ACS Technologies ranks high in the church management systems market, also called ChMS. With decades of service to the local church, they’re trusted by many. Now, ACS Technologies brings us Realm, a web-based church management system for helping churches manage administration, accounting, and community in one place.
Realm tracks your church membership database, simplifying the lives of staff, volunteers, and those who attend church services and events. The online ChMS will keep track of who comes to church, how much they give and help ministers and members communicate with each other. It does this all in one place, through their online ChMS portal.
Realm also integrates with your church’s website so people can give, check in to the church services, and update their personal profiles. The solution includes event planning and calendars along with digital sign-ups and paying for paid events.
We got a look at Realm in order to help you see how well it does the above. Should you subscribe to Realm for your church management needs? Let’s find out.
“Self-Guided Tour” of Realm
Potential users should start by watching the informative overview videos in their “self-guided tour” taking about 30-minutes to watch about a dozen short videos. They teach people what Realm can do for churches. They’re professionally made and teach users the scope of Realm’s services.
One note, the videos don’t seem to let you maximize them on their website. On a high-resolution monitor, things look a little small so it’s hard to see the text and screenshots on the admin pages they’re showing off in the videos. Also, the user will have to rate each video and must give their phone number and church information to complete this tour. That’s a little intrusive if someone’s just learning about the service and not ready to sign up.
Once you’ve opted to go with Realm and gone through the “Getting Started” process, the software offers live training webinars to teach users how to use the service. Many of these are free to use, but some of the more advanced webinars will cost $39. As a side note, I dislike when companies charge for customer support and education in general. Unless custom training and implementation is involved, we at CTT feel that the cost of software training should be baked into the price of the software. In spite of that, Realm is robust and the company does a good job of showing what it can do in the free videos.
Realm does state that “support is included in the price of the product if additional help is needed to set up or use it.”
You’ll use the Admin section to set things up and import your membership. It handles CSV files so you don’t need to type every profile into the system.
Realm Administration Page
The service gives users a simple user-interface. Five tabs along the left link to the parts of Realm:
- Community – Track people and events for your church community.
- Reporting – Get information about attendance, membership, and giving and create reports about information gathered in these areas that you can export as PDF files.
- Giving – Learn about the money given to the church and its various funds.
- Accounting – All the tools to control and track accounting for the church including the budgets, the people, or vendors that you need to pay and bank accounts to name a few.
- Admin – Take complete control of Realm services like your membership, events, and all the tools included in the service. You can limit which users can see these tools.
While the main page looks simple, each tab can get a little complicated. It’s a good idea to learn all you can before you dive in.
Log in and you’ll see the above screen with the five tabs and all of your current Tasks. Tasks include things someone needs to take care of, like a To Do list. Click the links in the list to go to that section of the website to take care of that Task, like the “Newcomer Followup” with a menu to the left (see the three horizontal dots). You can send the person an email, for example.
If you click a person’s name it takes you to their profile page. Notice the links across the top of the page just below the person’s name and profile photo. These links across the top take you to pages where you can assign the person to a group, see if she’s given money, or add notes. Other links on this profile include her pathway. More on that below. The Sacraments page shows if this person’s experienced things like baptism, confirmation, or marriage. Some churches don’t use the term “sacrament” for these kinds of things. This information tracks the person’s spiritual progress.
Church leadership experts tell us that discipleship best happens when a church defines the process of taking a person from a totally disinterested prospect to a fully involved and actively serving member. This means we need to define how we can move a person along that Pathway, Realm calls it. I love that Realm helps churches mark the progress a person makes on this faith journey.
Pathways include things like a membership class, baptism, taking part in a ministry, or attending an event designed to draw in new people. You can add these pathways to the service in the Administration tab and then track members along this pathway in their profile area.
Pathways turn this web-based church management tool into a church growth and discipleship tool. That’s a huge benefit to Realm Help grow numbers, giving and spiritual development.
