ACS FROM COMPUTER DIMENSIONS, INC.
By: James Hayes
What do Linda Corrigan, Julie Borgmeyer, Larry Perryman, Don Magee, and Vicky Femandez have in common? They are all satisfied clients of the Automated Church System (ACS) produced by Computer Dimensions in Florence, SC. In business since 1978, ACS now has more than 1400 users of its church software system. Clearly there must be reasons for a market presence of this extent.
When I obtained the ACS demonstration package together with documentation for evaluation, the mere physical presence of the product was quite impressive. Fourteen gray and red spiralbound books
represented the system documentation, while the software itself was spread over 26 5.25″ diskettes! When I installed the complete ACS demonstration system on my computer I found that it was spread over
600 files and occupies 9 megabytes of space on the hard drive! Despite its size, ACS has managed to cram an amazing amount of program potential for the church user.
The ACS system is contained in 16 separate modules: Membership, Contributions, General Ledger, Membership Comments, Visitation/Prospects, Special Mailing, Report Generator, Payroll, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Attendance, Calendar, Music Library, Assets Inventory, Campaign Tracking, and Special Reports (for Southern Baptists and Episcopalians).
The entire ACS system is password protected with up to nine different levels of security. Especially on a multi-user network, this allows differential access to various files and promotes internal control. For
example, one operator might be permitted access only to all modules relating to membership functions, while another might be admitted to both membership and accounting records, while still another operator
might hold the only access to System Operators, Passwords, and secured Member Comments.
The ACS system functions through an extensive yet very understandable series of menus. One caveat I found as I made my way through the system was that the screens may seem a bit plain in our world of super graphics. ACS is currently pursuing an extensive upgrade of all of its modules to provide context-sensitive help screens, and the system may be more aesthetically appealing when this is finished. The goal is to provide a help screen available at a push of the F-10 key for every place the user must enter information or choose a function key. If you prize accomplishment and action over artistry, the current set of plain yet very functional menus should not be a deterrent in any way.
The ACS system provides quick and easy access to the church’s word processor. Once the path and commands to access it have been defined, the word processor can be entered directly from the ACS main menu. This versatility is extremely important when the powerful capability of ACS to perform selective searches according to a wide range of criteria is considered. I was able to set up access to my WordPerfect
5.1 very easily, and this feature certainly saves both time and keystrokes.
The ACS system normally assumes a 132 character printer, but reports can be printed on a letter-size printer if compressed type is available. In the network environment where several users share a printer, spooling (storing output prior to printing) is a standard part of the ACS system. Font changes for programmable printers are accommodated.
One portion of the ACS documentation which I found particularly valuable is the step by step explanation of basic data processing procedures contained in the manuals. Backup procedures, for example, are so thoroughly outlined that the ACS user has only themselves to blame if they lose data in the event of a malfunction of the system, because ACS recommends four sets of backups and describes in detail
how to accomplish them. Also, ACS has special backup programs for both single-user and networking environments.
ACS has a System Monitor which records error information and displays it on the screen for use by System Support which is only a toll-free call away. The screens may be displayed in either monochrome or color
(I thought the pink pull-down menus against the blue background looked nice, but if you would rather have green against gray ACS will let you select your own choice of colors.) An eleven page glossary is included
in the 75 page general information manual covering a wide variety of topics and helping the new church decipher “computerese”.
The master menu provides access to membership, contributions, financial accounting, payroll, accounts payable, attendance, visitation/prospects, special mailing, calendar, campaign tracking, membership comments, music, assets inventory, report generator, accounts receivable, special reports and custom programs, system operators, printer spacing, word processing access, ACS spooling, backup data files, and a banner maker. In the newly released version 2.4, the utility functions have been logically moved to a utility menu and additional functions have been added. Password protection, already a strength, has been improved to add another level of passwords.
The membership module of ACS is also menu driven. From the initial screen it is possible to choose to add or update membership records, make a member inquiry, change or delete a member’s record, add or
update individual participation’s as well as groups, perform numerous search functions, do a quick search with the most frequently used parameters, execute print functions, select a report menu with 14 primary options, perform table, configuration and file maintenance, and return to the master menu.
