[CS-FSLUG] Church Management Software

Josiah Ritchie josiah at ritchietribe.net
Tue Mar 25 11:11:59 CDT 2008

On Tue, Mar 25, 2008 at 11:12 AM, Ed Hurst <ehurst at asisaid.com> wrote:

> Josiah Ritchie wrote:
> >>
> >> Whoop love to stay and chat but I got to go plunge the toilet!
> >
> > Seems like what Pastors like this need is a full management system that
> > would install onto a computer that would be different from their office
> > computer, dedicated to management, ready to be networked if desired...
> [snip]
> > In a situation like this, to put such critical information onto a
> regular
> > old desktop seems insane. You can almost guarantee that the person
> > maintaining the system doesn't know how to. This is a great risk to the
> > data. Such a situation means the system needs to be rock-solid
> dependable
> > with little maintenance required.
> >
> > Oh, and before I'd think tech classes in seminary make sense, I'd like
> to
> > see mission classes, but that's another rant entirely. :-)
> Amen, Josiah!
> [snip]
> I feel like wearing a bullseye today. Let me propose a few questions to
> be answered, and you can all shout me down if you like:

:-) I'm up for exploring this. I'll be the circle around the bullseye I

1. Whom are we targeting? Whom do we attempt to serve in the Lord's name
> on this sort of project? How broad can our reach be before we bite off
> more than we can chew?

Like Ed mentioned, a lower and an upper limit might make sense. Using the
traditional membership limits wouldn't seem to be ideal. There is such a
wide difference between number of contacts and membership. So I'd propose a
target of 150 contacts to 15000 contacts. Over that and I'd expect that they
could afford to use one of the web-based services that would be to their
benefit. If they have outgrown that sort of solution, the assumption is they
have the techs around to help build something appropriate.

2. How simple can we make it? How close to the reach of non-techs do we
> dare to place it? Can we at the same time keep it useful to serious techs?

Making this an appliance might be overly expensive for the options. The
typical church of this size could probably dig out a donated machine in the
Pentium 3 or better range to act as a simple LAMP server with scripts to
assist in its maintenance. Maintenance would include backup to a USB HD. The
same box could have a single place to store files with the assumption that
connecting to the network means access to the files (read: no permissions).
I also think it should be designed using much available software. Ubuntu
Desktop with as close to a default LAMP install as possible for example.
This way, if some tech came in, they could easily understand what is going
on and make modifications if needed (such as exposing Apache to the

I say Ubuntu Desktop because the churches we are targeting will typically
only have one person entering this data at a time and they will expect a
graphical interface to a computer. Ubuntu Server may make them run scared
before they get a chance and it doesn't assume a network is in place to get
things running.

I'm thinking we should avoid the idea of this also functioning as a firewall
or DHCP server. That sort of thing should be relegated to another special
and separate box.

> 3. Can we make it versatile enough to run on one PC, but scale upward to
> serve a large LAN? I personally wonder if it has to be either/or
> regarding where the database resides.

I think if were talking about a LAMP environment, this is no problem at all.
A quick config change and HUP to Apache and it can present itself to the
network just as easily as it can to only the local machine.

4. What itches do we scratch? Do we emphasize free and open source, and
> not so radically different in function and form? Or do we emphasize
> something really different, and incidentally open source? Do we have to
> emphasize anything at all, aside from sheer need?

My interaction with people on this sort of software would seem to suggest
that there is a healthy skepticism about free software and a lack of
understanding about open source. I'd suggest that these hurdles will not be
fully jumped by simply offering the product and reading through
documentation about it.

I'd expect them to desire something that is inexpensive, but supported. Then
I'd expect them to want to know what it can do compared to their current
system (be that a rolodex or the LOGOs ChMS) and if it will be easier to
use. Ease of use seems to be of great interest to many. Perhaps we could do
informal usability testing and get comments to help build trust in the
product. Perhaps there is a difference in what will draw them to the product
and what will take them from interest to implementation. Once we have them
on a website, perhaps showing off the sorts of information that can be
gathered from the system would be helpful.

> Anyone got more or better questions?

How do we get the word out? If it isn't going to be used then it isn't worth
making or maintaining. How do we find these people we want to serve and even
more poignant, how do we win their trust that our product is really going to
enhance their ministry rather than complicate it? This seems to be an uphill
battle to me. Without a serious commitment to winning the trust, we'll
likely fail to serve most.

Well, that's my 2 cents.

Our Mission
Technology and Hospitality for God's Workmen
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