Realm does the basics that every ChMS does. It tracks all of the following:
- Membership database
- Attendance in small groups and worship
- Involvement in ministries or special events
The reports in Realm are simple to create and go from very general to incredibly granular. For example, I can create a report with a few clicks to track the attendance figures for the whole church over the last year to see trends presented in lists or visually. I can also track the giving for the entire church over a similar time. I can also create some very specific reports. Want to know how much Senior Adults gave last month? How about youth or just the teenagers in high school? Want to see the attendance in the 18-25 age group? Just boys? Just mothers? Realm can go as specific or general as you want.
Use the predefined reports and edit them to get more specific or start from scratch. Then export them as PDFs or show them as graphs or charts (see below).
In the Reporting tab, the Dashboard shows all the various reports a user can make. Along the top of the screen, you’ll see links for …
- Overview – This is the high-level view of things in all areas with links to specific reports.
- Giving – Shows graphs and charts about giving, which you can filter for more specific giving reports.
- Pledges – Track pledges to a fund like a building fund.
- Attendance – See attendance overviews and get specific details with filters all presented in lists or graphs and charts.
- Involvement – See how active your members or guests are in general attendance or specific ministries or groups.
Realm handles Events and Calendars in the Administration tab of the Dashboard. Click Admin and the Calendar to see the church’s calendar of events.
Add Registration Event, where members will need to go online or in their Connect app (more on that below) and sign up to attend a special event. Maybe the church plans to hold a fundraising dinner. They want people to sign up so they know how many people to tell their caterer to plan for. If there’s a cost, the user can also pay through the website.
Realm also lets users see their events through the Community tab. Open them and edit them, add attendees who don’t want to or cannot register online or in the Connect app. The person can also take a past event and use it as a template to create new events.
If you want to talk to members about things like upcoming Events, Realm offers that in the Community tab. Chat with your group through the messaging system.
Full Accounting Solution
The Accounting section of Realm offers a full-service accounting solution for churches. From this page, you can work with…
- Vendors – People or businesses you pay
- Transactions – Shows general ledger of income/expenses, invoices, and recurring payments
- Print Queue – Create, view, and print checks
- Inquiry – Search for transactions
- Bank Reconciliation – Reconcile your bank accounts
- Budgets – Create and manage the church budgets
- Reports – Run reports on finances
- Period End – Close out a month and set up 1099s
- Change Log – View changes in your ledger to see recent activity
- Ledger Setup – Setup your accounting system
Realm Accounting uses “good accounting practices” recommended by accountants, including a double entry accounting system. It’s easy to track how much is income and expenses. Create and track the budget and even pay vendors by printing checks. Create easy to use reports for administrators and church members alike. Create reports on how much money is coming in and going out on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis and track year over year changes. A church staff can handle all of their accounting within Realm.
Realm isn’t just about what the church can do with tracking money. They also make it easy for members to give and track their giving. They offer a way to connect the church’s website so they can accept online giving. Donors can set up a one time gift online or in the Connect app for their smartphone. There’s even a way to give to a specific fund or give in an ongoing way.
Many churches use pledge campaigns to raise money for missions, the general budget or a special project, like a new building. Realm helps promote pledge campaign. Members can create a pledge and then give to meet their pledge all online or in the service’s smartphone app.
Giving through a website or smartphone app makes paperwork simpler for church staff, but it’s not always practical. Some people prefer to use cash or write a check. Staff people can enter these kinds of donations.
The church can create annual giving statements for tax purposes. However, a member can also go online and track their own giving without bothering the office staff. Maybe they want to see how much they’ve given and then do a one-time gift at the end of the year to meet a personal pledge or goal. They can quickly and easily find out without bothering the office staff.
To use online giving, you’ll need to set up what’s called a merchant account. This lets you accept things like credit cards. Do this in the Administration area.
Recent security breaches like the fiasco with the credit reporting agency Equifax or Target released our personal info into the wild ready for criminals to use as they wish. Churches hold a lot of personal information, like bank account and credit card information, birthdays and contact information. That’s why it’s important for ACS to take this serious to help churches secure data. Realm is also PCI Compliant, which is extremely important when it comes to online giving and security of credit card information.
