By: James Hayes


At CHRISTIAN COMPUTING we do several things to software systems to see if they will make the grade. We obtain the manufacturer’s system or demo (preferably the former) and check it out personally on our
computers to see if it runs and roughly corresponds to advertised claims. We then comprehensively examine the breadth of the system and try to find its obvious strengths and weaknesses, as well as an
indication of where it fits, i.e. is it a budget-priced system with only minimal extras, or does it come with all of the bells and whistles and a price tag to match? What are the distinctive strengths and weaknesses of this particular system. We want to know so you will know. Then comes the acid test. Since we could not possibly test a system for years and still publish a magazine, we go to you, the users, and check references to find out the results of the field experience with any given system. Filtering user comments through our
knowledge of church software and user potentials or problems, we arrive at a measured judgement of each system we evaluate. The task can be tedious, but it provides us and you with a lot of information
that can be passed on to our readers allowing them to make wise purchasing decisions in the future. We ask each software vendor to provide reference listings. Usually we expect to get a range of opinions from installations with varying degrees of success and competencies. But there can be surprises!

In preparing for this review, I contacted 20 different churches using CHURCHMASTER. I have to be honest and tell you that the first three were not the most positive. Two of the three had had trouble with
installation and had never got the program up and running to their satisfaction. It has been my experience to expect some complaints from every program I have ever reviewed, but not the first three in a row.
I was certainly perplexed! Yet seventeen calls later I had enough valued user insight to thoroughly recommend CHURCHMASTER as a system worthy of consideration with some superb strengths. What made the change from the dismal start is really the story of what CHURCHMASTER is all about. What do Johnson and Johnson, General Motors, Citicorp, Sears, Toys-R-Us, Chase Manhattan Bank, NASA, General Motors, and the Prudential Insurance Co. have in common with the remaining churches I contacted? They are all satisfied users of special software systems designed by Fogle Computing  corporation, the makers of CHURCHMASTER. Banks use Fogle’s special programs to account for IRA’s, 40 of the Fortune 1000 corporations use Fogle systems, entities from educational institutions to marinas have benefitted from software packages designed by this firm and sold for $150 to $50,000. Many of the same
subroutines in these expensive packages have been appropriated by Fogle to benefit churches. And the benefit has been considerable, according to church users.



The CHURCHMASTER system consists of ten modules. The basic system includes Membership Management Letter/Word Processing, and General Ledger/Budget. The additional accounting modules include Payroll and Accounts Payable. Other optional modules include Enhanced Attendance, Property & Equipment Inventory, Calendar, Book Library, and Music Library. All of the modules are interfaced with each other to avoid duplicate data entry and possible errors. Documentation is thorough with Installation Instructions, Tutorial Manual, Reference Manual, Procedures Manual, and a Manual for each of the modules. The 110 page tutorial Manual (excluding appendices) as well as the other documentation furnished was thorough yet user-friendly.

The CHURCHMASTER system can be installed as a stand alone system on one computer, or arranged as part of a (Novell) network which can accommodate up to eight workstations. The demonstration system
provided us by Fogle, consisted of a full operating system of the Membership, Word Processing, and General Ledger/Budget (including contributions) modules. The demonstration system had 106 files which
occupied 1,622,016 bytes on my hard disc. The installation process was very smooth with only one command per diskette necessary to load the rather sophisticated program.



The Membership Management module supports 350+ fields of data on each individual member. Of these, 147 are user-defined, giving the church a tremendous amount of flexibility in creating a system that is tailored to their individual needs. Thirty personal datafields, sixty membership and leadership information fields, eighty talent and interest fields, thirty-three pledge and contribution fields (for up to 99 funds), and 156 fields to accommodate attendance data for two activities (more in the enhanced attendance module) are included.

