Open Source Church SoftwareApril 25, 2005
Brian Glass has started a terrific conversation about open source software in the church, specifically church management systems. He is in the process of writing software for his church, but wonders whether he should seriously consider a system like Fellowship One from Fellowship Technologies. His post and the ensuing comments cover many of the common dilemmas: cost, vendor lock-in, access to source code, and helping other churches. The highlight is a thoughtful response by Jeff Hook, the president of Fellowship Technologies.
My take? Obviously, I have a personal and professional attachment to Fellowship One. I was heavily involved in the original development (don't worry - all of my code has long since been replaced), many of the staff and developers are friends, and Fellowship benefits immensely from its use every day.
The question comes down to what God has called you to do. Some people are called to serve a local church, while others are called to serve the church. I believe that many churches could benefit from a community-developed, free, open source church management system. No such system exists today and a stable, full-featured, enterprise-level open source option is years away. What should be done now? First and foremost, you have to meet the needs of your church, its members, and the community. The stakes are too high to allow loyalty to a certain platform, technology or methodology stand in the way of a viable solution.
I have heard so many stories from churches who attempted to write their own software. They were told by one or two staff members or volunteers that it would be easy and that the church's needs were so specific that they required a custom solution. I have seen churches struggle for years with incomplete, buggy software - searching for another person to come in and plug the holes. The most common form of vendor lock-in I have heard is, "A volunteer wrote this for us in Access, but he left the church and no one else knows how to make it work."
A major reason that Fellowship One exists is so churches don't have to become software development companies. Not only that, but because the software is accessible via the internet as an ASP, it greatly reduces the amount of technical support, maintenance and infrastructure required on-site.
My recommendation? When given the choice between years of uncertain development and a known solution that will meet the majority of your needs now, support your future growth, and reflects the shared knowledge of hundreds of churches, I will gladly choose the existing solution each and every time. Don't reinvent the wheel. Focus your development hours and creativity on meeting the ministry needs of your church that can only be solved by those who know it best.