Give your database a workout!

2015 Database Fitness for Your Church

Shaping up to Reach and Engage in 2015 (Part 1 of 2)

Accurate, reliable church records have a huge impact on your ability to reach people and engage them in church life.

Maintaining a church database is a job that's never done — rather, it's an ongoing labor of love and an integral part of your church's mission. In this two-part article, learn some helpful tips for cleaning up the records you have today and keeping your database fit throughout the year!

A database can be a lot like a closet. Even if you start with the best system and have plans to diligently maintain order, with time order devolves into chaos. Shoes don’t make it back on the shoe rack, sweaters are crumpled rather than folded, and in the very back of the closet lurk garments that haven’t seen the light of day in months (or years) and won’t be worn again.

Likewise, even the best kept databases deteriorate. Errors and duplicate records accumulate, and information, like last year’s styles, goes out of date quickly. As your church gears up for a new year of ministry, it’s a great time for a little routine cleaning to make sure the database is up to the task!

Why Bother about Data?

The database is the tool that allows you to connect with members during the week. Whether sending newsletters, giving statements, informational letters, invitations, or birthday cards via mail or email, the church relies on that data. Members with inaccurate or missing mailing or email addresses will miss out on mail. And people whose information was entered incorrectly or hasn’t been updated may receive mail with the wrong spelling of their name or other misinformation.

With clean and complete data, however, you should be able to reach most of your members with the details about church news and ministries that are important to you both. When its database is strong, a church can more easily engage members!

Cleaning Your Database: What You're Looking for

Back It up

Before combing through the database, make sure you have a current backup. In fact, it’s always good to have a backup on hand, but it’s especially important when you plan to make a lot of changes. If questions come up about what a record looked like before your updates, your backup and your printed reports will serve as a handy reference.

Whether you're running your CMS products in a hosted environment (i.e., Remote Solutions services) or as a standalone installation, you'll want to run a back up to the CMS Online FTP site or to the location of your choice.


While making changes, keep an eye out for duplicates. You may find that the same family or member is listed more than once in the database — perhaps a last name was misspelled the first time around, or maybe a member changed her name and she now has two records — one with her maiden name and one with her married name.

CMS has a Combine function that lets you put duplicate contributions, history, and pledge information together into a single record.

Remind staff that they should always search for existing records before adding a new family or member to the database. The CMS People Products offer a configurable Find Method that lets you establish how you want to search for information (e.g., by partial or exact first and last name). Running a quick Find before you add new records is one way to ward off duplicate records. If you fear there are many duplicates in your existing records, consider dedicating a day or certain hours multiple times during a work week to de-duping. Make it a team effort in which all qualified staff members pitch in a few hours and comb through portions of the database.

Accuracy of Current Records

Every church periodically needs to look through its records and do a “recensus.” People move, they join other churches in your community, or they may have drifted away due to life’s circumstances. A good spring cleaning (which you can do any time of year) is your opportunity to make your church database accurately reflect your current membership.

A general church recensus is a great way to ask everybody to review and update their information. Print out populated Census/Registration forms and ask members to grab them from alphabetically organized pickup stations after weekend services and return them with any changes. Do this for a couple of weekends. Take a quick pass through the balance of forms that haven’t been picked up personally. Pull out any that have incomplete addresses or that you know will need special attention and mail the rest.

Missing Data

Checking for missing records periodically in your CMS system will help you see where the database is weak. It can also help you focus future endeavors to collect information from new and existing members. Use your CMS List/Checklist options to filter and sort reports how you like. Look for blanks in key fields, like phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, and envelope number, if applicable to your church.

Once you know who’s missing what, you can work on getting that specific information from members using a more targeted approach. Connect the data to a ministry objective and explain briefly how the member will benefit. For example, if your church is looking to start a blog or launch an email newsletter, and you have email addresses for just 30% of your members, you have a compelling reason to ask members for their email.

Get the Story Behind the Data

You should also keep in mind that your reports can reveal much more than raw data. Your records tell a story. Changes in attendance patterns or a sudden halt to contributions (shown on your Date of Last Contribution report) could mean a member needs pastoral support. When you haven’t seen someone in awhile, and you’re not sure what’s happening in his life, take the time to reach out and touch base. Stick to an outreach-oriented dialog (i.e., don’t ask for money). For example, ”I haven’t seen you in awhile . . . I’m just calling to check in and see how you’re doing . . . can we help?” You’ll let the person know you care, and they’ll appreciate knowing the church is genuinely interested in their well being.

Be prepared to follow up on requests for a home visit, transportation to church, or connections with other community resources. If the person still wishes to be a member, go ahead and verify that you have their correct mailing address and email in the CMS system, while you’ve got them on the phone.

Let’s get 2015 off to a great start by getting your church’s data in shape for the new year! The first step is taking initiative to clean up what you’ve got now. Curious about the second step? Stay tuned for next month’s article on database fitness goals to *keep* things under control throughout the year!

Read Part 2 of 2: Longterm Planning for Lifelong Data Health

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