When this versatile customizing feature is combined with a report writer which can interface with most common word-processors, or the CHURCHMASTER letter writer, sorts can be done on any two of the 350
fields and responses in the form of letters or mailing labels can be generated. This powerful feature can assist busy staff follow up those who have missed attending, farm the church rolls for resources in many
areas, and generate customized mailing lists to target groups, such as male choir members. All of the remaining reference churches described great success in using the customized membership program and the report writer from CHURCHMASTER. Dave Roddick, the church administrator of the 800 member Reynolda Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, NC, said the software is “ does exactly
what we tell it to do. Some people sometimes get upset because they do not always tell it m do the right thing, but it operates great! We have been on the CHURCHMASTER system since 1985. We chose it because it was complete. Back then it was difficult to find an interfaced system and CHURCHMASTER looked like it would do the job for us, and it has. The comprehensive ability to talk to other programs, such as Lotus; the interfaced general ledger and contributions with payroll, the superb support from the company over a period of five years has been excellent. Perhaps a stand alone mailmerge feature for large
mailing lists that operates exclusively of the membership profile would be my only suggestion.”

From the password-protected screen access is granted to the main menu with one level of security. A higher level of password protection is available for accounting functions, while the highest level permits
assignment of new passwords to these areas. Once the CHURCHMASTER main menu is accessed there are many choices possible, including the file maintenance selections of member profile,  membership/leadership, member interests, contribution and pledge data change titles screens
1, 2, and 3, report column headings, church profile, and printer control table; transaction choices possible are to record attendance, record contributions and pledges, reset for the year end, global fund number change, enter multiple pledges, transaction journal, check transactions file, and combine transactions; report/letter choices are to build reports, print reports, print statements, edit letters, and print letters; rebuild file choices include rebuild master files, rebuild transaction files, rebuild envelope index, file allocation, and membership list.

The menu is easy to understand and the screens I examined and tested seemed to work very logically and to be very well designed. Three Baptist churches in North Carolina, Durham Baptist in Charlotte,
Thrift Baptist in Charlotte, and Mount Home in Morganton, all use the CHURCHMASTER system. The computer operator at one of the churches, who had only been with the church since Christmas, said that she could use the membership portion with ease, and felt that the CHURCHMASTER system was very easy to learn. Rhonda Keistler with Durham Memorial Baptist Church said that the 900 member church was well served by the CHURCHMASTER system as it interfaced with word processors. Marie Binder, church secretary with the 1000 member Zion United Church of Christ in Sheboygan, WI uses membership, attendance tracking, and the financial applications. “There are a few minor things I would like to
do with it, for example transfer the entire record of a deceased member’s family without re-entering the data. But with all things considered, the CHURCHMASTER system is really quite functional for a church.”



The contributions system is password-protected and is available to record both pledges and contributions against those pledges. Contributions made are automatically transferred to the general ledger. Pledges may be made for future dates, even for a five year building program! Envelope numbers are supported and changes can be made easily. There are special program features for end of the year and beginning of the year transactions. The system supports up to 99 funds, with varying degrees of detail after the first 4, and then after the next 24 funds. Posting options are available to make searching for members easier, and an audit trail is created to satisfy integrity criteria for cash handling. Bob Hatcher, an elder with the Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church in Signal Mountain, TN, said that their 1200 member church is running the membership, general ledger/ budget, and payroll systems, and is currently installing the accounts
payable system. “I have been very pleased with the system,” he said. “When we purchased CHURCHMASTER we looked at about five other systems but the versatile reporting procedure and the ability to customize formats was a big plus… the coding structure is logical and easier to remember than most systems…we liked the options of entering envelope numbers and contributions the way we want to.”



The attendance system in the basic package will track two events in a very legible format. If you need more tracking in the way of attendance and wish to record more events as well as have more reporting options you would need the enhanced attendance program. Marie Puckett, pastor’s secretary of the 1700 member Park Avenue Methodist Church in Valdosta, GA, said that the CHURCHMASTER system was doing a fine job for their church. “We do everything on the system,” she said. “Our financial secretary is able to keep accurate records, I maintain the membership files easily and quickly, and our evangelism committee tracks attendance every week. We are able to do timely follow-up because of the CHURCHMASTER system.”