The basic membership data file provides space for the membership number which the system will automatically assign, an address flag for family or individual mailings, the last, first and middle name of the member, the address of the member including a 9 digit zip code and a carrier route in order to save significant amounts through bulk mailing. The person’s title, nickname, label name, geographic zone and
sub-zone, sex, date of birth, marital status, restrictions, classification, member status (includes visitors, etc.), date joined, how joined, home telephone, and business telephone, as well as two user-defined fields and one user-defined category. The documentation describing the actual ACS system as upgraded through revisions listed three user-designated categories, but here as elsewhere there was some difference between the demonstration system and the actual system, as might be expected.
Users were lavish in their praise of the membership system. Linda Corrigan, secretary of the 120 member Pinelands Presbyterian Church in Miami, FL, said, “People are better able to minister to members
because of the ACS system. The entire software is easy to understand and really meet our needs.” Julie Borgmeyer, treasurer of the 2500 member First United Methodist Church of Phoenix, AZ, said, “Membership applications run very smoothly. Searches are especially helpful in focusing on target groups for ministry. If I want to send a letter to everyone who has joined in the last six months who is also single and between the ages of 18 and 35, the ACS membership search lets me combine all of the parameters and select target groups. The interface with the word processor makes mailings a breeze.” “ACS has a good
membership package – we have never had a problem,” said Larry Perryman, with the First Assembly of God Church and School in Bakersfield, CA. Nice touches such as indicators as to whether telephones are listed or unlisted, together with the compatibility of the membership module with the entire ACS system are pluses that must be considered. The numerous report options offered by ACS are remarkable. Reports may be printed in alphabetic, member number, selected sort fields, zip code sequence, geographic zone and sub zone, last sequence, any of which may format by name, address, and telephone, or name and special fields, or mailing labels, or 3×5 cards, or name, activity, and position, or display name, address, and phone, or master membership listing, as well as output to the report generator or the word processor. Additional flexibility is provided if the report generator is used. Participation listings allow the pastoral staff and leadership to quickly inventory the extent of each member’s involvement in church activities. It is very easy to update groups and activities with the ACS system. A considerable amount of care should be exerted in setting up the tables with the membership system because they have profound implications on the functioning of the report derived from the ACS system. Searches operated quickly, even on my 8088-based CPU, and search parameters can be saved to permit consistent selection of subgroups over a period of time.
The options available for the printing of the church directory alone provide good evidence that the many users over the years, coupled with ACS’s continuing willingness to expand and upgrade the system to meet
documented needs have produced a very sophisticated, yet easy to operate package that answers virtually any variable in the church setting. The church directory may be printed in 1 or 2 columns, with or without bolding the husband and wife’s names, with or without bolding the children’s names, printing or suppressing unlisted telephone numbers, printing or not printing the husband’s and wife’s business telephones (separate choices), printing the husband and wife on the same or separate lines, printing the children before or after the address, printing or not printing nicknames, printing or not printing children’s last names, printing or not printing children’s birthdays, printing or not printing the state and zip code with the city, user-defined suppression for city, state, and zip code as well as area code, printing or not printing of husband’s and wife’s titles, printing or not printing of middle names, printing last name first or
last, specifying the number of lines on each page, and placing an asterisk by user-defined listings. This degree of variability does not reflect indecision on the part of ACS as to how a church directory should appear. Rather, it indicates the degree to which the system has been enriched by the demands of its many church users. Although this is seldom found in any promotional or marketing literature, this
secondary effect is extremely significant and permeates the entire system to its betterment.
The contributions menu permits the church user to add or update contribution records quickly, add or update funds to properly designate receipts, enter beginning totals or pledge totals where necessary, enter and post contributions, make contributor inquiries if a member needs to know the exact status of their giving history, change envelope numbers, provide for period end transactions as well as options for reassigning envelope numbers for the ensuing year, and necessary file maintenance options associated with these areas.
