How Your Church Can Ditch Expensive Software

April 25, 2006 by

Part 6 in a continuing series on What Web 2.0 Means for Your Church

One of the best things about the whole web 2.0 revolution is how it all works. Asynchronous Javascript and XML, better known as AJAX, powers these new web 2.0 applications enabling them to behave more like desktop applications than web pages. This leads to web based applications, which are hefty little programs that can do some of the same heavy lifting as legacy desktop software like Microsoft Word, but don’t pack any of same hit to your wallet or harddrive.

The benefits should be obvious for thrifty churches.


In general, web applications are:

  • Simple – One of the guiding principles for web 2.0 is to do less. Many desktop software applications are bloated with features, most of which the average person never uses. Web applications ditch the bloat for doing a few simple things right. That makes them easier to learn and use.

  • Easy to install – Because you don’t have to. Desktop software usually requires a CD-ROM, or maybe nowadays a lengthy download and install process. But web applications aren’t installed on your computer–they’re hosted on the Internet so you have no software to install. It does requires a trusted connection to the net, which may be the one touchy point that holds some churches back.
  • Always improving – Because the application is online, updates can be instant. There’s no need to mail out an upgrade CD or get users to download a new patch. All that maintenance work is done on the back end. By not investing in all that legacy infrastructure, web applications can concentrate on improving. And rather than charge you for an upgrade, it’s part of the package.
  • Cheap – With all the cost-cutting measures mentioned above, the bottom line is a low price. Some web apps are even free. And those that do charge usually ask for a low monthly or even yearly fee. Over time the cost can work out to be the same or less compared to legacy software that needs costly upgrades every few years.

Web Applications for your Church
So what software can you ditch? Here’s a run down (hardly complete) of some of the web applications out there:

  • Writely – a free word processing program that makes collaboration easy. It was recently acquired by Google and could be an alternative to Microsoft Word. Writeboard is another web based writing app.

  • Basecamp – A project management and collaboration tool that lets you assign and track projects.
  • Google Calendar – a web-based calendar that can interlink with your friends, family and coworkers.
  • Gmail – Some people are already ditching Outlook or Entourage and going with web-based e-mail. Gmail is even testing hosting the e-mail for your domain, which any IT wizard can tell you would be a huge time saver.
  • Flickr – It doesn’t allow for image editing, but Flickr does make for a powerful photo storage and sorting software.
  • Thumbstacks – There’s even web-based presentation software that could one day rival Powerpoint.
  • Jumpcut – You can really push the boundaries of web-based applications and edit video online. Some users report slow downs for big files, but it is a potential free alternative to iMovie.
  • Google Maps – It’s not anything particularly new, but online maps have all but replaced the old CD-ROM street atlas.

And that’s hardly a drop in the bucket. Check out a more complete list and look for the software that does what you want.

The Downside
The naysayers always get their chance. There are definite drawbacks to web based applications. One of the biggest is Internet access. If your church doesn’t have broadband or your connection isn’t reliable it’s probably not worth it. If you’re on the move a lot and rarely have web access to your laptop it may be more trouble than it’s worth. There’s also the risk that all these booming companies could go belly up. It’s happened before. Then you’re back to legacy software.

Bottom Line
But for the early adapters there’s definitely potential to web 2.0ify your IT department. 37signals is a company that creates web based software and is big on spreading web 2.0 ideals. They even wrote Getting Real, a PDF-only book that talks about creating web based apps and can give you insight into how they might work for you. For big churches imagine the joy of no more mass upgrades where the poor IT drone has to slump over to each and every workstation to upgrade software. For tiny churches imagine the joy of not having to fork over fist fulls of cash for basic software.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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17 Responses to “How Your Church Can Ditch Expensive Software”

  • RC of strangeculture
    April 25, 2006

    Interesting…heard of or used most of those, but not all…especially not writely, basecamp or jump cut.
    –RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com


  • s. zeilenga
    April 25, 2006

    Kevin’s new favorite word : ditch
    ha ha…


  • kevin
    April 25, 2006

    Saw that after I posted it and considering ditching ‘ditch’ for ‘dump’ or something like that, but then I just figured what’s done is done. Meh.
    Instead we’ll see who’s observant. You win.


  • Jacob Smith
    April 25, 2006

    The great thing about many of these tools is they have an API so with a little know how you can link them together with an open source CMS like WordPress or Textpattern.


  • justin aka j rocka
    April 25, 2006

    google maps is the best!


