Church Software Focus: Running a “For Profit Ministry” in a Nonprofit World
My husband David and I felt called to leave the database consulting world to run By the Book, a church software company, nine years ago. It has been a wild ride ever since. We knew from the beginning that this was our “ministry.” We were in business to serve the church. As a “for profit” business, this presents some interesting challenges and blessings.
One of the biggest challenges we face is the balance between our ministry focus of helping the church and the realities of running a business, paying the bills, making payroll etc. I think the most important factor in managing this balance is to pray constantly. We try to let the Lord lead us in every decision, from where to spend our marketing dollars to what new features should we develop for Roll Call.
Customer service and support is an area where our ministry focus can really shine. For me personally, I feel like I’m serving the church best when I’m helping a customer that might not know much about computers and they are really struggling. There is no better feeling in the world than hearing someone yell, “Praise Jesus” at the other end of the phone when you’ve helped them solve a problem. We try to treat each person that we come into contact with as if they were family. This is not a “strategy” it is just remembering that each person we work with is also a child of God… family.
Marketing is another area where we face the tug between making the sale and doing what is best for a prospective church. Our approach has been to reach out to each church and really understand what problems they are trying to solve and to be honest about whether our software really will solve that problem. We want people to understand what they are buying. That is why we offer free trials of the software so they can know before they buy. We’ve also made as much information available on our website as possible from pricing information to video demos to user manuals.
Price is another tricky area. As a ministry to churches, we’d sure love to give them free products and services. From a business perspective that’s just not going to work. We decided to price our software based on the size of the church. This allows us to serve any size church, from the very small 20 person home church to mega churches with 100,000 people in their database.
Deciding what to develop next for our product line can be a challenge. As with any business, you need to listen to what the customers are asking for. Looking at market research is also helpful in seeing trends in the industry. But as a spirit-led business, we need to ask, “What is the Lord asking us to do next?”
Running By the Book and working with the church is a huge blessing. I love coming into work every day. I feel honored to serve the secretaries, pastors, children’s ministry workers, treasurers and IT folks that we work with.
Kim Conley is part owner and operator of By the Book (http://www.bythebook.com), a company dedicated to helping the church through the use of technology.