The contributions reports menu allows the church to select the monthly posting register, contribution breakdown analysis, monthly giving analysis, pledge cards, contribution statements, contribution records
(listing and labels), pledge report, special reports, contributions history reports, pledge breakdown analysis, new year pledge analysis, individual pledge/gift analysis, build the statement abstract file, and display and print contribution totals.
The way the ACS system handles designated accounts has been upgraded even further according to Hal Campbell, President of ACS. “We want our churches to easily and accurately report to members the details of their giving, as well as providing the appropriate analyses for church leadership of overall trends and patterns,” he said. Julie Borgmeyer likes the way the ACS system handles restricted funds. “We are assured
of accurate posting of contributions because of the flexibility and safeguards built into the system,” she elaborated. “Our contribution system works very well,” Larry Perryman commented.
The possible options available from the financial accounting menu are to add or update account types, accounts, sources of entries, monthly budget entries, fund and department codes, and subtotal codes, as well as to enter and post transactions, post from other ACS modules which are interfaced and fully compatible, perform account inquiries, define next year’s budget, define source and applications, provide for financial accounting start-up, period end maintenance, file maintenance and reports.
Reports available from the financial accounting module are the weekly posting summary, the monthly posting summary, the monthly check register, the source transaction journal, the summary analysis of
revenue and expense, the trial balance, the balance sheet, the year to date posting summary, the summary of designated accounts, the funds source and application report, the account type list, the source code
list, the fund and department code list, the subtotal code list, and building of an extract file.
ACS has done a great job in their pull-down help screens. For example, if you want to know the source of an accounting entry, you can code it as an adjustment, cash source, check source, journal entry, or user-
defined source. Accountants will appreciate the degree of consistency this brings to your audit trail. To update or add the monthly budget, the months appear on the left of the screen and you can scroll through
accounts in a window on the right. Various methods of entering budgetary information including level allocation of equal amounts per month and also variable percentages for each monthly help the church
estimate fixed and variable expenses. Entering and posting transactions is very quick with a minimum of keystrokes involved, and your financial secretary can use the extensive account inquiry functions to ascertain the information about each account including account number, type, status, budgeted amount, remaining in budget, beginning year balance, beginning month balance, current balance, year to date debits, year to date credits, month to date debits, and month to date credits. ” Version 2.4 expands the inquiry capability even further,” said Hal Campbell, “we are now able to retain 24 months of transactions on our system and allow posting to prior months and prior years. Our inquiry system has added a running budgeted balance remaining in addition to monthly entries for this year, last year, and budget in order to permit better fiscal operations,” he added.
The financial accounting system got rave reviews from its users. Linda Corrigan said, “The financial system is very strong and works exceedingly well.” Julie Borgmeyer, said, “I like the ACS system very much! We have all of the modules and the accounting package is very strong.” When asked about the reason her church selected ACS, Julie added, “We chose it because the accounting package provides so much
capability. We have never found anything in our large church with its demanding requirements that the ACS system cannot do and do well.” Larry Perryman said, “The ACS package has all of the accounting
controls to provide an accurate audit trail for our accountants.” Don Magee with the Louisiana Baptist Convention in Alexandria, LA said, “The ACS association package is perfect for other needs. We use the
financial package for all of our accounting and direct mail functions in our environment with a $15 million budget, and 25,000 addressees.” “The financial package is very well-designed,” said Vicky Fernandez.
“We use the ACS system for all of our accounting needs,” she added. “The financial package let’s us do advanced accounting transactions automatically as a byproduct of the way the system is made,” Vicky
The payroll module of the ACS system allows the user to add or update master records, deduction records, work area records, locality and state records, distribution records, worker’s compensation records, and update accumulation records, as well as enter pay advances, print pay advance journal, enter and update payroll calculations, prepare a payroll proof listing, and print payroll checks, check registers, current general ledger transactions. Adjustments can be handled for voided checks and issues with an accompanying register, and period end entries as well as file maintenance can be accomplished.
The payroll reports menu includes a summary employee listing, a detailed employee listing, employee records report generator, employee labels, a check register listing, an accumulation file listing, a
distribution file listing, transmittal forms, a payroll deduction register, worker’s compensation reports, employee wage records, and an accumulation adjustment journal.
