By Dr. Oyewole Sarumi
The post-pandemic era is already a challenge for many church organisations all over the world. Some of these challenges include fewer returnees after lockdown, financial issues, lack of engagement among others. The time is now to embrace technology even if you’re in denial all this while because things are changing and will keep changing as we move into the new normal post lockdown.
In the analogue era, churches transmitted information to their congregation via message boards, bulletins and newsletters. Such traditional communication tools do not enable conversations to form meaningful connections with your church members. Consequently, we recorded minimal engagement with the congregation, who in turn, become less involved with the church.
According to Christianitytoday.com, about 29% of young people (23-30) stopped attending churches because they did not feel connected to their congregation, we have a serious problem to address in order to ensure that the future of the church is not jeopardised.
In such a dire situation as many churches are presently, a flexible church communication software (CCS) can help since many of these youths are computer natives. This will ensure that your church message:
– Cuts through the noise; by sending more engaging content (e.g MMS)
– Is opened/read; by sending it via platforms that your members prefer
– Encourages the congregation to respond; by keeping messages personal
In this regard, methinks it’s time for your church to explore a new church communication system that can help you reach the returnees and the yet-to-return effectively! In this case, you’ll want to identify and evaluate the best texting software for churches on the market. That’s the right thing to do in times like this! First, let’s define what we are talking about for clarity.
WHAT IS CHURCH COMMUNICATION SOFTWARE?*
Church communication software is a technology used by churches to streamline communication with their members with the goal of improving member engagement and attendance.
Leading systems allow churches to organize members into groups and have two-way communications via text message and email. Some companies only provide texting software for churches.
It can be used to:
– Improve fundraising with timely follow-ups
– Boost volunteerism by simplifying the recruitment and volunteer management
– Increase event attendance with reminders
– Keep your congregation engaged with updates and notifications on what is happening with the church.
Other common cases for church communication software include welcoming new members, handling event registration, sending event reminders, and providing a platform for members with common interests to socialize. Church communication software integrates with church management software.
CCS Tools like CallHub and Flocknote are excellent examples of church communication software that can be used for communicating across multiple channels.
TYPES OF CHURCH COMMUNICATION SOFTWARES
Prior to the advent of COVID-19, the market was inundated with a myriad of church communication softwares, and they are there for your bargain. Listed below are the top leading softwares in the market:
From my research, all of the companies that are vendors for the above software are reputable and are being used by thousands of churches in the North and Latin America, Europe and Asia. Just Google any of the above-named software, and you will get enough information from the various sites to make an informed decision.
A note of caution though. I agree that selecting the best software for your church can be difficult because there are so many options to consider. It can be difficult to distinguish between the most reputable software vendors and companies who are just good at marketing themselves.
Brian Quinn opined that you consider the following to make an informed decision:
- How long has the company been in business?
- How many employees does the company have?
- Should you select a vendor specializing in your industry?
- Security and Privacy
- Free demo and/or trial
- What’s the price, really?
- Customer support
- Cloud vs local hosting?
- What SLAs (Service Level Agreements) will they agree to?
- Will the software be able to meet your needs as your business grows?
- What happens to your data after you decide to switch to another vendor?
Want to get a CCS? Perhaps you may have to go through the above-listed options methodically to determine your most important priorities. Then take time to research your most preferred options, and then you are ready to commit fund, personnel and time to make your choice work for you.
*WHAT ARE THE KEY FEATURES OF CHURCH COMMUNICATION SOFTWARE?*
Getting a great church communication software is dependent on what you want to use it for, and of course, your budget. Bruce Hogan advised that there are eight critical features to look out for when sourcing for one. They are summarised below:
*1. Member profiles:* Each system should allow you to upload your members and their corresponding text and email addresses. Systems with bulk member upload will save you time while you’re onboarding on the new system.
*2. Communication channels:* All systems should allow you to communicate with your members through SMS and email. Some systems also support communication through voice message at an extra cost. Finally, look for systems that allow you to manage 2-way conversations in via both text and email.
*3. Email templates:* Look for systems that come with an easy-to-use email builder and pre-built well-designed templates. Some systems come with advanced features such as polling, or the ability for members to RSVP to events directly within your emails.
*4. Groups: All systems should offer groups that you can use to organize your members. The best systems offer unlimited groups and the ability to create sub-groups.
*5. Conversations:* All systems should streamline your ability to have two-way conversations with your groups. The best systems will allow you to do this through both text message and email.
*6. Automated Workflows:* Automated workflows are a series of email, text, or voice messages that can be scheduled to send to contacts in the future. These can be triggered when you receive a new piece of data from a member, or when a member is added to a group.
*7. Analytics:* The communication systems should provide an analytics dashboard through which you can see data on communication volume by the group. The top systems will also give you performance data on your communications. For example, how many church members opened or clicked your most recent email.
*8. Integrations:* Leading church communication systems integrate directly with church management systems. The most common systems are Planning Center Online, Church Community Builder and Breeze ChMS.