The general ledger module will handle a double entry system on either the cash or the accrual basis. If you can maintain the sophistication of an accrual system you will be able to really capitalize on this
strength of CHURCHMASTER and be able to fully record and properly match revenue with expense. Over 2000 accounts and over 97 departmental categories are supported by the CHURCHMASTER general
ledger, which also features repeating transactions and a monthly budget. Budgeting can be either done on a standard amount per line item per month or on a flexible basis which anticipates monthly variations in revenue and expense. Monthly, quarterly, and annual financial statements are compared to the budget. Bob Hatcher said, “the CHURCHMASTER general ledger does a good job, and the interfaced system is very important. Membership feeds contributions right into the general ledger. CHURCHMASTER supplies a sample chart of accounts, and we began there and modified it for our needs. Our church day care school, and the church proper is able to use the general ledger. We like the way the CHURCHMASTER general ledger handles multiple funds. The accounting system is both simple and easy to use and does
everything we want it to be able to do.”

The general ledger and budgeting program which I examined as part of the demonstration package has a comprehensive master menu with file maintenance choices of institution profile, account file maintenance,
budget file maintenance, history file maintenance, change account number, transaction choices of posting transactions and repeating transactions, posting update, performing end of the month transactions, and cash disbursements; report choices are a balance sheet/activity statement, transaction journals, monthly trial balance, and check master file balance; while rebuilding files make it possible to rebuild account files, budget files, history files, and transaction files, if necessary.”

Lisa Forsythe, with the 350 member St. Albans Episcopal Church in Edmonds, WA said “I really like the CHURCHMASTER system. I have not had any problems with it at all. We utilize membership,  contributions, word processing, accounts payable, and the general ledger applications. The system was here when I came aboard two years ago and it is very easy to use.”



These two separate modules were not examined, except for the menus listed in the CHURCHMASTER documentation. They appeared to be logical and complete, however, and based upon the operation of the remainder of the system probably operate at a high level of efficiency. Fogle Computing Corporation services a number of banks as their clients, and it is difficult to imagine that they would be able to satisfactorily operate in this demanding arena for 18 years and not deliver the goods promised in their accounting packages. Claire Lowry with the 1200 member Ascension of Our Lord Catholic parish in LaPlace, LA said that CHURCHMASTER was very easy to use. “I had no prior computer experience, “she related,” and it works fine. I am able to track contributions, and provide good financial reports.”



The Fogle documentation indicates asset description, serial number, physical location, date purchased, purchase price, replacement value, number of units, depreciation cost, maintenance cost, and department.



The calendar is described in the documentation as preventing conflicts in the scheduling of key personnel and church facilities. It can prepare setup sheets for meetings, arrangement of chairs, refreshments needed, etc.



The book library is described in the Fogle documentation as listing the title, author, subject, catalog number, number of copies, educational level, date due, media type, handles check-in, check-out and produces lists of overdue books.



The music library is described in the Fogle documentation as listing the title, theme, composer, arranger, publisher, voice parts, date last used, season, number of copies, media, location, and other information.



The CHURCHMASTER system has the networking software compatibility to work well with Novell networks. It is not really compatible with the IBM token ring network. One church used a machine as the primary input machine and was able to operate an IBM network by backing-up to tape transactions from other machines, which would then be used to refresh the data base in the three terminals used. This quasi-network seemed to function quite well for them, using one terminal as a central data entry point; many sophisticated users would probably prefer the convenience that is available by using distributed data entry under a true network. CHURCHMASTER will accommodate either preference.