The payroll system supports all types of complicated transactions. Julie Borgmeyer said, “From the simplest hourly employee to the most complicated tax-deferred pension plan, the ACS payroll module can do it all.” As I examined the payroll reports I was particularly impressed with the comprehensive reports. The detailed listing of employees contained more elements of data than we have room to include here, and rivaled some of the most sophisticated payroll systems I have seen. Yet the operation of this module, like the rest of ACS is totally user-friendly.
The accounts payable menu of the ACS system is quite comprehensive, allowing for adding and updating vendor records, distribution records, and auto invoice records, as well as entering and posting invoices,
vendor inquiry, voiding of invoices, and suspending or forcing invoice payments. From the main accounts payable menu printing can be accomplished as to open payables, cash requirement reports, accounts
payable checks, voiding of checks and issuing of checks, printing monthly check register, posting checks to the general ledger hold file, and perform period end and file maintenance.
The accounts payable reports available from ACS are a weekly posting journal, vendor list, year to date purchases list, vendor labels and rolodex cards, distribution list, and automatic invoice list.
“The ACS system provides for informative reports, which are extremely accurate,” Linda Corrigan stated. This module certainly seems to provide everything that someone would expect from a full-functioning
payables system and, as is the case with everything else ACS delivers, more to choose from as an additional benefit.
The attendance module of ACS is both complete and easy to operate. In this vital area of the church there is the ability to select on a user-defined number of either presence’s or absences as well as on certain time periods. The church can address absentee problems, reward faithful attenders, and see patterns which can advance ministry through the use of this module.
Attendance function include adding or updating attendance records or entire classes, performing attendance inquiries, printing attendance marking sheets, marking class attendance, printing absentee reports, providing for period end and attendance table maintenance as well as configuration and file maintenance and custom programming.
The attendance reports menu includes attendance rolls selected variable ways, weekly, monthly, and yearly attendance marking sheets, absentee reports, individual and class attendance summaries and worksheets, supplemental marking sheets and attendance cards for churches accustomed to this format.
One user reported that there are some print functions within the attendance module that seem to take a long time. Without knowing more about the selection criteria they used in this large church it is difficult to thoroughly evaluate this comment. The other users were enthusiastic about the benefits of attendance as it related to their ministries.
The visitation/prospects allows the church to follow up on those it seeks to assimilate as members. The module provides for adding and updating prospect records, prospect visits, member visits, card layouts, performing table maintenance, executing search functions and producing search output, as well as the convenient feature of moving prospects with all of their data to membership, and the opposite function of moving members with all of their data to prospects. File maintenance is also allowed in this module.
Reports which may be obtained from this module include variable print sequences – either alphabetic, by record number, by selected sort fields, by zip code, by geographic zone and sub zone, by two user-defined open categories, by one family at a time, and in the proper sequence for the interface file with other modules and the word processor, Print formats are equally widespread – including by name. address, and telephone, by name and special fields, for mailing labels, for interface file, for visitation cards, by listing of
visits, for displaying name, address, and telephone, and in accordance with a master prospect listing.
Membership comments provide a secure and confidential addendum to the membership file with selections available to add or update comment labels or comments themselves, to search comments, and to perform file maintenance.
The priority of mailing maintenance becomes more problematic as churches seek to manage increasingly large mailing lists. Denominational headquarters also must easily maintain lists of considerable size. The special mailing portion of the ACS system allows the user to add or update special mailing records and groups, delete unused records, title and group table maintenance, perform file and configuration maintenance and produce reports which include lists, interface files, mailing labels and rolodex cards for special groups, and print the special mailing master list. “The 25,000 name mailing list of the Louisiana Baptist Convention is easily maintained by ACS,” said Don Magee.
The calendar function of ACS is used to maintain a record of times, places, resources and activities, together with special messages or reminders about particular events.
