Is Open-Source Church Management Software the Best Option?

Most of us perk up when we read that word. Getting something for free is obviously better than paying for it, right?

Not always. Sometimes free is costly.

Open-source software—software that is created by volunteer developers and shared freely—is an example of a product that can be costly to the church that relies on it for its operations. And the bigger the church, the more hidden costs that can emerge if they choose an open-source platform.

It is a bit of a misconception to think of open-source church management software (ChMS) as free, because the only part of its use that comes without a price tag is the download itself. Customization, design and hosting will cost something. This cost is sometimes only realized in the volunteer hours and needless frustration that often comes with the personalization of these systems.

Lack of dedicated training and technical support.

This is probably the factor that causes most of the frustration and incurs most of the unexpected costs for a church. To the extent that it is supported at all, an open-source ChMS will only offer solutions to issues that someone in the community of users is motivated to fix.

So, unless your church has IT staff who are comfortable evaluating enhancements and add-ons or fixing the bugs in the software’s code, you’ll have only the support that the open-source community happens to provide. And even if the answer to your issue is provided by the community, it won’t be dedicated to your specific church’s needs and desires. If you count on a community of volunteers to keep your software updated, you’ll be out of luck if interest in supporting the product fades.

There is also the cost and frustration that arises when the church realizes that the open-source solution doesn’t work for them. They then have to spend more time and effort finding a new alternative to the alternative that fell short.

All of this translates into frustration and loss of efficiency on the part of the staff whose work is tied to an open-source ChMS.

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”

The lack of dedicated support has another drawback. If there is an improvement or upgrade to an open-source ChMS, the users may not hear about it. They don’t have anyone to call who can help them discover new features and benefits.

Advantages of a proprietary solution.

In some ways, your ChMS is the brain of your church’s operations—too important to entrust to unsupported solutions.

Reputable providers are always gathering the best-of-the-best input from their clients and incorporating it into the solution. Rather than leaving you at the mercy of the volunteer community, every improvement in a proprietary platform comes with the training and tech support you need to benefit from all that it offers.

Your provider has designed scalable solutions specifically for churches. And they have a personal interest in helping you to use the software to its fullest capability. They have a dedicated support staff that knows their product inside out. They can offer personalized training. One such example is in the video training and online Q&A sessions found within Elexio’s support.

Make sure you get to where you want to go.

Building your church operations around open-source ChMS is rather like traveling to a foreign country and taking a self-guided tour with a sketchy map. Unless you speak the language, know the culture and geography, and can handle on your own virtually any situation that arises, you might experience a lot of blind alleys and dead ends. Open-source church software can leave you stranded in some very unfamiliar territory.

Choosing proprietary ChMS from an experienced and reputable company is more like choosing a travel package that comes with everything you need to really enjoy the trip: a personalized itinerary, a knowledgeable tour guide and a fluent interpreter. Proprietary solutions are tailored to your church’s specific needs and supported by a motivated and dedicated staff.

What kind of church software does your church use? Is it effectively meeting your needs?  

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Ken Stewart
Ken Stewart feels privileged to have spent 31 years in pastoral ministry in Dallas, Texas and in his home state of Pennsylvania. He trained for the ministry at Lancaster Bible College & Graduate School, Dallas Theological Seminary, and life. Ken married Barbie (yes, really) in 1980, and they have three grown children. Ken is now a freelance writer and editor, and wrote this article on behalf of Elexio church management software.