In the process of finding Membership Software for the ECC website, I learned valuable lessons, which I'll share below, that I think are of benefit to anyone looking for a new software or service. In addition, I wanted to share how these will affect future training on the ECC site.
An overview of lessons learned as I looked for Membership Software
Please note, this is a totally different kind of software than Membership Software for a church. The kind of software I was looking for is primarily business software that protects and charges for content on a website. It has nothing to do with churches.
Here is my overview of lessons learned:
- Don't look for perfection in software, look for a good fit.
- A good fit is what is determined by your needs, situation, budget and ability to use the software.
- Almost every software or system that I read about had some people who thought it was wonderful and others who hated it.
- Feature lists mean almost nothing—most are either obvious, bloated, or exaggerated.
- Good support and explanations are priceless.
Expanded comments on what I learned:
I realized that the differences in how various software and systems were reviewed had little to do with the products themselves and much more to do with who was reviewing them. Unfortunately in the case of most reviews of the membership programs often tech gurus reviewed them. What a tech guru found "easy and intuitive" I often found impossible to understand or carry out.
I also became very weary of so-called "reviews" that were nothing more than a collection of links with content pulled from the sites they were reviewing. There is too much of this on the web. I found almost no "reviews" from people who actually used the materials, unless they were comments on the manufacturer's site or blogs where people hated something. I can understand this because the programs are costly and extremely time-consuming to learn, but it wasn't very helpful to someone trying to figure it all out.
The features in membership software that meant a lot to some people such as "the ability to drip content" and "lock RSS feeds" meant nothing to me. There are many instances where an abundance of features isn't positive, but overly complex and overwhelming when you only want it to do a few simple things. Most membership sites are for people who are selling expensive business services or content, so every bit of content is locked, locked again, put on an access level and sold piece by piece. They don't want people to share, they want to sell it one post, video or article at a time.
In contrast, I simply wanted to set up a membership site so that I wouldn't have to charge people every time I created a new ebook, training video, template or other resource. I wish I could give it all away for free, but since that isn't possible, this seems like the best solution. Church communicators are on a budget and I felt that if you could plan a month to month or year to year, on a consistent cost, or if you got a life-time offer, it would be easier for churches to have the content and training needed.
The conclusion of the above observations is that there is no objectively "perfect" software for any task. Software is perfect for you if it meets your needs, your budget, your level of training, for the tasks you need to carry out at your church. To figure that out, research all you can, but remember to pray for wisdom (James 1:5) remembering that your Lord loves you and the people you serve and wants to help equip you to do the best job possible in your work.
How I am applying them to future training on ECC
Because I learned there is no perfect tool to carry out any church communication task, I will try to present options for different situations in the programs I review or lessons I teach—to enable you to make the right decision for your needs, your budget, your level of training, for the tasks you need to carry out at your church.—which is the most important thing I can help you do.
I came to this conclusion after analyzing my frustrations, when I realized that one particular thing that bothered me was that almost every reviewer or commentator assumed (I'm sure in many cases, they not even aware they were doing this) that all their readers were exactly alike and more than that were exactly like them and had the same likes, dislikes, knowledge level and needs as the person doing the review. Because of that they would make statements such as, "this is the best and so easy to use….." Maybe it was for them, but it certainly wasn't for me.
It was upsetting when I realized that far too often I've unthinkingly done the same thing and I apologize. Let me share a current example of how I plan to change in this:
More options for website training
For some time I've been working on a new series on how to do websites. I had a very specific way I liked to create websites and host them. I was planning to teach everybody MY PLAN and only MY PLAN (because of course I thought that was best—oh how the sin of pride sneaks in where we least expect it), but as I've thought and prayed about it more, I've realized that there are a number of ways to create and host websites that would work out well for churches of various sizes and for people with various skill and budget. In researching and trying different options, I have found a number of systems that work well. In fact, I now have several systems and hosts I'm personally using for various ministries, and like any parent with several children, I no longer have a favorite.
As part of this new way of approaching training, I will do more video reviews and make them as clear as possible with the benefits and challenges for each new topic I'm teaching. For example, on the upcoming series on websites, I'll talk about when and why you may want to use a free WordPress template and modify it for your church; when and why you might want to use a hosted WordPress site and a purchased church-specific template; when and why you might want to use a service to create and host your site. I'm not you, at your church or with your budget, and though I can't give you unlimited options, I will work hard to make the options I do present as clear as possible.
The Lord tells us that "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28). When I started the search for new membership software, I didn't know how difficult and frustrating it would be, but I also didn't know how it would teach me lessons that I believe will ultimately be of great value to the guests and members of the ECC site—and the Lord knew that was the most important part of the process.