*NOTE: A WORD OF CAUTION!*
Often church communication software is confused with church management systems. The two aren’t necessarily the same.
While a church communication software focuses solely on getting the message across, a management software does a lot more. It tracks attendance, manages data, and can also help in accounting (in addition to communication).
In essence, a church communication software can be considered a subset of a church management system that allows for messaging across multiple Channels. This distinguishing factor is worthy of note so that you don’t waste scarce resources.
*HOW MUCH DOES CHURCH COMMUNICATION SOFTWARE COST?*
The systems stated above have slightly different pricing models. Some are priced based upon your number of members, while others are priced based upon your messaging volume.
According to Bruce Hogan, the entry-level cost for the systems is between $7 to $37 per month.
A medium-sized church with 500 members can expect to pay $50-75 per month for its communication system.
While evaluating the systems, keep in mind that some offer unlimited free emails, some charge extra for voice messaging, and some allow your unused message credits to roll over to the following month.
*DOES YOUR CHURCH NEED A CHURCH COMMUNICATION SOFTWARE?*
In my view, your answer should be YES. Why? This because opting for a church communication software is not just for churches struggling with attendance, location and financial issues. It is the best way to grow your congregation and build a friendly community. So it is an excellent addition even for a small church, especially because of how effective it can be.
It would make your communication process more efficient while making it easier for you to get your message across.
To get the most out of your communication software, ensure that:
– The contact details of your congregation are digitized
– The data is as accurate as possible
– You have a communication plan (for fundraisers etc.)
– To start with, you can get just basic features (like texting) and see how it works for you.
Based on how your congregation reacts, you can always see what more add ons to get and migrate to a higher plan.
*WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A CHURCH COMMUNICATION SOFTWARE?*
Deciding on a church communication software can seem rather daunting, given the multitude of options available. Here are some points to keep in mind before making the decision. According to Lakshmi Narayanan (2020), his narrative on four areas to focus upon as stated below is very apt and detailed:
*1. The church communication software should support the messaging channels your church needs*
What is the biggest problem that your church is facing? Is it struggling to raise funds? Increase membership? Or quite simply is focused on boosting attendance to sermons?
Depending on the objective, your communication strategy will change and your church communication software should be able to support it.
For instance, if you are looking to build awareness and increase membership, you would want to be more active on social media. Similarly, if you want to boost attendance, most of your communication can be reminders and texts.
Ensure that the software is capable of handling communication across those channels before you pick it.
*2. The software should sync with your CRM*
Your church communication software cannot work in isolation. It should enable you to import member’s contact details from the database or allow you to make notes while having a conversation. So it should sync well with the CRM you are currently using to ensure that the data transfer is seamless.
*3. Easy onboarding and usage*
Even if communication is crucial to keeping your congregation together, it would still be tough to fit it in between your other pastoral duties. So even if you have to get it right, it doesn’t mean that you can spend an inordinate amount of time over it.
That is where the right communication software can make a difference. A tool that requires fewer steps to get started and is easy to get used to would mean less time spent on actually sending the messages.
Choose a tool that is simple to learn, easy to use, and can help you get started instantly. For instance, with a tool like CallHub, you can simply import your contact list of church members and send out bulk SMS to your congregation in under 10 minutes.
It is not about how expensive or affordable the tool is – it is just that the tool should be able to accommodate your church’s needs as your congregation grows.
For instance, to start with you will merely need an SMS broadcast tool to send regular prayer meeting updates.
Later, you would like to scale the operation. You may want to send:
– bulk SMS for different segments of your congregation
– peer to peer conversations with donors via texts
– follow-up texts to thank volunteers
Your communication tool should have such advanced features that enable you to do the same. CallHub has a pay as you go pricing model that ensures you only pay for what you use and allows you to migrate to a higher plan when the need arises.
Using church communication software does not mean that you will move away from message boards. Rather, you can integrate your various channels of communication together – having a consistent messaging across all these platforms. In essence, your message boards can now show your keyword and shortcode, encouraging members to sign up for an event. Your welcome kiosks and communication cards can promote shortcodes that encourage new visitors to sign up for the church’s communication.
Regardless of which communication channels you choose to deploy, it is undeniable that a good communication software would make the church work simpler for you to pursue especially in this long and uncertain post-pandemic era!
- Lakshmi Narayanan.
How to pick the perfect church communication software and use it right. Accessed on 27/09/20 from https://callhub.io/church-communication-software/
- Bruce Hogan. Comparison of the Best Church Communication Software Systems. Accessed on 29/09/20 from https://www.softwarepundit.com/church/church-texting-service-comparison
- Brian Quinn. What to Look for in a Software Vendor. Accessed 17/06/20 from https://www.softwarepundit.com/what-look-software-vendor
Joanna Gray. Six Software Tools Church Communicators Can’t Live Without. Accessed 23/03/17 from https://hello.ekklesia360.com/blog/6-software-tools-church-communicators-cant-live-without
Prepared TCN@LIFE-LEADERS COACH