Many users commented favorably on the quality of support. In the twenty users we questioned, we found favorable comments on the accessibility of support and the promptness of replies. Certainly a factor in support is the quality of the product, and one user attributed the success of the CHURCHMASTER system to the very clean code available. Being a professional programmer, he had extensively examined the CHURCHMASTER system and was impressed with the way it is designed. Marie Puckett was so satisfied with the CHURCHMASTER system, she honestly could not remember when the last time they needed
support. In a strange yet convincing way, perhaps this is the best story about support from any of the users, the system is dependable and apparently does not require constant debugging and crisis intervention. Marie Binder said, “One of the real strengths is John Fogle and the fact that his company always gets back in touch with you very quickly.” Dave Riddick added that the CHURCHMASTER system was absurdly easy to use. “They offered to train us,” he said, “but the only thing we did is read the manual and we were well able to successfully install ourselves…the system is extremely easy to learn. One reason for the ease of operation of the system comes from the context-sensitive help screens that change with the position of
the cursor. As I went through the thirty different menu selections, I was impressed with the ability of the CHURCHMASTER program to answer operator questions as different operations were performed. As I
conducted the review, I found again the remarkable variation in quality of installations. One of the three churches I called which expressed dissatisfaction was using the system only as a label maker and was actually hand-sorting the mail (1000 pieces) in order to get the bulk-rate discount. Another church, which obviously had a much better installation was able to get the system to sort not only by zip codes, but also sorted their bulk mailing on the carrier route level for an additional savings of almost 3 cents per piece. It must always be remembered that a system must be evaluated in more than one location and user competence should be a factor. Sue Sadler, secretary of the 1000 member Atonement Lutheran Church in Metairie, LA has had the CHURCHMASTER system since July and is very impressed with its versatility and responsiveness. Barry Cormack of the 900 member St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia, WA has been on the CHURCHMASTER system since July of 1987. “We really like the system and are very well satisfied with it, “he said. “We have absolutely no problems with the accounting system,” he continued. “Sometimes it takes planning to fully utilize the variable reporting capability to optimize sorting
functions,” he concluded. “The calendar program has given us some problems, but it is probably mostly our fault, since we took two years to install it.” Mary Ann Ertrachter, with the 1500 member First Lutheran Church, in Vista, CA, said “We have been on the CHURCHMASTER computing system for 4 years and it does an excellent job of handling our 1500 member church. It’s greatest strength is its speed and
accuracy, the company has been very responsive, and the mailing system works very well. The way it tracks our communion dates is also very useful.” Percy Vicknair, also with Ascension of Our Lord Catholic
said, “The CHURCHMASTER system is really terrific. The membership and contribution portions really work fine. We use carrier route sorts to save postage and the system performs these excellently. We selected CHURCHMASTER because it is the most complete system we examined, and it has not disappointed us.”



The end of this detective story was much more pleasant than the beginning. CHURCHMASTER is a well-constructed system, with enough operating experience from substantial churches to validate any
questions of reliability. The speed of operation is due to the fact that it was developed with its own database manager, rather than relying on a slower canned program. The reputation of Dr. Fogle in the banking and commercial world should validate their capacity to develop and maintain quality systems. The usage by many without training is a testimony to the ease with which this system has been installed by many churches, although training is available either at Fogle  (included) or at the church location (additional charge).

The basic software, Membership Management and Letter/word-processing, is $800, with the accounting modules of General Ledger, Accounts Payable, and Payroll being $400, $400, and $500 respectively. The
Enhanced Attendance and Calendar are $200, while the Property and Equipment, Book Library, and Music Library are $100 each. Enhancements and toll-free telephone support are provided for the first year;
subsequently, the support cost is $160 for the basic package, $40 each for General Ledger, Accounts Payable, and Enhanced Attendance, while Payroll costs $50 to support. Other modules are serviced at no
additional charge. With the demo available for $15, and the CHURCHMASTER system warranted with a “90 day unconditional guarantee where the software may be returned for a full refund” you just might want to do a little local detective work with the CHURCHMASTER system on your computer at your church. From the vast majority of users I talked with, if you do, you will not regret it.


(The above material is a reprint from an issue of Christian Computing Magazine in Belton, MO.)

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