Standards & Services

I was talking to a friend the other night about church management software…he’s a minister who recently purchased a system for his church.  Now, this guy is fairly technical for a minister, at least from an end-user standpoint.  He knows what he wants, even if he doesn’t know how to develop it himself.

But what got me thinking was his lamentation (good biblical tie-in, huh?) that all of the systems out there — most of which seem WAY overpriced — lack one or 2 features that one of the other systems has.  What he wants is one big system or a series of linked/integrated systems that could intelligently communicate with each other…if someone in the office adds an event or function to the church calendar, then it should automatically be added to the list of upcoming events in the bulletin, the announcements that get shown on the screen on Sunday mornings, etc.  If a visiting family fills out information about themselves that indicates they have young children, then the kids’ names and ages are automatically added to the Nursery check-in system so it will be easier for them to drop off their kids the next time they’re there.  You get the picture.

OK, maybe he was showing his naiveté…if large-scale, intelligent, seamless integration was easy, it would obviously be done more.  But, unfortunately, it ain’t…so, it ain’t.  I’ve been on my fair share of Very Large System Development Projects (VLSDPs), and the amount of effort required to integrate disparate, independent systems is, well, Very Large (VL).  Also VL is the level of compromise required for multiple systems to share a common set of data.  You have to be extremely careful and general or extremely redundant in defining your data and setting up your database.

My first thought — and obviously my current thought, else I wouldn’t be writing this — was “standards are the path to integration.”   The depth and scope of our conversation that night didn’t really lend itself to voicing that thought.  But on the way home and ever since, it’s been in the back of my mind.  What he’s talking about could be made, not necessarily easily, but at least easier, with a web-enabled system accessing a standardized set of services, each of which might have an independent database or be able to access a shared database.  Again, I’m not saying it’s trivial, but I think it’s doable, and it could all be done with current, open source tools and techs.

I’ll keep thinking about this.  Who knows, I might even try to put a first-take simple system together for my own church as a kind of test-case.  All it would take is time.  How much?  I dunno…hopefully not a VL amount.

By the way, I realize what I’m saying is nothing new in the business systems world, but for whatever reason, church systems are lagging FAR behind and need to catch up to the idea.

One Response to “ Standards & Services ”

  1. Otto Correction Says:

    It seems clear that there is an opportunity, and I would go so far as to say even a need and a calling, for someone to bridge the chasm between churches/church-related organizations and technology.

    And I’m not just talking about those packaged deals that provide a website OR an attendance monitor OR a stewardship/giving manager–those all proliferate the problem (and at an extremely inflated price.) The time is right and the technology is now available and practical to do exactly as The Squig suggests: pull all these things into one coherent and supported package.

    I think the problem is largely caused by a lack of communication and a lack of imagination…of what is possible. Lack of imagination on the part of church bodies as to of what is possible in the realm of using technology for the Kingdom. And lack of communication on the part of those of us in the congregations who know of what is possible in the realm of using technology for the Kingdom.

    Maybe we should get serious and follow through with what The Squig and his minister friend already started: let’s sit down and talk about what is needed and then chat about how we can make it happen.