June 08, 2006

Open source Church Management System (ChMS)

Shelley Hildebrand of Perimeter Church recently posted to the Church Management System (ChMS) Google group to ask whether there is interest among churches in building an open source church management system. Then she e-mailed me and asked if I would post a reply. This is a huge question that I have been pondering for most of three years. I can't possibly give a full explanation of our current thinking in a single post, but here at least is a strategic summary.

>>First, many readers of this blog and the Google discussion group already know about Web Empowered Church (WEC), but for those who don't ...

WEC is an initiative of the Methodist Foundation for Evangelism. The director of WEC is Mark Stephenson, Director of Cyber Ministry for Ginghamsburg Church, a large and well-known Methodist church outside Dayton, Ohio. WEC is building church-specific web applications on top of an enterprise-class, open source content management system called TYPO3.

TYPO3 is very powerful and so not surprisingly it's quite complex as well. Consequently it has a fairly steep learning curve, even for experienced web developers. To help new churches get over this complexity barrier, WEC provides a pre-configured TYPO3 package called the "WEC Starter Package," with all of the WEC-built ministry extensions pre-loaded. WEC has some pre-built TYPO3 templates to accelerate site design for smaller churches that don't want to do a custom design. Also, WEC has established a web hosting firm in the greater Philadelphia area called Vine Hosting. Their equipment is located in a world-class data center in Newark, New Jersey. Through the Starter Package, the pre-built templates, and the hosting, WEC is working diligently over time to ease the difficulty of building and running a church web site in TYPO3.

WEC has been operating less than two years and has already gotten some serious worldwide traction. See the cool Google mashup map of churches around the world using WEC and a list of example sites.

I am the IT Director at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas (Kansas City area). We were the first church to catch Mark's vision for WEC and become part of it. We rebuilt our sites in TYPO3 starting in July 2004 and went live five months later. Earlier this year, we forged an even deeper connection with WEC when our most senior IT guy, Brian Slezak, transitioned into a new role as a software developer with WEC. He is still on our staff and still has a desk in our department, but he now works full-time on building ministry extensions for WEC.

Bottom line: WEC has all the earmarks of a God thing. It's a God-sized dream being lived out in a Kingdom-like way. It's amazing what God has already done and very exciting to see what God will continue to do in the future through WEC.

>>Okay, so what does all of this have to do with the question of an open source church management system? I realize that open source isn't for everyone. At Resurrection we are a Microsoft shop everywhere except our web sites. I'm not a Microsoft basher at all. We use a lot of their stuff and are particularly appreciative of their steep non-profit discounts. Also, I can see a place for commercial providers of church management systems such as Shelby, ACS, and Fellowship Tech. I know some people with these companies are readers of this blog and our Google discussion group. I don't speak for Resurrection, but I know that the church values its suppliers and seeks to bless those who provide us with everything we need to do ministry.

Having said that, I do believe that God is honored and the Kingdom is advanced when churches across geographical and denominational boundaries come together in the common cause of disciple making. We have differing styles, mission fields, and theological points of view, but we have one Lord and we proclaim one gospel. We're all on the same team. Take a good look at that WEC map and you'll see an amazing example of how this vision of cooperation is actually working in the world right now. Thinking strategically about this, I conclude that the open source model of software development and distribution is ideally suited to fostering technological cooperation among churches around the world. Let me quickly add that I acknowledge the technical challenges of open source, including the lack of support for "normal people" mentioned by Jeff Berg. Despite that, the benefits of open source in this situation are truly compelling. If Perimeter Church builds something on a common platform that Church of the Resurrection can pick up and use, I think we really have something special going on that glorifies God and represents awesome stewardship.

So, answering Shelley's question directly: Yes, I think open source makes total sense for the church. And yes, we are interested in working with other churches to develop an open source church management system. WEC is also very interested in this and hopes to be a catalyst and focal point for making this happen. The blogosphere is a great way to circulate this idea, gather support, and find like minded churches to get involved. I'm trying to listen to God to hear if He really is behind this. If so, within the next six months I hope to see a consensus emerge around a group of churches that will contribute resources and technology to a WEC-sponsored effort to build a ChMS on the open source/TYPO3 platform.

Is anyone else out there as excited as I am about this?

3 comments:

Jim Walton said...

Great post, Clif! You and COR are leading the way on implementing WEC and that is exciting. I think WEC is a serious contender in the ChMS arena for many churches and WEC is raising the bar on many fronts. As I mentioned to you yesterday, I will link back to this post to further spread the word.

Good stuff!

Kevin Finkenbinder said...

This is obviously an old thread, but has anyone ever considered bvcms.com. Their ChMS is open source & free if you host it on your own server. They also have hosting plans available.

Clif Guy said...

Yes, this is an OLD post. :-) I posted long before BVCMS came out.

We went through an extensive selection process and ended up with Arena. Overall, we feel we made the right choice, though it's not without its problems.