LCCS – FROM COMPUTER HELPER PUBLISHING
By: James Hayes
Have you watched one of those present/past flashback ads or TV shows lately? It seems the trend lately is to distinguish the present from the past with color and black-and-white scenes, respectively. And the
effect communicates. You know where you are.
I felt I was watching one of these shows when I installed the demo disk of the Local Church Computer Software (LCCS) by Computer Helper Publishing in Columbus, Ohio. The membership module, dubbed “Helper I”, was a masterpiece of design. My color monitor went crazy with the shades, contrasts, pull-down menus, and other exotic designs. Wow! The “Helper II” also displayed screens which were similarly refined. Even “Helper III”, the fund accounting module, was surrounded by a sea of color as was the “Payroll Helper”, a complete payroll system. But poor “Helper Power”, a filing module for sermons, music, library, inventory and fixed assets, appeared in drab monochrome. Was the system so unevenly designed that some modules supported color while others did not? At first glance, yes. At second look, no – the LCCS “Helper Power” operates in living color… as long as someone sets the system parameters.
In an interesting way this pattern serves as a parable for my entire impression of the LCCS. There is more to this system than first meets the eye – and the additions are more than merely aesthetic (if you still feel like you should have a joystick and a game just because you have a color monitor.)
The LCCS is organized into the membership module (remember “Helper I”?), the contributions module (“Helper II”), the fund accounting module (“Helper III”), the payroll module (“Payroll Helper”), and a
filing module (“Helper Power”).
The demo diskettes furnished by Computer Helper Publishing were a full working copy of the program, limited merely by the number of allowable transactions. As I installed the 1,864,180 bytes divided into 157
files on my hard drive, I had the opportunity to evaluate the system using dummy data.
The membership module contains family address records, individual records, membership visitation records, committees, groups, and officer listings, membership attendance, visitor’s records, cassette
tape labels, mailing labels, church membership directory, various user-defined files, and word processing merge files. Rev. Robert Fenby, Pastor of the 325 member Hadwen Park Congregational Church (UCC) in Worcester, MA said that “we are very pleased with the LCCS system so far.” Having only been on the system about one month, and with the normal woes of installation still present to cloud the overall outlook, Rev. Fenby was extremely complimentary, “We have all of the membership, finances, and word processing installed and they are running very well,” he stated. “We selected the LCCS system because it was strongly recommended to us by other users, and so far they have been right,” Rev. Fenby continued. “We had some initial compatibility problems with the word processor we purchased with our hardware, but when we changed to WordPerfect these difficulties were completely solved,” he added.
The membership system I viewed on my color monitor was attractively designed with pull-downs and pop-ups to provide easy operation. The first choices I encountered in the membership portion of the package
were whether I wanted to enter personal information, inquire or edit personal information, edit visitation, select reports and mailing labels, and selecting special functions. After choosing the first option a delightful screen appears with the following fields listed: status code, last name, middle initial, first name, title, address one, address two, city, state, zip code, carrier route, address configuration, sex, marital status, relation to head, envelope number, home telephone, telephone published or not indicator, maiden name,
nickname, shut-in indicator, occupation/profession, employer, work phone, geographic area, school grade finished, birth date, baptism date, membership date, defined date, define field, groups, talents, and interests! WHEW! If, like me, you could not determine what the status code, should be, just enter a “?” and a menu appears with the system options. The same exists for the many creative addressing configurations, which should avoid hassles at mailing time, as well as with groups, talents, and interests.
My only criticism of the membership screens were that in some cases the field length required a cumbersome abbreviation which in today’s world of greatly expanded memories should be able to be avoided. One of the very great strengths of the LCCS system is the ability to categorize numerous occupations, geographical areas, talents, interests, pastoral dates, indicate shut-ins, groups, visit nature,
how someone came to membership, etc. This is a is a tremendous advantage in a church that is large enough to have different input operators potentially calling things different names. To have two groups – one called the “Cherub Choir” and the other the “Children’s Chorale”, for example, can be more than frustrating – it can block communication and interfere with the work of ministry.
