HomeDigital MinistryManagement (ChMS)Open Source vs. Proprietary Church Software

Open Source vs. Proprietary Church Software


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?

[This post was written by Ken Stewart at Elexio.]

Emily Kantner
Emily Kantnerhttp://www.elexio.com
Emily is a Christ-follower, sports fanatic, classic literature junkie, and huntress. She works as the Content Marketing & Communications Specialist Elexio Church Software.


  1. So, a guy who sells a proprietary package writes an article on open source? Riiiight. That’s like MacDonalds writing an article on Burger King.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Raoul. We have a new post that’s not live yet on open source that offers a few good options should your church be interested in going this route. There are definitely some things to think through regardless of what type of ChMS you go with.

  2. […] Before trying these options, you may want to check out this article regarding the “cost” of “free”. […]

  3. Pete,

    Thanks for your comments. Open source software is sometimes touted as being “the same as” a proprietary program, only free. While it’s true that an open source program might have similar features, the experience for the church that uses it will likely be quite different from what they expected. There are more known quantities when dealing with a proprietary ChMS provider.


    • Hey Pete, Ken Stewart wrote this article. His name is at the top and his byline and image are at the bottom of the article. If I wrote the article, it will say my name at the top. I hope that clears it up! – Lauren

  4. Actually, there are some very affordable packages for small churches. A small church will probably “pay” a lot more for an open source program because of the distraction and headache of setting it up and not have a place to go for help. personally, time is more valuable than money. they print money every day. no-one is making any more time… 🙂 imho

  5. Lauren, Thank you for your reply, I understand the life of a professional blogger, I have in the past been paid by sponsors to write blog post and I understand the need. I would like to see an article about some of the Open Source ChMS products out there. After reading this article I did some research and found that their are some new projects out their since last time I looked. For a larger church, yes commercial ChMS is the way to go, but smaller, such as mine, cannot afford these pricy packages and still need to be able to be effective in ministry. That is where they OpenSource products come into play, in the 50 -100 attendance range. Small churches need technology too, maybe even more since we don’t have staff to take care of the office duties.

    • Kris,

      Thanks for your comments. I didn’t say this explicitly, but there are certain situations where open source is the best choice a given church can make. As you pointed out, commercial ChMS is the way to go for larger churches–if for no other reason than that the problems that come with open source solutions have impact on more people and can be more complicated to work out.

      Glad you found a solution that works for your church. Praise God for the work of small churches!


  6. A article about why you should choose paid ChMS solutions over Open Source ones written on behalf of a paid ChMS software company? That see very unbiased to me. Churchinfo (churchdb.org) is a great FREE Open Source ChMS package, I am a pastor and use it at my church. The community is active and support has been good. Take this article with a grain of salt and realize who it was paid for by.

    • Hi Kris, Thanks for your comment. Blogging professionally means that I need to write about sponsors who make it possible for my blog to even exist. If it weren’t for awesome sponsors like Elexio, ChurchTechToday would not be on the map. Most of my readers do understand that sponsored content exists – if you feel I should make that more clear, I’m always looking to improve CTT. Blessings on you and your mininstry, Lauren Hunter


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