This is the only module of the broad ACS system which received any significant adverse critique. “The calendar module is quite frankly somewhat weak,” Larry Perryman commented. “But with the other more
important modules so very strong, I’m glad they are soft in a non-essential area,” he continued. “We use a different calendar program that affords more flexibility, but ACS has been listening to our suggestions and may enhance its program before long.” “The calendar module is a bit inflexible,” said Don Magee. “It requires date and time of event prior to entry and we need a more user-oriented approach,” he concluded.
“When was the last time we sung that anthem asked the music director?” And the computer operator went to ACS and found the answer with electronic speed. The music module includes the capacity to add or
update music master records, music records, performance dates, perform music able maintenance, execute search functions, and print music tables, music records, and the master file library. “Our music library
works fine, but does not get as much use as some of the other modules,” one user said.
The assets inventory allows the church to record fixed assets for insurance purposes and property accounting needs. This module can add and update inventory, inquire and print about specific group of
assets, and perform file maintenance.
The campaign tracking module of ACS allows for special projects to be effectively and efficiently monitored using the computer. Here the system can add or update individual records and group records, perform
member inquiries, clear response indicators, change area breakdown descriptions, delete records, and render file maintenance, as well as provide a complete set of reports to monitor programs of this nature.
Although flexibility is a strength of ACS, there is always the elusive user who asks, “If only we could have___________ !” ACS covers the “if-only’s” with the ability to custom design reports using a wide
variety of appropriate fields in the areas of membership, contributions, fixed assets, accounts payable, payroll, and attendance areas. Advanced operations are available as values can be equal to, less than, greater than, less or equal, not equal, range of values, and multiple values, as the contents of a field are tested against a constant or another field. With the report generator the possibilities are almost endless. One user correctly described that using any report generator takes thought and patience to get the output which is desired, and many commented that it works very well.
For those churches wishing to accurately record accounts receivable in their operations or related school functions, ACS is happy to oblige. The accounts receivable menu allows users to add or update master
records, distribution records, titles, enter and post invoices, and payments, as well as accomplishing client inquiries, modifying invoice codes, and doing period end and file maintenance.
Reports available from this module include an accounts receivable master list, client labels, distribution code list, transaction listing, receipts journal, billing journal, aged analysis of receivables, and paid/unpaid balances. “The accounts receivable package really works fine for us,” Larry Perryman added.
For Methodists, Lutherans, and Baptists ACS has available special programs which format data contained elsewhere on the system in the desired denominational format.
SUPPORT AND USER COMMENTS
“The support network has always been very responsive and helpful, “Linda Corrigan remarked. “We are excited about our national user’s convention which is fully attended every year,” Hal Campbell added.
“Three to four hundred ACS users from across the country assemble for a time of fun, entertainment, and informative application seminars.” Larry Perryman with the First Assembly of God Church and School in
Bakersfield, CA says “ACS has everything we need. We operate it in both the church and school environment and it performs superbly.” Don Magee said, “All of the modules are great! We use ACS in my 3000 member church (Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria, LA) as well as at the Baptist Convention. The system fits so naturally into a Novell network that it is amazing. We have 60 terminals at the Baptist
convention and 16 terminals at our church.” “The ACS support has been consistently superior,” said Don Magee. Larry Perryman added, “In two words the ACS support is ‘excellent!’ ‘excellent!'” Julie Borgmeyer
commented, “We have been on the ACS system for five years and our perspective is that the system, the support, and the applications just get better and better.”
The price of the ACS system ranges from $495 for the membership module alone to $3695 for the complete package system. There are price advantages for the church user that purchases multiple modules or the
The reputation of ACS as attested by its church users appears to be well-deserved. Rather than resting on its laurels the company continues to be active in the area of product development. Hal Campbell expressed it very well, “Customer support is our priority.”
A point by point comparison of ACS from Computer Dimensions in Florence, SC is almost obligatory on any church seeking a top end system with versatility and proven performance.
A careful look may lead you to join Linda, Julie, Larry, Don, Vicky and 1395 other church users of ACS.
(The above material is a reprint from an issue of Christian Computing Magazine in Belton, MO.)
Christian Information Network