. Plan out volunteer needs across all ministries and then use personal relationships and your church database to identify opportunities specifically tied to interests and spiritual gifts. People are more likely to volunteer for things they feel passionate about or feel confident they can add value to. Set up .your automated email system to make sure volunteers are thanked regularly for their service.
- Save Time with Online Giving
Reduce administrative costs with online giving. Use web-based tools to efficiently collect contributions and extract data to make decisions based on trends. With online giving and access tools, the church office no longer has to send statements and giving becomes as easy as using the church mobile app or self-service kiosk.
- Use an Event Management Tool
Simplify event management with a system that helps you plan resources and handles registration, payment, and promotion. An effective event management tool should integrate with your church database to streamline marketing of the event and identify and request volunteers. It should also allow you to save registration information for follow-up & future event participation.
- Simplify Check-In
A secure church check-in system simplifies children’s ministry and event attendance. It can help manage registration and ticketing, print name tags and security receipts for parents dropping their kids off at the nursery or kids’ ministry, and maintain a room registry that is easily retrieved for room checks. It can also be used to retain data for future events. Simplify church management while keeping attendees happy with shorter lines and quicker, more secure processes.
Looking for ways to simplify church management? Contact us.
By Cynthia Terpstra
Tax season is here. By now most churches have sent contribution statements, either by email or U.S. mail, or have made the statements available online to registered users of their online giving system. Unfortunately, these statements are simply viewed too often as an accounting tool and not as an opportunity to encourage faithful and consistent giving by connecting with church members.
How can churches use contribution statements to increase online giving? First, let’s take a look at the advantages of online giving, both for members and for churches.
For church attendees, online giving is:
- Convenient. For regular giving (tithing), the giver can simply register through the church’s online giving system and designate the amount to be given and the fund to receive the donation (e.g., 40% to missions, 30% to meet special needs in the community, and 30% to operations). Adjustments can be made should the contributor’s ability to give changes or a special need for giving is identified (special one-time contribution).
- Easy to track. An online giving system makes it simple for contributors to download their own statement for tax purposes as often as they need to. (some of us are good at misplacing things!)
- Potentially rewarding. While not all churches are comfortable with accepting credit cards – churches encourage financial responsibility – the reality is donors often enjoy the perks credit cards offer such as money back and travel miles. Also, with all the recent attention on security breaches, many users feel credit cards are a safer alternative to linking bank accounts or sending out checks with account information on them.
For churches, online giving is:
- Cost Effective. Online giving reduces church administrative costs.
- More consistent, more reliable. Variations due to seasonal fluctuations in church attendance are typically reduced with online giving.
- A way to engage with Millennials. Recent Barna research shows that “Millennials are giving, yet technology is significantly changing how they give. In fact, Millennial generosity, for the most part, has gone paperless.” Online giving is also the most reliable; online givers are the least likely to stop giving. It is important that your website include an online giving system compatible with mobile devices.
The Role of Contribution Statements in Online Giving
Contributions are more than an accounting tool. They are a way to touch base with your community and engage with them in a meaningful way. If the only staff people discussing contribution statements are your accounting department, then it is time to rethink that strategy. Your director of communications and lead pastors need to be part of the discussion. Why? The director of communications is in charge of marketing and public relations. Every single piece of communication to your congregation is an opportunity to connect and engage with your audience. Your lead pastors should be involved because they have a more personal connection with their individual ministries; they are more likely to understand the unique dynamics of each group they minister to.
5 Ways to Increase Giving With Contribution Reporting
- Identify Key Groups. Church software that features a robust database integrated with an online giving system enables you to set up groups by ministry or unique demographics that you define. Do you know who your regular online contributors are? How often are you sending them a contribution statement? Are you keeping them informed of your church’s financial health and identifying needs and missions?
- Identify special giving opportunities. Do you know if a particular fund is especially important to an individual? Perhaps someone feels passionate about giving to the deacon’s fund to help serve people in the community who are in need. Create an email distribution list matched to contribution funds. Send a quarterly statement to each group letting them know the financial status of the fund and the impact the fund has made.
- Identify contributors who do not wish to use online giving. Some donors do not feel comfortable using an online system. Use demographic information contained in your church database, combined with your staff’s personal knowledge, to identify those individuals and develop a printed communications strategy for these donors. Send printed quarterly statements to this group only, addressing the same items listed in steps 1 and 2. However, make an effort to understand WHY someone does not wish to use the online system. Is it because of their age and lack of comfort with technology? Perhaps they want to use the online system but just need someone to walk them through it. Maybe they never considered it; they are just giving the way they have always given. Don’t automatically rule out this group of donors without a little bit of investigation.