  • Brandon Meek
    April 25, 2006

    True dat


  • Aaron Pruzaniec
    April 25, 2006

    I would recommend Open Office to anyone with limited internet access. It’s a big download but I promise you won’t miss MS Office.
    Free and available on PC, Mac and Linux


  • Nate K
    April 26, 2006

    RE: Jacob Smith
    I would agree with you ont this one, that is really the most powerful piece to all of this. Having an API to integrate with other pieces.
    I have used/played with everything you have listed above and I think they are great tools. For those that do calendars or task management, I love how they tie into iCal – which is what I use everyday. They arent separate pieces – they can tie into what you need/want. Basecamp is just ONE of the many cool apps from 37signals.com.
    Though this isnt church related, I have some friends who just launched http://www.chalksite.com – which is a ‘web2.0′ app for teachers to manage their students and classrooms.
    Though Im not sure what I think about the whole ‘web2.0′ thing (or fad) – there have definitely been some cool apps created. Are they all accessible – not so much? But I assume its not something they are too worried about!
    Nice article Kevin!


  • Rick
    April 26, 2006

    My biggest question here would be, what’s the cost of failure? If your whole office is dependent on somebody’s web-based apps, and their servers go down, you’re in some trouble. If your own network goes down, and you’re using your own software, you’re in the driver’s seat in terms of getting tech support and getting things up and running again. Just some things to think about.
    Having said all of that, I’m really digging GMail and the calendar that goes with it. Somebody also mentioned OpenOffice.org, and I wholeheartedly recommend that churches at least take a serious look at it when it comes time to upgrade their office suite.


  • Nate K
    April 26, 2006

    One other thing is privacy. This is all on the web, you are trusting that the web apps are keeping everything secure from spiders and bots in that sense. For instance, I really like the Google Calendar, but I dont like the idea that when I make a calendar public it opens it to be searchable via google. That is the main thing holding me back from using it.
    RE: Rick,
    I agree with you in that aspect. And, as Kevin said, you are relying that the uptime and exisitence of the business will be there. Thats putting alot of trust with some imporant business tasks. Our business will not use the Basecamp, as much as they love it, because it lacks support and we need something hosted on OUR servers to maintain. Its kind of like leasing vs. buying to a degree – when you are looking at it from a control aspect.


  • kevin
    April 27, 2006

    It’s probably worth pointing out that people who aren’t tech savvy run the same risk with web applications as they do with regular software. It could freak out on your own system and delete all your data as easily as it could on a hosted solution. And if you’re not tech savvy enough to know how to fix it, you’re still up a creek.


  • Dan
    April 27, 2006

    I use Writely all the time because I don’t like opening MS stuff on my Mac. My Senior pastor emails his .doc files to me to make Power Point presentations (alas, I can’t escape that truly awful application yet), my email client runs a rule that sees the .doc attachment and automatically forwards it to Writely. When I go to writely the doc is there waiting for me. At least I don’t have to run Power Point and Word.
    I’ll have to try out Thumbstacks. Thanks for the tips!


  • dave
    May 4, 2006

    For actually editing graphics, I’ve heard that Picasa is good, and after Google acquired it, they made it available free of charge – http://picasa.google.com. I haven’t really done much with it, though. I know Photoshop, so if I want to do photo editing, I’d at least pick up the newest version of Photoshop Elements. It’s not free, but you get a lot for your $100. If you want to get your feet wet with video editing, you can get a Photoshop/Premiere Elements package for around $150.
    I think Writely is cool, but I, too, would recommend Open Office as the better free alternative. It’s worth the download, is still svelte compared to MS Office, and you have the advantages of being able to use the program even if you don’t have an internet connection and you aren’t dependent on the reliability of someone else’s web servers.
    I don’t want to turn this into a political issue, but given some of the privacy issues going around and the government being able to subpeona for e-mails and things like that, I certainly wouldn’t recommend typing up anything sensitive or incriminating in an online app.


  • Jose Gomez
    May 17, 2006

    I love Web 2.0 apps. We are working on an extensive Web 2.0 software testing and rollout environment strictly for church software. We’ll be sure to let you all know about it when it is ready for BETA.


  • Church Marketing Sucks Web 2.0 Series

    Web 2.0 is yet another techno buzz term that’s popping up everywhere. Our Church Marketing Sucks blog just finished a series exploring web 2.0, sorting out the hype and figuring out what it means for churches: What Web 2.0 Means…


  • Micah
    December 5, 2006

    We’ve just brought a web-based management package that doesn’t make you work in a browser. It uses a whole lot of SOAP service communication. We just finished our beta and it’s production ready.
    Basically you get the benefits of the internet without the hassle of the web browser. Oh, and it’s Windows and Mac compatible.


  • Alex
    May 12, 2010

    All you say is true, I agree completely! Thanks for tips and nice advice! I truly believe your posts and entries are fabulous and of much help for custom writings On any topic! I wish you keep on posting good news!



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