Planning Center is the Solution
The chances are good that you already have a church management solution—some database to keep track of giving and personal information. In my last article, I encouraged you to evaluate your current software. Is it useful, is it user-friendly, and is it used? If you've realized there's a need to make a change in your database software, it's time to consider Planning Center and its suite of church apps.
Planning Center is a collection of services. But we are going to look at only one of them today. The database, which they call Planning Center People, is currently one of the best software options for churches on the market. Here's why.
Planning Center People has been and will always be free. Not a free trial for 30 days. Not free for a year. Free forever to everyone. It's the center of the Planning Center world, and once you experience its ease of use and world-class user interface, you will likely be willing to give their other services a try.
I have friends in board-driven churches who desperately wanted to overhaul their database solution, and when they brought this single point to the board, they found victory. You can build the database for free and see if you like it. There is no penalty and no catch.
My wife and I started a bible study in our home, which would later become a church plant. At first, everyone just signed their name on a piece of paper. Every single week we did this. And so I had a pile of attendance papers. It was horrible. I had no money or secretary and was working another job, so I didn't have time to learn some hard-to-use software. Planning Center was a service I was already familiar with because I had used its Services app at every church I had ever served. I fired up Planning Center People, and within minutes, we had a basic database working. No cash needed—no 10 hours of watching videos—just entering names and phone numbers into the system.
Planning Center People is not just a drawer for names and numbers. It is much more powerful than that. One of the free services included in People is workflows. Whenever someone new comes to our church, they get put into a workflow. Our New Guest volunteer receives an email notifying them of a guest. Then they follow our three-step workflow. They send an email on the day of the initial visit. A postcard gets mailed later in the week. And then an invite later in the month inviting them to our Guest Luncheon. Every time they complete a step, they check a box off. Our administrator can see if and when each team member has completed their tasks, which provides accountability. We have workflows in place for hospital visitation, first time guests, getting baptized, joining the church, and many others.
Planning Center People also syncs with Mailchimp with a feature they call "lists." This feature allows us to send a weekly e-bulletin very quickly. Syncing our different lists makes it very easy to email the nursery team, or an outreach team, or even send out an emergency notification due to a storm or power outage. Lists is—once again—a free feature baked into PCO People. It is a very powerful and completely online database. I access it at least once a day to pull up a number or email address.
Planning Center People is the cornerstone of Planning Center. As a small bible study, we used People exclusively for the first year. Once we started having public gatherings, we decided to add on Services and Check-in to ensure all of our systems were integrated.
Let me walk you through the ease of use. When I wanted to add Check-in to our account, I just opened Planning Center, clicked on Check-in, and turned on the appropriate tier for our church. Our first week of public gatherings, as parents brought their kids to check into the nursery, our members were already automatically in the system. For Check-in, it uses the People service as its brain. All the information entered in our database is shared with whatever new apps you activate. The same is true of Services, which helps to plan and execute worship services. As we put in the band and set up the order of service, all our people were already there to be assigned duties and responsibilities—no additional adding of any people. The foundation was already built from our time in Planning Center People.
For an established church, this means you can roll this out in phases. You can try out PCO People and see if it works for you. You can train your administrators, assistants, and key ministry leaders. And then, when that is done, you can bring Check-in online, if you choose to. Or Registrations to sign up for church events. Or Groups to keep track of your church's group ministry. Or Giving to create online giving for your church and keep track of each family's giving history. Or any of the other options they offer. You can go as fast and slow as you like and only pay for what you desire to use. There is no yearly commitment. I have turned things on only to realize we don't need it yet and promptly turned it off. It's a month to month reality.
Planning Center People is the best database currently available. And it will introduce you to Planning Center, which I believe may very well be the solution your church needs to administrate your church's vision.