- Identify contributors who may be convinced to “go green.” Again, use demographic information contained in your church database, combined with your staff’s personal knowledge, to identify ways to reduce administrative, printing and mailing costs. People respect organizations that spend money wisely, reduce unnecessary costs, and are environmentally conscious. Your church constituency is no exception. Remind people that you offer a paperless way to give and to receive contribution reports for filing taxes.
- Thank! Every contribution report to every donor should include a statement of thanks. Thank them for their generosity and show them you appreciate them.
Interested in learning more about church software? Contact us.
Image Credits: AWeber
by Mark Kitts
For thirteen years I was a founding pastor and then elder in a church that went from 0 to 2,500 in average attendance. I also started a church software company with no funding and grew it to the point of serving nearly 1,000 churches. As someone who has worked on both sides of the fence, one of the frequently asked questions that has always intrigued me is, "Why does church management software cost so much?"
Great question! Here are a few reasons:
1. Simple economics - We are used to paying low prices for software because MILLIONS of customers buy it and share the burden of development costs. So if a mobile phone app costs $1, and 10 million people buy it, the software company grosses $10 million! This is why most software we buy is less than $99 or even "free"! Facebook gives away their app for "free" because they sell advertising based on my personal data and that of a billion(!) other users.
But in the US, there aren't billions of potential buyers of church software. There aren't even millions. There aren't even hundreds of thousands. Of the roughly 300,000 churches in America, only a fraction of them currently buy church software. This means the cost of producing the software is spread out over relatively few customers.
2. Production Costs - It takes real people a lot of time to create great software. Shocking, right? We’d all love for Artificial Intelligence to take over the job of managing software development. Alas, it doesn’t; it takes a lot of clever, highly skilled people to create a great church software company. Not only do you need great programmers, but you need knowledgeable support people, sales people with a heart for ministry, and a wise administrative team (Leadership, Office Support, IT, Finance, HR).
Just stop for a minute and count up all those people and what it costs to pay them a fair wage.
And that's just the people costs! Just like your church, software companies also have to pay rent, buy computers, maintain the supply of coffee and Twizzlers, pay for utilities, pay for health insurance, and so much more…
3. Deep, Feature-Rich Functionality - Most other commercial software is very limited in scope. For example, Microsoft Word or Apple's Pages do one thing—they create documents. That's it. Modern church management software does contact management, mass emailing and texting, event management, contribution management, attendance tracking, reporting, check-in, all bundled with a mobile app and web portal, and so much more! All of this functionality takes a significant investment to create and maintain.
I have a friend who’s a lead programmer at Microsoft. In our discussion, I was telling him about all the stuff our software does and his response was eye-opening. "Wow, that's really impressive.” In shock, he said, "We have 2,000 developers working on just one application that does far less than what you just described."
Hopefully this presents a glimpse into the core reasons that the cost of church software is more than most mainstream business application software. You should also know that most of the leaders in the church software industry are Kingdom-minded, sacrificial servants of Jesus, just like you. At least at our company, our mission is to provide the most affordable pricing for the churches we serve while maintaining a healthy enough profit to allow us to continue to grow so that we can do even more to expand the cause of Christ. We are driven by our purpose and what God has called us to do.
As a founding pastor and elder in a rapidly growing church, I faced the same financial challenge every pastor faces. It seems as though there is never enough time, money, staff, and resources. However, you will always face the "resource challenge" if you really want your church to grow. So the question is, "With our limited resources, where do we want to invest to get the most impact?"
We have always chosen to invest in technology tools because they bring exponential value. I am far more efficient and effective when I can instantly communicate broadly (mass emailing and texting) and do the work of two admin staff people by using automated tools for routine tasks like event sign-ups, online giving, and automated report distribution. Most people don't hesitate to pay hundreds of dollars a month for a family plan for their mobile phones. (Yes, I've got three teens and a wife and we all have smart phones. Ouch.) So why wouldn't you pay that (or even less) for software that benefits your entire church?
Remember: If you are putting great church management software to effective use, what you pay is a fraction of the value you receive for your ministry.
Mark Kitts is a principal architect of church software provider, Elexio. He spends his time between developing software and studying ministry in the local church. He’s a coffee connoisseur and likes cake and pie. He’s tortured by his loyalty to the Dallas Cowboys. He was kicked out of multiple Sunday School classes as a preacher’s kid.