Don’t Treat Your Congregation Like Customers
Posted by Mark Blair
Most of us spend much of our time working, in one way or another. If your work includes being employed in the corporate world you probably have had a decent amount of exposure to enterprise software systems of various forms. Given how extensive these systems are and how they may have worked well for the business world, you might start to think that enterprise software would be a fit for the church. However, in my experience, it simply is not.
To be clear, I’m not talking about software that is used both inside and outside the office, like word processors, spreadsheets, email, etc. These are natural fits for any organization, including the church. I’m talking about software products companies buy to model their business processes and maybe even to produce their product. These are typically things like CRM solutions, ERP systems, internal/external web portals, etc. These products are big, expensive, and a complete waste of time and resources for the church.
To start with these systems require a huge amount of customization to get anything to work. They have the promise and the potential to do anything, but the problem is that out of the box, they typically do nothing. At a church I worked at, we (the tech dept) bought and implemented an enterprise web portal (essentially a share point competitor), and the experience was a disaster. We bought the demo, and paid for it with lost credibility (both staff and church body) and resources (time and money). People saw the possibilities at first and got excited about what could be, but the effort required to make it go beyond the demo was so huge that it never did. We eventually pulled the plug, and there was much rejoicing.
Another issue with enterprise software is that there is no direct translation from the business world to a church. I once sat in a meeting at the church with an enterprise software consultant trying to do such a translation. He said, “Well, your congregation is like your customer.” I said, “Nope, trying to get people away from that mentality.” He said, “OK, well, then they are like employees.” I said, “Nope. They are more like family who should be in a loving relationship with each other. Anything like that?” As it turned out, his product wasn’t really designed for that.
Finally, enterprise software simply isn’t engaging. The assumption is you are using it to get work done and functionality takes precedence over form. This results in interfaces that are basic, clunky, and hated by employees everywhere who have to be coaxed into using them. Problem for the church is, unlike employees, your congregation can’t be coaxed into using something they don’t want to use. They have to want to use something, and seeing the clunky stuff they see at the office does not get them motivated.
If you are church IT staff or a dedicated volunteer just trying to help, don’t lead your church down the enterprise software path. You will be wasting resources that are better spent elsewhere and everybody, including you, will be frustrated. Take a step back, think about the big picture, and realize that there is a very stark difference between the enterprise and the church. Then, look for solutions that are built specifically for the church with the heart of the Gospel at the forefront.