Parishioner converts his church to software as a service model

A New Brunswick church has shed some light on its record-keeping methods with a Web services enabled database that is helping it better track its growing congregation.

Allison Church in Moncton, N.B. recently deployed a Software as a Service (SaaS) tool called Church Radius to replace an older version of church management software called Church Decision.

Church Radius was developed by Moncton-based software company Ardent Development Solutions, which specializes in application development using Microsoft technologies. The software is managed from Ardent Development’s office in Moncton and hosted at a data centre in the U.S.

Church Radius has helped Allison Church to more quickly and efficiently enter data into its Microsoft SQL Server 2005 database, saving the Baptist church time and helping to reduce errors, said Evelyn Short, Allison Church office administrator.

“(Church Decision, the older version of Church Radius) did not produce the things we wanted such as reports for different age levels, directories and labels,” said Short. “As a result of that I have a whole list of labels on one of the programs and I have to keep those updated. You can understand how cumbersome that is to go in and change labels.”

The church uses labels for large mail outs such as seasonal newsletters on Easter, Thanksgivving and Christmas holidays, which Short hopes to eventually send out electronically as well as by snail mail for families who don’t have access to e-mail.

Derek Hatchard, who founded Ardent Development in 2003, said he started building Church Radius last fall to create a Web-based version of Church Decision, which a previous employer had put him in charge of developing. Prior to founding Ardent Development, Hatchard worked as an independent software consultant under Hatchard Software.

“It’s one of the ways that churches can connect with people in the 21st century,” said Hatchard, who regularly attends Allison Church and hopes to get more Canadian churches signed up in the coming months.

While SaaS makes it possible for software development companies like Hatchard’s to create niche products, making a business case out of it might prove to be difficult, said Curtis Gittens, a senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info Tech Research Group.

“You don’t have to sell big monolithic applications anymore,” said Gittens. “You could sell the small pieces that a company needs at a lower cost and then allow the buyer to grow as they need to grow.”

For now, Allison Church is primarily using the software to manage the 300 families it has in its database. For example, it helps them keep track of which courses people have taken.

“Immediately we can now go in and say these ones have attended class 101,” said Allison Church’s Short. “Before that was done on a spreadsheet and not everybody had access to it.”

Going down the road, Ardent Development’s Hatchard said the system could be used at churches like Allison Church to help with accounting and financial processes such as donations.

“We do donation recording, so itcan record donations and issue tax receipts,” said Hatchard, adding that many churches currently do this process manually using a sheet of members and a separate sheet with donations and write up tax receipts by hand.

Event tracking is also another possibility with this software.

“We want to create a way for churches to put their events in and publish them on the Web,” he said.

As for Allison Church’s Short, she hopes to help Hatchard spread the word to other congregations about the benefits of a hosted service.

“I haven’t yet talked with anybody who’s been thinking about getting a new database but I certainly will be.”

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