Wed. Jun 16th, 2021

MICRO-CHRUCH- BY INTEGRATED COMPUTER SYSTEMS

By: James Hayes

 

Computer users universally share excitement as a new program unfolds on the screen. Anticipation leads to the answering of the perennial question, “What does it REALLY do?”

The neat white envelope I received from ICS contained 2 floppy diskettes and a 95 page manual bearing the imposing title of MicroChurch Tutor, “A Tutorial and Demonstration of Version 3.21” Actually ICS provides a “full working version” of the MicroChurch software together with documentation and the ability to perform one months’ worth of transactions for a limited number of people. The excitement and anticipation translate to reality as the Micro Church system actually leads the prospective buyer through a series of exercises designed to display the ease with which MicroChurch handles transactions.

The MicroChurch system consists of a Membership module, Accounting module, Word processor (PC Write), optional Bible module, (CompuBible), Mailing list module and mail merge, and a Resource
Manager to provide user-friendly access to the various portions of ICS MicroChurch. The MicroChurch Payroll System, Query System, Graphics System, and Clergy Organizer are listed as menu options “currently not available, but in the process of being developed.”

Access to the MicroChurch system is made through one of five security levels ranging from examining non-financial data, to changing non-financial data, to entering pledges, to entering contributions, to operating the entire membership, contribution, and accounting system.

 

MEMBERSHIP MODULE

MicroChurch organizes the membership into family units and provides for selective choices within the congregation. As Cathy Woods, administrator of the 200 member Agape Victory Christian Center of East
Syracuse, NY, explained, “we can select the number of men who play softball and direct a mailing especially to them, pre-sorted in zip code order for savings at the post office.” Attendance reports are available, showing name, date, number of times attended, number of absences, and the date last attended. A family listing report, activities lists, individual lists, mailing lists, and labels are part of the output obtainable from the membership module.

Each individual has recorded, as part of their data base, their name, address, home telephone, annual pledge, employer, employer’s telephone, social security number, membership status, gender, head of
household indicator, family code, and envelope number. As Vernessa Bacon, church secretary of the Agape Victory Christian Center added, “The word processing interface helps us to contact our members in a
timely fashion.”

 

ACCOUNTING MODULE

The MicroChurch System has an accounting system which is based upon cash basis fund accounting. One thousand different fund accounts may be established to monitor assets, liabilities, and capital accounts.
Up to 1000 different income and 1000 different expense accounts are available to record contributions and expenses. Pledges may be monitored against actual giving, and expenses may be compared with
budgeted forecasts, giving church administration an accurate concept of the financial condition of the church.

One of the features of the MicroChurch system is the ability to record financial transactions in a simple way. Cathy Woods said, “The system is really easy to use, and people without a bookkeeping background
should catch on easily.”

The MicroChurch system can record contributions by name or envelope number, to the ledger automatically, write checks directly on the computer system, post disbursements to the general ledger
automatically, compares expenses with budget, monthly, and year to date, have a general ledger, automatically generate a balance sheet, track contributions, reconcile up to 10 bank accounts, and provide
other necessary accounting functions. Jeane Chrest, secretary of the 135 member Valley Christian Assembly of Charleston, West Virginia, is satisfied with the financial system, “especially since we were not
familiar with computers in the beginning.”

Reports available on the financial system include bank statement, bank reconciliation report, chart of accounts (Numeric and alphabetical), trial balance, statement of income and expense, monthly check listing (by check number and account), fund transfer listing, fund account balance summary, budget cost summary (monthly and year to date), deposit slips, contributor listings, monthly contribution detail statements, building committee listings, total contributions, pledged contributions, designated  contributions statement, pledge monitoring report, fund summary financial statement, non-monetary
contribution statement, general ledger detail report and balance sheet report.

 

REVIEW AND COMMENTS

The ICS MicroChurch System is an economical product ($995 for all modules combined) produced by a company that has worked with churches since 1985 and, according to Stephen D. Greer, Marketing Vice-
President, has “over 100 installations in churches from New York to Hawaii.

We contacted seven of the 15 references furnished by ICS, and found a mixture of comments mostly indicating a newly-updated product that is considerably improved over older. versions. Peggy Histed, financial secretary at the 600 member Living Word International said “We are just getting back on the system after we made a mistake 4 months ago. Steve Greer with ICS has visited us and installed the updated system. We are now reinstalling everything with account numbers that will provide us with better reports…The new updated system is great the reports are much easier to read, we liked it before and we like it even better now.”

As might be expected there are some compromises in order to deliver an easy-to-use system at a bargain price. The accounting system is cash-based, which does-not permit accruals to match income and expense.
With income and expenses not coinciding the distortions of five Sunday months (overstating income) on three payday months (overstating expense) can be misleading. Depreciation expense is not recorded,
which can tend to cause church boards to fail to accumulate monies needed for building and equipment repair and replacement. The use of designated accounts as “pass-throughs” involving an increase in
liabilities but not in income when monies are collected for third parties could be very misleading to a church board trying to analyze the giving habits of — its members. The system will account for contributions in other ways, as user options. Yet if one is willing to explain, to dig, and to understand, the information is mostly available and the accounting assumptions permit a lack of local expertise without rendering the system inoperable.

Several users expressed the type of mild discontent that is present when a system partially meets needs. What is often poorly realized, and must always be remembered, is that the more needs that are met the
higher the ultimate cost (assuming equal customer base and profit margins). Pastor James Forley of the 350 member Calvary Christian Center of Clay, New York said, “…at first something was missing with
the system, but later this was corrected. It took some time to get totally on the system – it arrived in January and we were totally operational in May. My reports are very satisfactory.” Jeanne Nagye,
financial and church secretary for the 350 member First Baptist Church of Berkley (West Virginia) said that the system needed a better breakdown on financial reporting.

“With designated contributions combined and treated as “pass-throughs” our members need more information with these areas better defined,” she said. “Multiple-format financial statements to suit the needs of various users would be greatly appreciated,” she added. Cathy Woods said, “It would really be convenient to enter more than a first-time contributors name and have this information transfer to the membership side of the MicroChurch system.

Training of customers could be strengthened for the mutual benefit of both MicroChurch and the user. The Faith Gospel Fellowship in San Antonio, Texas, bought the system two years ago, but did not install
it due to the lack of computer literacy at the church. Emestine Smith, administrator, had recently contacted Steve Greer and was very excited about the updated product and the new tutorial. As Jeane Crest said,
“The new tutorial makes the system a not easier…I recommend it” MicroChurch has indicated it does offers training at additional cost

One reference used PC Write without difficulty while another found it “impossible to learn,” and selected another word processor. MicroChurch does interface with Word Perfect 5.0

Company support was commended by all but one reference contacted. Dial up support is available for $60.00 a month, excluding a one time charge of $250 for modem and software.

 

SUMMARY

MicroChurch by ICS appears to be a system on the brink of arrival. They have encountered some hard hits, gone back to the drawing boards, and developed a workable basic financial and membership system. As
they realize, the absence of payroll, inquiries, graphics, and clergy organizers may eliminate some discriminating top-end users who are willing to pay the price for more elsewhere. Yet for under $1000 a
simple system made easy to learn with a special tutorial can meet many of a church’s software needs. For more information write or call; Integrated Computer Systems 417 D Street – P.O. Box 8019 South¬† Charleston, WV 26303 (304) 744-5566

 

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

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