Even David & Laura think it is the right thing to do!
Yes, again. This will be our fourth church management app over the past ten years.
While most of you know that Mike loves to try new programs and would switch programs every six months just for the fun of it, you might also know that his wife, Laura, does not appreciate such change nearly as much. One of the benefits of having Daivd as an elder is that he also keeps Mike's whimsical passion for new tech stuff at bay, often raising the questions of necessity and benefit.
So, you should know that as we write this blog, Mike, Laura, and David all agree that the switch is most certainly worth the effort.
We started using Realm church management software more than two years ago.
All church management programs can store information about people. They all do it differently, but most do it decently. The big draw for Realm was integrated background checks, integrated online giving, and a mobile app to facilitate better communication within the church family.
While we did achieve the first two goals (background checks and online giving), the app was a letdown. After campaigning to get people to use it, we found it unstable, and people eventually gave up trying. So, the tool we wanted to use the most became the feature that pushed people away. We were promised improvements as the app was developed, but overall, it only became more challenging to use. Communications became more confusing. Features like lists and reports went unused because they were too complicated and cumbersome.
All this led Mike to take on the covert mission, again, of finding a church management program that was easy to use, could foster better communication, had an app that worked and, if possible, could also save us money. His search led him to Planning Center.
Planning Center has an app, and it works! Not only does it work, but we can customize it. It's fast, easy to use, and offers a lot of helpful features. You can sign up for classes, check the calendar, communicate with a small group, give online, and more.
With Groups we can add meeting dates, send out reminders, keep attendance, allow group members to engage in chats—and it works really well! Especially now with some members wanting to stay connected remotely, having an app that makes it easier to communicate is valuable to us.
As we anticipate getting back to offering classes for the kids, we also anticipate needing to do background checks again. The integrated background checks are super easy to do, and the results come quickly.
There are a lot of administrative features that David and Mike are enjoying already. While some of these may have existed in Realm, they were not very usable. In contrast, the learning curve with Planning Center has been relatively small, and it feels more functional after two weeks than Realm did after two years.
The pandemic has changed a lot of things. One thing that has grown is online giving. Last year, about 50% of our income was from online giving. If there is a concern (or complaint) that people have had, it has been the fees. This is certainly a stewardship issue as we want as much money to go to ministry as possible. While some people have chosen to pay the fees (thank you!) we still incur fees each month. Planning Center offers something we have not seen before: 25-cent ACH transfers regardless of the amount. ACH transfers are direct bank transfers, as opposed to credit or debit card transactions.
We figured out how much money we would have saved based on our giving over the past three months, and it was significant. In fact, we would have saved more money on fees than our Planning Center subscription costs!
Also, those super-fast background checks cost less to run, which is another added savings that will benefit us.
We concluded that saving so much on fees and background checks would justify Planning Center even if the subscription cost a little more. But to our delight, Planning Center will cost us less than half of what we were paying for Realm! This means we are saving money in three ways: the monthly subscription, processing fees, and background checks. From a stewardship perspective, it's an easy decision.
You may be wondering...why didn't we start using this software two years ago instead of Realm? Well, Planning Center was not an option two years ago. It was around, but has developed and improved a lot since then. We also recognize that things may change again, and it may not be what we need three years from now. If the goal is to continue to do what we do more efficiently and effectively for the kingdom of God, then we expect that change will always be a part of that. For now, we could not be happier with the features, functionality, and savings that Planning Center offers NCF.
We encourage you to log in to our Planning Center site and check it out, and while you are at it, download the app! (Android or iOS) We will be using this software for small groups, class sign-ups, our calendar of events, and for our directory, where you can control the information share, and connect with others in the church family.
Thank you for your endurance and your willingness to adjust with us!