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The Ultimate Church Membership Database Software [Updated]

Elvanto - Best Web-based Church Management Software

doesn’t exist. Or at least I didn’t think it did, until I discovered Elvanto. I’m updating this post. You can read about the dilema I was in, and then below, why Elvanto is my new favorite solution…

There are plenty of choices. Their ads run in major magazines and in the sidebars of popular blogs, but the solution I’m looking for can’t be found, and I think I know a few reasons why this is so.

We’re currently trying to use one of the most popular systems. It is robust with capabilities, but it doesn’t speak my human language. To get information, I have to mine it and export reports. I can’t just “browse” stuff. It, like most of its competitors, was built by extremely smart people who speak the languages of code, databases, and systems, but sometimes struggle with the language of people. It takes more time to manage the system than to actually use it to reach into a person’s life. I know one church of about 500 who has a staff member solely dedicated to managing the church membership database, full-time. Brethren, these things ought not to be so.

Let me describe for you a few of the things I’m looking for, and perhaps you can point me to the as-of-yet undiscovered solution for which I’ve been roaming the earth these many months…

  • Cloud-based so many users can access it from anywhere.
  • A sweet UI, comparable to the beautiful interface of Planning Center.
  • A UI designed for people who use Facebook, not database experts.
  • Looks like a Mac, not a PC.
  • Browsable, so I don’t have to pull any reports. My staff should never have to see the word query. Ever.
  • Integrated with Google Apps so when I send an email, my contacts includes our membership data (kind of a bonus, I know).
  • Integrated with MailChimp so we can send beautiful, socially advanced email newsletters.
  • A simple small group finder tool that utilizes the simplicity and familiarity of Google Maps.
  • Simple tools to allow small group leaders to quickly communicate with group members.
  • Socially-savvy, like Rapportive, so that I can see Facebook and Twitter profile links based on email addresses (another bonus feature).
  • Spiritual growth oriented so that I can very simply chart whether someone has been baptized, has been through our membership class, our maturity class, etc.
  • Emails leaders automatically, including all contact info so the leader doesn’t have to login, when they’ve indicated an interest in helping in some area or a need for help in some way.
  • Does NOT expect me to attend a webinar to sign up. When do you have time for a webinar about software?
  • Lets me instantly have a free trial for 5 or 10 database records.
  • Simple statistical tracking so I can plug in attendance and commitment numbers in 23 seconds or less and later see how many lives are being changed and where we need to improve.

And one that’s not so much a feature, but more about the company behind the app… Does not require everything down to my blood type to see a demo, which is so obviously a means of putting me into your lead-tracking, marketing, and bordering-on-spam sales flow where I’ll receive a high pressure phone call and email every other day until I finally block your number on my phone. If you build the kind of app I’m talking about, you won’t need a salesforce-like lead-tracking tool. Instead, you’ll have to figure out how you’ll scale it to handle the flocks of new users signing up.

And I’m sure there is more, but basically, something akin to the tools that 37Signals builds, but with a few tweaks for a church’s specific needs. A few come close on features, but look like they were built in QBasic on a monochrome Tandy. Others have a nicer design, but I can’t kick stuff around without signing my life and privacy over first. Oh for a true, new media and open web mindset among church software developers.

All I’m really asking for is a simple, cloud-based, socially-savvy, people-oriented app, for which I would gladly pay money for the benefits I would receive. I know you’re trying to earn a profit in a non-profit world, and that’s cool with me if it allows you to do awesome stuff for the kingdom.

Is it out there? Have I simply been unaware? If you point me to the thing for which I seek, I shall update this post to sing your praises and plug your product to the masses – for free – because that’s how this new web wide world works.

Hence my update… I love Elvanto. It has that sweet user interface for which I was searching. It’s people-oriented. It’s communications-savvy. It never demands that I understand boolean string queries. It’s customizable and tracks everything I’m interested in tracking, handles check-in’s, offers metrics, and is super easy to use. I’ll write another post about it soon, but for now, I’m following through on my promise mentioned above. Elvanto, I’m singing your praises to the masses.

One more update (9/20/12)…

We’ve just finished (I hope) the arduous task of canceling our account with FellowshipOne, a leading provider of church management software. I know people who swear by F1. I think they have a smart team of developers and everyone I worked with there was very friendly, but the user interface is heavy, bulky, and complex. We were approached and offered one free year as a church plant if we would just pay the up front setup cost ($250). We paid that, tried to use the software for a couple of months, and eventually gave up in frustration before finding Elvanto.

