Can You Have Too Much Church Tech?

My first reaction to our 2021 State of Church Technology Report (SOCT) was relief.

In case you missed it, we sent a survey to nearly 2,000 churches asking about their priorities and concerns regarding their church’s needs with technology. One of the questions we led with was, “How important is technology in achieving your church’s mission?”

As the CTO of Pushpay, I believe strongly in the value of Church tech (obviously). But what I occasionally hear from church leaders is a lack of interest. Sometimes leaders don’t convey that they understand the value of digital solutions, or they’re hesitant to acknowledge how much they’ve come to depend on tech to elevate the mission of their church.

But the SOCT report confirmed what I thought to be true: 93% of respondents—all leaders or influencers in their respective ministries—said they believed technology was important to achieving the Church’s mission. In fact, nearly every response to the survey supported the idea that digital solutions are extremely important to the Church, and that those tools will be a staple of ministry in the future.

There was one question in the report, however, that led to a counterintuitive response.

How Many Tools Do You Need?

It’s clear that Church leaders are embracing technology. The trend started decades ago and drastically accelerated as ministries adapted to the unique challenges of the past few years. Thus, you’d probably expect the majority of church leaders to want all the digital tools they can get their hands on.

We asked that question point-blank: “Would you prefer that your church be using more software products, fewer software products, or are you fine with your current number?”

The results that came back were… interesting: Just 12% of respondents say they want more products. Meanwhile 44% are fine with the current number, and the other 44% actually want fewer products.

Those figures caught a few of my peers off guard—but not me. It actually reflects a trend that I’ve been keeping an eye on for years.

Integrated Systems Are The Future

Let me paint an all-too-common picture of how a church admin team adopts software: A worship pastor goes out and finds a worship app they like. Later, the volunteer scheduler does some research and chooses their own scheduling software. Then the engagement director brings in a third-party email automation platform—and so on and so on.

This gives that church a feeling of being on the cutting edge of technology—the SOCT results proved this is a real phenomenon. Over half of the churches surveyed consider themselves ‘progressive’ with technology. They think they’re moving fast, embracing the latest solutions, and increasing productivity with their ever-expanding suite of tools.

Over the past couple years, however, they’ve started to realize that having dozens of different tools isn’t efficient. Stacking up a bunch of systems that don’t talk to one another causes delays, extra administrative work, and lost opportunities. And yet, every one of those systems I just listed draws valuable data—who’s on the worship team? Who responded to that email? Who filled out which form? This is important information that your church needs. No one wants less data.

But if you’re working in too many unintegrated platforms, with your data spread across half a dozen different silos, you’ll never see the big picture of what your members’ engagement truly looks like.

Getting The Full Picture

Did you know that church attendance has dropped with every consecutive generation since World War II? And that it looks like Gen Z could be the first group to break that trend? Those in their mid-twenties and younger are claiming affiliation with the church and attending services at an equal rate to Millennials. If we can boost (or simply maintain) those numbers, Gen Z could very well be the future of faith.

The only way that will happen is if churches understand how their younger members are engaging. It’s no secret that a sixty-year-old expresses their generosity differently than a twenty-six year old, and that each of them prefer to participate in your ministry in different ways. To maintain and grow your church, you simply must understand the how, when, and why of your congregants’ engagement.

But if only one member of your church team knows a particular young couple’s email open rate, while another has their volunteering schedule, and no one’s sure who has the password to access their recent giving history…? You see the issue.

Having all of your data in one centralized location is paramount. Integrated technology systems eliminate all these inefficiencies—and churches are figuring that out. According to the SOCT report, of all the digital products churches consider ‘strategically important’ for their near future, Church & Donor Management Software tops the list. They want a single, all-encompassing suite that can handle giving, administrative tasks, integrated apps—and house all their members’ data in a single place.

As CTO, part of my job is keeping one eye on the future. Where is the Church going? And how can we innovate to serve that path and mission? I believe the only way to efficiently engage with and grow congregations—reversing the trend of the past eighty-odd years—is by understanding our people and communities.

Data is a powerful tool to help get us there. Let’s not waste it.