The church directory is a versatile feature on the LCCS system. Options can be with family, head of household, parent, child, particular status, particular marital status, male, female, shut-in, with envelope number, occupation(s), geographic area(s), talent(s), interest(s), past member of group(s), present member of group(s), age group, year in school, date select: (birth, membership, baptism, user- defined date, marriage), pastoral date, received visit, attended – all within selectable time frames.
Brian Foster, staff minister with the 500 member Woodlawn Church in Royal Oak, Michigan, said of the LCCS system, “It is a very thorough system. I would like for it to allow for the children to be input at
the same time as the parents. If the children are not input first, the LCCS system will not record them the way we want for our records. It is inconvenient to have to enter a family first by the children’s names, then by the spouse’s name, and then finally by the head of the household’s name.” However, he went on to comment, “The quality of support from the company is very good. We have been on the system about a month. We selected the LCCS system because it is so versatile in the area of membership and attendance tracking,” Foster said. “We feel like for effective ministry it is very important to keep track of our people,” he emphasized. “There is a very wide variety of applications available for LCCS which allow it to be a very flexible system which can meet user’s needs,” Brian stated.
Moving over to the contributions side of the LCCS system, there appears on the screen the choices of enter contributions, print/display statements, contribution reports, and chart of accounts. The method of entering contributions seemed reasonably efficient with a moderate number of keystrokes involved. Contributions may be accessed by either name or envelope number, and a breakdown for designated giving is accomplished at the time the total contribution is entered.
The varied contribution reports available on the LCCS system include a contributions analysis report, a contribution statistical report, a pledge vs. giving report, a pledge comparison report (current vs. next), a contribution log report, and a five, yes, FIVE, year giving history. The array or reports and data available should be sufficient to track contributions and provide the basis for analysis of giving trends.
The contribution system and the contribution reports in particular were not extravagantly elegant. Yet if you carefully studied the format, it would be difficult to come up with other features that were absolutely needed. The contribution system offers options of printing detail or not, printing breakdown by periods or not, print breakdowns by accounts or not, and designate the month that begins the contribution year.
The accounting module offers the options of posting income and expense accounts, producing accounting reports, selling the fund accounting parameters, producing a user-defined chart of accounts, production of
treasurer’s report, production of balance sheet, general journal report, and fund activity report.
The designation of the chart of account numbers, like in most accounting systems is very critical, and to a large extent the quality of the finished financial statement is dependent upon the church being very careful in this regard. I would recommend users of LCCS to check with others currently producing statements on this system and interchanging this information in order to provide optimum results and to avoid re-inventing the wheel (or the general ledger).
The accounting system provided means to input budgeted figures, and there is also a comparison made between budgeted and actual. All in all, again a basic but sufficient system.
ATTENDANCE AND PAYROLL
I encountered only a limited number of churches which I contacted using the attendance module or the much newer payroll module. The attendance system appeared adequate as long as the church only wanted
to monitor attendance at three different functions. I would hope that in the future LCCS would expand this capability so that the attendance tracking at many activities could be accomplished, but perhaps there
has been little user input to encourage them to do so.
The new payroll system likewise could not be verified at enough different locations for me to be comfortable with the comments received. A review of the sample program and the accompanying
documentation revealed, once again, a basic but fairly adequate package.
Amazingly I could not find a church using Helper Power, but again, I did not call the more than 300 church references freely furnished by Computer Helper Publishing. I did try the indices out on my demo version, and I liked the five modules of the sermon filer, inventory (remarkably complete), music library, educational library, and ministerial services.
