Tuesday, October 21, 2014 - 07:41
Written by
Hi, my name is Allen Hutchison.  I am the Director of Communications and I.T. at Glenwood Community Church in Vancouver, WA, USA.  We started our slow move to CiviCRM in 2013 when one of my bosses asked me to find a single solution for our database woes.  We have a number of ministries (Children's, High School, weekly small groups, etc.), and each department had their own system for managing people (MS Access, Excel spreadsheets, our website).  Our front office uses a proprietary Church Management System called Powerchurch.  It is great for accounting purposes, but its people management is lacking, most because it is only accessible on the network by a select few people.  We needed something accessible on and off site by all of our staff, integration with our website, tiered permissions, and yet some customization to each ministry.  The need list was high, but really any solution that allowed the sharing of data had us headed in the right direction.
Since our website is Drupal based, I wanted an open-source people management system to integrate with our site.  I am very grateful that we discovered CiviCRM.  The learning curve was initially high, but over the course of 11 months, by working on it little by little, our ministry leads are now using it, and we will soon incorporate the front office.  We will still use Powerchurch for finances, but Civi is/will be used for everything else.
We are currently in the beginning stages of a move from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7.  We set up our new Drupal 7 site on a subdomain of our current site and installed CiviCRM to integrate with that Drupal 7 site so we would be set for longevity.  I am greatly looking forward to Recurring Events as that will be the final piece of our Civi puzzle.
I attended CiviCon in San Francisco in April this year, and that kicked our setup/development into gear.  Immediately after that we moved from administering our setup to developing customizations to fit our needs.  I have been impressed by the Civi community, both in person and in the forums here.  The high level of desire to help is fantastic.  CiviTeacher, the online video tutorial service, has also proven most helpful.
Here are some tangible benefits of switching to CiviCRM that we have seen in the short time since implementation:
  • Shared contact information across all ministries without exporting from one system to email a spreadsheet. The significance of this cannot be overstated for us.
  • Targeted emails to Children’s Ministry volunteers without having to make custom distribution lists in MS Outlook.
  • Easy physical mailings to newcomers (creation of PDF letters with mail-merge like tokens; then CiviCRM makes the mailing labels!).  All with just a few clicks.
  • Congregants correcting their own data via webforms rather than our office staff having to track down information changes.  Every online registration is another opportunity for a congregant to update their information.  When our transition to Drupal 7 is complete, our user accounts will tie directly to CiviCRM's data so congregants can update their data at any time.
  • Our ministry applications can now be searched electronically by staff for the first time in our church’s history.
  • The receipts for our Haiti child-sponsorship contributions can now be issued in one afternoon rather than taking multiple days.
  • Countless possibilities for customized reports through CiviReport and integration with Drupal Views.

Here's how we're using Civi currently:

  • Civi Contact and Civi Mailing for people management and communication.  Our database contains individuals, households and a number of organizations comprised of local schools, other churches and workplaces.  We even keep some of our vendors in Civi so that their contact information is accessible by all staff.  We make extensive use of relationships to maintain a working knowledge of how family members and households tie together and how people relate to organizations (student, volunteer, employee, etc.).  We have a rather lengthy list of groups to organize our volunteers and see how they connect to, and serve in, our ministries.  Our tags show information about the individuals: allergies, skills, resources they’ve offered to share.
  • We are looking into Civi SMS for easier communication for those so inclined.
  • We use Civi Pledge and Contribution to track our Haiti child sponsorship program and issue receipts.  Our accounting program, Powerchurch, is still the ‘hub of truth’ as far as banking/accounting goes.  We import the data into Civi after the fact to make receipting WAY easier.  Our church does not yet offer online payment for events or online giving, but when that time comes down the road, CiviContribute will be the way we go.
  • CiviCase for our ministry application process (background checks, reference checking,  applicant interview).
  • We will use Civi Event and Civi Booking once the Recurring Events piece of Civi is available.
  • We are experimenting with Civi Volunteer to manage our larger volunteer-intensive events.
  • Throughout the above, we make extensive use of CiviCRM Webform Integration to provide internal and external data entry, registrations, etc.  Coleman Watts has done the CiviCRM community a GIGANTIC service with this module
  • We are just learning to use the power of CiviReport and customize it to our particular use cases.
If anyone has any questions about how we do things or would like to share how they operate, feel free to email me at!




I have used OpenChurch ( a distro for churches ) and CiviCRM to create a great starting point for a church at almost no cost to them.  It was a great combo that even after I leave someone else could support as they are both community driven results.  I try to provide solutions that are not only cost effective up front but also for the length of the investment.

Thanks for sharing.