I did not realize the contract for the software we didn’t decide to keep using bound us for another year if it automatically renewed. I am solely responsible for not reading the contract closely enough and canceling in time, so we will be paying that final invoice for the software that didn’t meet our needs. In fact, FellowshipOne sees it as a “sign of grace” to only require 30% of the remaining contract of an unsatisfied customer. But buyer beware, many companies still operate under a marketing, pricing, and contract system that is very out of step with the new web app culture and strangely resembles the process of buying a cell phone or satellite dish. So read carefully. Some good companies, with great people and decent software, have an outdated and frustrating business model.

With Elvanto, you can cancel anytime… but I don’t think we will be anytime soon. 

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  • Matt Graham

    I would love to help build this. I’m a web developer that can speak human. I’ve seen some of the church database software (and customer relations management software, which some are similar) and they look awful, not to mention hard to use.

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Matt, if I had the time for another side business venture, I’d love to chat about building something! I hope it happens.

    • David Carroll

      Matt, if you’re any good, you should help us. http://www.bvcms.com, Open Source project, we accept pull requests if they pass muster.

  • http://willfjohnston.com Will Johnston

    I do speak code and can build queries, but I’m a pastor now. And I don’t want to have to do that every time I need a simple list or piece of information.

    And I certainly don’t want to have to choose between trying to train all of my peers and volunteers to use said system or just doing it for them because it’s so frustrating for them and me.

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      I’m with you on that thought, Will.

  • David Carroll

    When the Israelites were building the tabernacle, God provided the craftsmen who knew how to build it to specs. You have craftsmen in your congregation who can speak the language and help you. Then they can turn it into a button and a link for you to click. Any church management system requires thought, diligence and investment of time, organization and delegation and leadership.

  • http://twitter.com/MikeNWilliams Mike Williams

    All I can say is, AMEN. I could add to your list above, but you hit the main needs. After serving in the past as an outreach pastor who spent hours in follow-up of new weekly guests, mining the depths of reports and queries in a large database for a large church, and now as pastor of a small church, I can agree that it’s painfully obvious that the perfect one doesn’t currently exist.

    But I will sure check for updates on this post, just in case we’re wrong. I actually hope we’re wrong. ;)

  • http://twitter.com/ChurchAppUK ChurchApp

    I fully agree with you, and so I’ve tried to do something about it. I’ve recently been building a web-app called ChurchApp (http://churchapp.co.uk), which I’m trying to build out with exactly the philosophies you’re talking about. We don’t have some of the features you talk about just yet, but we’re getting there.

    So many of the products on the market look like they’re something straight of the 1990s that it amazes me that people actually use them!

    Take a look at ChurchApp – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…

    Gavin

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Gavin, THAT is a sweet user interface!! I think you’re going in the right direction – keep it up!

      • http://twitter.com/ChurchAppUK ChurchApp

        Thanks Brandon, really appreciate the support! We’re really excited about the impact that ChurchApp could have on helping the Church communicate with their members.

        All the best.

  • laurenhunter

    Hey Brandon! I’m wondering what other church management software systems you’ve used at the various churches you’ve worked at. I’m just wondering how Elevanto compares to some of the better ChMS solutions out there . . . Thanks for your two cents!!

    -Lauren

    • http://brandonacox.com Brandon A. Cox

      Lauren, I have friends in the industry and therefore have avoided naming applications outright. I’ll just say that I’ve used or tried most of the ones that have display booths and ads at conferences and on websites, and for me, Elvanto is a step ahead of all of them.

  • Travis

    I have come to this post a year late, but found it while doing a google search for web-based church databases. Your list was my wishlist, so I became very interested in Elevanto.

    I’ve been test driving it for about two weeks and am very impressed. While we do not have the need for the worship team organization features of the program, it still seems to meet and exceed all our needs. The database we’ve been using is very clunky, not web-based, and my web 2.0 mind can’t figure it out. Elevanto seems slick, easy to use, and flexible. And cheaper, too!

    I’m curious what your experience is now, after having used it for sometime (assuming you are still using it). Has it continued to meet your expectations? Has there ever been a problem with your using it in the US while the company is based in Australia? Do you feel it’s worth the money? What things have you learned from using it, helpful tips, etc.?

    Thanks!