USER COMMENTS AND ANALYSIS
A wide variety of user comments were encountered as I checked with churches to determine their impressions of the LCCS system. Nancy Neil, a secretary with the 600 member Desert Garden United Church in Sun City West, Arizona, said “I have been working on the system all day long. I am still learning the system, but it’s great as far as I’m concerned. The church has been on LCCS for about two years and I have never heard of any problems at all. The membership section that I work with performs very well.”
An alternative comment to the contrary was received from another church user. Patricia Kennedy, secretary of the Neighborhood Congregational Church, Laguna Beach, California, said “We are having a
problem with the attendance module and have had to input with a number rather than a name. Also the latest update seems to print labels much slower than previously,” This 200 member church had been on the system for two years, and was still having problems with the contributions function because “the people who work with contributions have not been trained on how to work with computers; sometimes the LCCS would note children as children and sometimes children would appear as adults, depending upon whether or not the birth date was entered.” This church had experienced problems, many admittedly of their own making, and had not talked with the software manufacturer about any of them in an effort to resolve the difficulties they were experiencing. The failure to communicate deprived the church of any opportunity for the system to run better. Also it was evident simply from our conversation that several of the problems were not associated with the LCCS software at all but were to be found in deficient training. as well as a failure to understand some of the ways the LCCS operates. I had no difficulties in inputting to the attendance module installed on my test system.
The very next reference call to Judy Engstrand, was as positive as they come! Judy Engstrand at the 850 member Rincon Congregational Church in Tucson, Arizona, has been very pleased with the LCCS
Computer Helper system. “We like the way the LCCS system fits exactly what we want for membership information, and for very heavy financial functions. At this time we are not choosing to use the attendance or visitation modules. We are very happy with what the system offers in membership information and it allows us to keep a quick and efficiently updated membership roll, we can make changes in address
and other information very quickly. The mailing list functions very well with both word processors we have, Wordstar and Wordperfect; although, I prefer the operation of WordPerfect – it is more user-
friendly. I learned all of the computer operations myself and the manuals are very clear.” When I asked about their satisfaction about the way the LCCS handled children, I learned that when a child joined the church (or was confirmed at age 14) an independent record was created for them as a separate member. “We like the way we do this, and have developed this local compensation for the way LCCS treats children,” Judy said. “We have accommodated the LCCS system by defining our own ways of handling things,” she said. “The contribution module works very well,” Judy added.
“Our church council really likes the way the financial reports are formatted,” Dr. Norman Pavey, Senior Minister of the 500 member First Congregational Church in Fremont, Nebraska, said, “The LCCS is a good
system because it is integrated. It produces exactly the type of records that our trustees have found extremely valuable. Of course, at first the trustees must be trained on how to read the reports, but one of the real strengths of the LCCS are the reports which allow for effective church management.” Dr. Norman Pavey said that the main recommendation he could make to improve the LCCS is for Computer Helper to improve the quality control on their updates. “Three times in the last four months our updates have caused problems,” he stated. “Computer Helper is always quick and courteous to resolve difficulties like this immediately.” Dr. Pavey concluded by stating that they had been using LCCS for almost three years, now, and would recommend it without hesitation.”
What do you do with reports like these? Determine your church’s needs. Then determine if the LCCS system as depicted will meet those needs. Then work with LCCS to make your installation a reality. The problems cited by some of those interviewed are common to many software systems with which I have worked for twenty years. Bugs exist in almost all updates or new versions of software. Responsible vendors get them fixed, normally as soon as they are reported.
The LCCS system is priced at $265 each for membership, contributions, and accounting modules. The Helper Power is $99 more, with the total price of Helper I, II, and III including Helper Power being $795. With payroll helper being $199, this means the system is $1000 before the optional annual update and support fees of $200, (which includes the ability to call for telephone support).
All in all, not a bad deal. Black-and-white turned color might prove just the match for some churches who want the elegant simplicity of a basic yet functional system.
(The above material is a reprint from an issue of Christian Computing Magazine in Belton, MO.)
Christian Information Network