Home Digital Ministry Management (ChMS) Realm by ACS Technologies Church Management Software

Realm by ACS Technologies Church Management Software [Review]

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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 tabs on the left take you to various areas of Realm while the user profile drop-down int he upper right shows your personal profile information.

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.

Pathways

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.

Put a Check In page on your website and say goodbye to attendance books or cards. Set up kiosks around the church so people can check themselves in.

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.

You can manually mark who’s present in the system using the attendance section.

Reports

Realm does the basics that every ChMS does. It tracks all of the following:

  • Membership database
  • Guests
  • Attendance in small groups and worship
  • Involvement in ministries or special events
  • Giving
  • Budgets
  • Accounting

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.

A Realm giving report ready to print or save as PDF.

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).

Realm’s Reporting Dashboard shows Involvement figures and presents them in helpful charts and graphs for quick analysis.

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.

Event Tools

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.

Go to the Administration tab along the left and click on Registration Even to add one to the calendar.

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.

Click on Community in the Dashboard and then on Events to see and edit events.

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.

The Realm messaging system lets you keep up with members and even talk them online about 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.

Giving

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.

Data Security

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

Members can use the Realm CONNECT app to communicate with people in their small group, make donations, and sign up for events.

Download the Realm CONNECT iPhone or Android app for free and use it for a lot of what people can do online.

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 the CONNECT app to make profile changes, see your groups, and check the church calendar.

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.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Kevin,

    Thank you for your review of ACS Realm. With all the general information on the ACS Realm website, your review was the only place that provided a free look into the features of Realm. I’ve used many ChMS products in the past 15 years. In addition, I am a software developer who gives 20 hours per week to churches who are making the transition to enhancing their use of technology. In my opinion, your review is not intended to replace webinars or training that Realm may provide. It is an initial evaluation, plain and simple. I, and I believe others, am very grateful for the chance to make an initial assessment that is not accompanied by a sales pitch.

  2. As a greenhorn church administrator in 2000, I went on the hunt for a new ChMS. That is when I first encountered ACS Technologies. Granted, back then there was nowhere near the number of options available today. Though I have moved to different states and different organizations over the last 18 years, I have found ACS already there serving churches to the best of their ability.

    Though a user of ACS People Suite and Financial Suite for most of my ministry, Realm has supported the church my wife and I planted for almost 2 1/2 years. Though some of the training webinars have a cost associated with them, all of what a staff member might need to know can be found in the online user manual. This is accompanied by release notes for enhancements, which almost always have a short video tutorial available. Furthermore, access to online support forums are available from within Realm. If a particular question does not happen to be in a forum thread, the GetSatisfaction system gives a user an option to turn the question into an enhancement request.

    Speaking of enhancements. ACS releases new Realm enhancements every two weeks. They are pouring everything they can into making it the best it can be for the churches they serve. Oh, and as Kevin pointed…Support IS included. It’s just a phone call away, and I can attest that ACS does a great job of getting you in contact with the right support team member for a particular question.

    One thing I would like to mention is that Kevin’s review comes from a church staff member’s perspective, which makes sense. After all, that is who would be investigating ChMS options for a church. I believe the staff experience is clean and straightforward. But it’s worth noting that the look and feel of what a church member sees is even more so. It makes engagement with church members a priority–giving a “social media” experience with a news feed each end user can customize. And as mentioned, the Connect app provides all of this in the palm of your hand.

    I could highlight a lot more but want to stress the fact that Realm is a FULLY INTEGRATED solution for churches. Though it seems there is a plethora of ChMS available today, there are only a handful of systems that track true fund accounting alongside people information management. There is a separate subscription, because not all churches need/want accounting capabilities, but having accounting linked to people is a huge benefit. This is especially true in relation to online gifts. With these gifts, there is ZERO work that has to be done to post them to BOTH contribution records AND the accounting system. The only time I interact with online gift batches is when checking them off during the bank reconciliation. In my mind, having the fully integrated system is a game-changer. For those subscribing to (paying for) QuickBooks or other accounting software, I think it would be well worth converting to Realm Accounting. It would cost roughly the same–maybe less, but I am confident there would be some time-savings, which could be even more valuable to the church staff.

    Oh! One last thing. Kevin did not mention Text Giving. In addition to online (computer and mobile browser) giving and Connect App giving, Text Giving is also included when using a merchant account from their preferred provider, Vanco. With this enabled, the administrator can create custom keyword for giving funds. This could be used at special events to raise money for special projects, etc. Our church has used this function recently to support the missions endeavors of our children’s ministries and student ministries.

    If you are investigating ChMS, I hope you’ll take a good look at Realm!

  3. Thanks so much for this overview of Realm. As a Realm user myself, I want to add that there are many more things that come to mind about this software program and app that are beneficial. Probably the most important benefit for me is the opportunity for personal control of and access to my own information—at any time of the day, from my own personal devices, wherever I may be—even in a grocery store parking lot. It is great to be able to view and adjust my giving, sign up and pay for special events, communicate with my church family as much or little as I might like, and, in addition, control the number of emails I receive. Most importantly, I appreciate that I can decide for myself who sees my personal information by choosing from several privacy levels for different pieces of information such as my address, phone numbers and email addresses. For example, I can let everyone in my church see my email address only, I can increase the information I have available to my small group and home group by allowing these group members and leaders to see my cell phone number and home address, and I can let the church staff see all my personal and contact information. I can determine one privacy level for all my contact and personal information or customize privacy levels for each individual piece of information, but the best part is that the choices for all these settings are all up to me. Since I am able to determine the number of notifications I receive and control my information and privacy settings, I have confidence that Realm is a great fit for how I like to do life. Using Realm is an easy, convenient, and positive way for me to stay connected with my church not just on the weekend, but every day of the week. The nice thing is, when I do see members of my church family face-to-face, it seems that our relationships have grown to a deeper level because we have been able to maintain our connection and continue our support for one another via Realm.

  4. Hey Kevin, did you happen to interview any existing users of Realm or was this post purely based on your running through the features yourself? Also, how long have you been using ChMS tools, and how does this compare to what you’ve used in the past?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Ben, I can speak to your questions – Kevin is a newer reviewer of ChMS and doesn’t actually use it for his small rural church for a number of really good reasons. I’d love for a few users to post comments – that’s a great idea. He didn’t contact any users – just did the review using the free trial to dive in and uncover all the great features. If you have feedback on Realm, we’d love to hear more! Blessings, Lauren

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