Faced with managing the space use in a very busy urban church shared by three congregations and a day care. I went looking for a simple software solution to managing space use.
After looking around at various options I came up with this criteria for church space booking software. Your needs may be somewhat different but at least this list will help shape your thinking and highlight some of the challanges and opportunities that exist in managing your church facility:
Must Exist on the Cloud
I wanted a software solution that would be accessible to multiple users not sharing the same office (both paid church staff and volunteers). I was not interested in installing software on a server, my computer, or a bunch of other computers. Let the booking software provider manage the system and let us just use it from anywhere with internet access.
Must Allow Multiple Users at No Extra Cost
In our case we have several congregations using one facility. We have a bit of an extreme situation where the building is used 7 days a week for various meetings and ministries between the different congregations and the day care center.
Even in a less complex situation, most churches would want the church staff and some ministry leaders to be able to access the space booking system. Also your treasurer will need access to see which users need to be charged for church rentals.
Flexible to Set Up Different Rooms & Facilities
A simple church with just a sanctuary is unlikely to need facility booking software, but our church has 16 bookable rooms. We do not feel the need to track use of service areas like bathrooms, foyers, and our info center. Dedicated 24/7 areas like offices are outside the scope of what we need to track bookings on.
We needed to be able to book different rooms for different groups at the same time. This includes sanctuary, balcony (separate as it gets used for small groups), library, meeting rooms, chapel, classrooms, fellowship hall, kitchen. We used the term "facilities" rather than "rooms" because in addition to traditional rooms we also decided to make the parking lot and courtyard as "facilities" because sometimes they get used for events. The baptistery is also be a bookable facility separate from the sanctuary because it requires advance notice to fill up.
We also wanted the ability to schedule equipment including:
- Tables and Chairs
- Sound System
For certain rentals the church provides a custodian and/or a sound person. It makes sense to include the scheduling of these people in the facility booking system.
Must Graphically Show Bookings
A calendar is immensely helpful to see what is booked and what is still free. A facility map would also be very helpful for users (like renters) who may not be familiar with the church layout or for those that do not know the room numbering system very well.
Ability to Charge Users
Our church is controlled by one congregation who rents space to two other congregations and the day care center. We also rent for the occasional concert, wedding, and funeral. We have fixed price contracts for some users, but also they generate extra uses that result in extra charges.
We hope that the church facility booking system can be used to ensure that all appropriate charges for use are levied on the appropriate users.
Perhaps the biggest concern was finding a facility booking system that could be had for a reasonable cost since the church is donation supported. A for profit or tax payer supported facility might be able to afford a high-priced system but our church does not have budget for that.
Ease of Setting Up the Room Booking Software
To make the software work for our unique building (and all buildings are unique) we needed to be able to create and name each room and facility. We did not have budget to pay a consultant or the software provider to set everything up, it must be volunteer friendly.
Ease of Use by Staff and Volunteers
We needed something that could be picked up with little training by anyone with the ability to use the internet. An intuitive booking system was critical. Adequate free support would really help.
Because some of the available software was designed for education and recreation applications, they come with the ability to book individuals into classes or events. This is a nice feature
Problems with Facility Booking Software We Found
We looked into a number of software programs and found them impractical. Specifically, some systems offered to churches required:
- Setting up a dedicated server and than having users log in to the server. This meant a big bill for computer hardware, technical set up and than maintenance of the server. This is why we decided cloud hosted was a requirement.
- Paying for a consultant to come and set up the system and train everyone. Not only was this outside our budget but our system users will change over time as different people serve as volunteers.
- Paying thousands to buy the software. A subscription service made more sense to us.
Some of the available systems were originally designed to manage recreational facilities and book individuals into programs. These systems had high price tag and required setting up a dedicated server. While rebranded as church booking software, these systems were far more than we needed to buy.
What We Choose For Church Scheduling Software
We found a booking software system called Appointment-Plus that was originally designed for booking staff in a personal service business. Imagine a sport medicine clinic or dentist office with personal and rooms to schedule a bunch of clients into. Therefore the scale of the software made sense to the churches needs. While this seemed a little bit of a stretch of use, Appointment-Plus is so flexible that we could easily adapt the program to our needs.
Nearly every major field in the database can be named anything you want. To make it work for our church, we renamed the default "Staff" as "Facilities". Clients are still clients, but mostly we use the Company field under the client profile as the designator because most of our bookings are made by a church or other entity like the day care society.
We than created a "Facility" for each room in the building as well as the parking lot, courtyard and baptismal tank. We also created some add on items like tables, chairs and music equipment. A PA person or a janitor can be scheduled along with relevent facility as required.
The system allows restrictions on what facilities and extras can be reserved together. In our configuration users can't get a PA person with a classroom and can't reserve the baptismal tank without the sanctuary that it is part of, for example. These restrictions help keep the users from doing unintended things.
The recurring appointment function is a huge time saver as we have many programs that repeat every week. One small frustration is that the days for recurring events are preset, and they do not include a Monday to Friday option. The work around is to input a recurring appointment for Mon-Wed-Fri and another for Tues-Thurs to complete the week. This was at the suggestion of website staff.
The system does facilitate billing at a range of rates you can establish yourself. It allows for credit card processing as well with some additional configuration and connection to a payment gateway. We have not activated this feature yet.
You can set the system to notify one or more email addresses every time there is a new booking. Currently we have the notifications go to the church secretary.
You can also make the calendar public, on your church website for example, but we will not do this until all the recurring events are on the system and the users are putting all new bookings in correctly.
Unlimited users are permitted at no extra cost, with the ability to appoint each user at a range of access levels. This allows us to open the system up to ministry leaders or even occasional renters who can than self-book appointments. Here is a link to the software.
Other Alternatives and Church Management Software
There are other effective systems out there, including some that may be better suited to your church's needs. Take a look at the alternatives carefully before making your purchase.
In our church booking software search we found church management software that tracked membership, attendance, giving, birthdays, anniversaries, and a number of other factors. Several of these church management systems also included a room reservation component. However, at least one of these systems did not allow for billing for room use (it assumes all users are within the organization). If your church needs church management software, than it would not be hard to deal with billing outside the room booking system, in the finance module for example. We did not dive deep into church management software because implimenting such a system was far outside the scope of rental management of the church facility.