Here’s the good news. The company’s been around nearly 40 years with a good record. They also promise to get regular security audits and they invite audits of their own accounting methods. They promise to work hard to secure this information. We looked up ACS Technologies with the Better Business Bureau, and while they don’t have any reviews, they also don’t have any complaints against them. If they did have a bad history, it would likely show up here.
Realm CONNECT App
Here’s a list of what church members can do with the Realm CONNECT app:
- Share a message with others in your group or church
- Offer or view prayer requests
- Put your photo online for use with your profile
- Sign up for events and activities
- See who else will attend a group or church event
- Share feedback about events
Use of the Realm CONNECT app comes free with a subscription to Realm. There’s no additional charge. Here’s the iTunes App Store description:
Connect with what’s going on at your church anytime. Contact your small groups, coordinate group activities, RSVP to church events and meetings, manage your giving, update your information, and more.
Realm Pricing and Value
Subscribe to one of three pricing tiers called…
- Inform – Mostly for staff members use
- Connect – Staff members and volunteers will use this to interact with one another and between staff and members
- Multiply – Highest level focused on multi-campus churches or large churches that also work with a smaller church plant in another location
If you are in a smaller church, then consider the Inform plan. It mostly supports the pastor or staff of a church and lets them track their members. You can do all of the following in the Inform plan (from their website):
- Involvement Dashboards
- Quick Profile Lookup
- Add Notes
- Communicate to Leaders
- Oversee Groups
- Custom Reports
- Attendance Tracking
Fees for Realm are calculated based on your attendance. There’s a one-time set-up fee of $79 for smaller churches 50 and under in weekly average attendance. This goes up to $99 for 51-100 in attendance and $149 for those up to 150.
Churches with over 150 will need to get special pricing on setup and subscription for all of the three pricing tiers. The Inform tier costs $29, $39 or $59 per month for the three sizes.
Larger churches with more complex needs should consider the Connect tier. It’s designed for staff, volunteers, and members. Use it for checking people in on Sundays, managing groups, and creating events. Set up check-in and giving Kiosks with computers or tablets around the church. Let group leaders manage their group. Send out messages to your small group or ministry group. Let members manage their contact profile information online or in the app.
The cost goes up when you add the Connect features. The monthly subscription costs $44, $59, or $89 per month for the three attendance levels. Over 150 and you’ll have to get special pricing information from ACS. The one-time setup fee costs $109, $129, or $199.
If you serve a very large multi-site church or have a church plant associated with your congregation, then the Multiply plan will better fit your needs. They say on their site: “The Multiply plan adds multi-campus administration and a growing set of outreach features to the staff and member features found in Inform and Connect.” There’s a special tool for helping your campus pastor(s) in this tier. The monthly subscription rate listed on their site is $199 regardless of attendance. However, the setup fee does have a graduated cost of $200, $250, or $300 depending on which of three attendance ranges your in. Churches over 150 again need to seek customized pricing plans for both setup and subscription prices.
Is Realm by ACS Technologies a good deal? Based on this overview and a quick look, I’d say ‘yes’ for churches that need help with the following:
- Complex accounting and record keeping
- Online giving or in-app giving
- Attendance tracking with self-check-in or online attendance recording
- A simplified event creation and registration system
- Want to create a system for tracking discipleship through Pathways
- Need app to help with communication, attendance, and giving but don’t want to use a customized app like those we reviewed earlier
Churches that can’t afford the subscription fees or setup fees should steer clear of Realm. The service will also require some time to use the attendance tracking and accounting features to make it worth your money. Some churches have volunteers that shy away from using computers.
Many smaller churches with predominantly senior adult members probably can’t imagine asking their volunteers to do online attendance or giving and maybe don’t have a church secretary who could handle this work. These churches who have very busy pastors or bi-vocational pastors may not have the time to do it themselves.
For those who do meet the criteria above, Realm by ACS Technologies looks like a great service at an affordable price. So, we can recommend it to those churches. They should contact the company and check out Realm for themselves.