Fellowship One, Shelby, Arena & Grace Family Church

It’s official.  We, Grace Family Church (GFC), are moving to Fellowship One (F1) for our Church Management System (ChMS).

How did we come to this decision?

When I came to GFC last April, one of my tasks was to evaluate the state of I.T. within Grace Family Church.  This process included interviewing, every single staff member of GFC and I asked the following questions:

  1. How do you use technology in your every day job here @ GFC?
  2. What software do you use?
  3. What “shadow systems” do you utilize (database/lists outside of our current ChMS)?
  4. What works great? Why?
  5. What’s broken? Why?
  6. Dream Big: What do you wish Technology could help/assist you with in your job functinon?
  7. How can I help you do your job effectively?

Over and over, the answer to question #5 was the name of our current ChMS provider.  But, why was it broken?

  1. Users weren’t trained properly from the beginning.
  2. The user interface is clumsy.
  3. The reporting engine isn’t easy to figure out.
  4. Too many clicks to do simple tasks.
  5. User’s couldn’t remember how to do simple everyday tasks because of the number of steps to complete these tasks.

This led to questions that HAD to be answered: Can we continue to use our current ChMS?  Can we properly train everyone?  Is there a misperception of the ChMS?  Do we need to drop what we are using and start over with a new ChMS provider?

So began the search for answers.  I read manuals; I played with our current ChMS and tried to learn it from the top down all while also evaluating other systems that were available to us.  I quickly came to the conclusion that if I was having trouble learning how to use the ChMS, how could I expect my users to learn it?  Our current system was not going to cut it and we needed to move.

What were our requirements for a new ChMS?  In no particular order, the top ones included:

  1. A web interface.
  2. Easy to understand user interface.
  3. An OUT OF THIS WORLD training program for our users.
  4. Easy to administer (since I have to take care of that).
  5. A reporting engine that the user can use to create reports.
  6. A workflow process for tracking assimilation or other processes.
  7. And, of course, able to keep our data safe.

I took my time researching options.  I payed particular attention to Joel Lingenfelter’s blog where he was chronicling his church’s journey on the search for a new ChMS.  His blog was truly a godsend for me.  He journaled every step in his search, making mine easier in the long run.  While I used his blog as a reference, I also talked to many, many other churches about what ChMS they were using, asking about their likes, dislikes, etc.

Eventually the choices were narrowed to two: Fellowship One, and Arena.  I dove into both.  I read their websites multiple times, had attended 2 demonstrations of each, and again, talked to MANY of their customers – not necessarily customers they referred me to, but customers I sought out on my own as well.  Of course, this process was also filled with prayer.  I had a real concern for the church and our finances.  I didn’t want to spend money on a product if it was not going to assist us in meeting our goals of Connecting our people to God, Others, Service, and Outreach.  If we were going to spend money, we needed to be good stewards as well.

Both ChMS’s are EXCELLENT and, quite frankly, going into our Board of Director’s meeting to make the presentation, the recommendation was going to be “either one” as the feeling was that the both would suit our needs.  BUT, as I was making the presentation, giving each a fair and equal shot, I came to the end where the recommendation was going to be “Choose One.”  At this point I really felt that God was telling me “Fellowship One”.  Huh?  That’s weird (even cool!).  Here I am in the middle of making a presentation and God is telling me to change my recommendation and choose Fellowship One.  I love the way God just intervenes when it’s time.

I know I’m not going into specifics as to why we selected Fellowship over Arena but in the end this is why God told us to go with Fellowship:

User Interface – I know this can sound corny, but God said that our users would get the most out of the Fellowship user interface.  Arena’s is FANTASTIC but our users will benefit most from the user interface that Fellowship One has to offer.  It is clear, clean, and concise and even self explanatory.

The Wall – Arena is a wholly owned subsidiary of our current ChMS provider, Shelby Systems.  God impressed upon me that there is a HUGE wall to climb with our users.  That wall was the link between Shelby and Arena.  Now, please don’t take what I am about say as a negative against Shelby.  I truly believe the reason Shelby is not working for us at GFC is because of it’s implementation.  Our leadership will say that Shelby was not implemented correctly and our users were not trained fully and properely from the “get go”.  Our leadership takes responsibility in this.  Where the wall comes in is here; our users have an extremely negative attitude towards Shelby and know that Arena and Shelby are the same company.  I know that the two products are completely different, but the end users don’t see it that way.  This wall is a HUGE hurdle for the GFC staff to overcome.  That being said, and I know God can overcome even the largest walls, this was one wall we needed to avoid.

I have to give props to the guys at Arena:  Mark White, Chris Rivers and Russell Byrd.  They did everything in their power to win our business and keep us within the Shelby Family.  They answered every question, stopped what they were doing in their days to assist me, and in the end they were gracious in defeat.

It’s clear that we are all in the business of winning souls for Christ, and in the same way people choose the church that best suits them, Grace Family also had to choose a ChMS that best suited us.  Mark, Chris, & Russell – Thank You!  Thank you for your time and your commitment to Grace Family Church throughout this process.  Just because we will not be partners in “Business” doesn’t mean we won’t continue to work together in expanding The Kingdom!

As for our future with Fellowship One, Grace Family Church is extremely excited!  We are ready to jump on board and look forward to doing ministry with you.  Thank you for all you have done for us Errol.  Thank you for going above and beyond during our selection process and hanging with us during our long decision process!

Finally, I look at the church as an Insurance Agency that specializes in Life Insurance, only this is the best life insurance that one can purchase.  We get to play a role in insuring AND ensuring The Eternal Life of the people throughout our communities.  The database is just a tool which allows us to better connect with our members and regular attenders.  It allows us to watch and enhance the Spiritual Growth of our people.  It also allows us to see who is not growing and even digressing in their walk, allowing us to pray, encourage, uplift, and pour into those that need a little extra attention.  The church is not the database, the database is the tool that allows us, the people to minister effectively to EVERYONE that is a part of GFC. The chruch IS the people.

A friend of mine frequently says, “We don’t have to, we get to”.  It is an honor to serve my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and it’s my privelege to serve with guys like Mark, Chris, Russell, and Errol who all want nothing more than to win souls for Him!

Press on Guys – Let’s do the Kingdom’s work!

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