SHELBY SYSTEMS, INC
By: James Hayes
How do you evaluate a dream that became reality? Very carefully, that’s how. In 1976 Ernie Hamilton was anex-seminary student who dreamed of the potential power of computers used in ministry. Today,
Hamilton is president of Shelby Systems. Inc., a large church software vendor serving over 800 churches. In a decade a fledgling idea has been transformed into a solid reality.
Shelby Systems divides its software into a number of different modules including membership, general ledger and budgeting, contributions, payroll system, accounts payable, attendance, prospects and outreach,
school administration, fixed assets (property and equipment), miscellaneous names and addresses, libraries, calendars and resource scheduling, bank reconciliation, purchase order control, accounts
receivable, multi-user options, fund raising, school programs including student information, accounts receivable, and grade reporting, fund raising, denominational systems, radio – television ministry systems, word processing, desk-top publishing, and spreadsheet applications, and just in case you need something else – custom programming.
The membership module is designed to maximize opportunities for ministry. It can provide accurate listings of many groups in the church such as members, Sunday School members, age groups, prospects,
volunteers, athletes and teams, hobbies, committees, officers, outreach and evangelism groups, choirs, homebound and non-resident members, church members not enrolled in other activities, birthday
lists, and many other parameters.
Beny Brown, secretary of the 1100 member INDEPENDENT PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH in Memphis, Tennessee, was able to document her membership statistics in less than ten seconds. “We have 1156 members, to be exact,” she replied, relying upon information supplied by the system. Another secretary at the church, Jenny Wunderlich, said “We have used Shelby Systems for about two and one-half years and our experience has been excellent We are really able to manage the organizational details of our rapidly-growing church through the use of the tools that Shelby provides. It maximizes our ministry.”
The membership system can output onto mailing labels, index cards, letter-size forms, and continuous-feed paper – Options including the selection of members by talents, hobbies, gifts and abilities seem
almost endless. As a part of the membership module there is the very important ability to manage visits and pastoral care activities.
GENERAL LEDGER AND BUDGETING
The general ledger supplied by Shelby has been specifically designed and refined by input from user churches. Other accounting applications including accounts payable, payroll, and contributions automatically interface to avoid duplicate data entry. Information is very accessible with transactions in individual budget accounts available any time and financial statements (monthly) stored for future
reference if needed. A detailed audit trail is maintained. Budgeting and the often missed monitoring of the budget are facilitated by the detail of the reports which show year-to-date expenditures by line item and the unexpended balance remaining.
Sherry Miller, comptroller of the FREMONT FIRST ASSEMBLY OF GOD CHURCH AND SCHOOL in Fremont California said “Over the course of nine years we have added all of the Shelby applications except payroll, which is computed locally in a more cost-effective manner.” “I have examined all of the major church software packages,” she continued, “and I am convinced that Shelby exceeds all of the rest – there is not a better package on the market for church needs.”
The contributions portion of Shelby Systems provides an audit trail of all donations showing member number, envelope number, and the amount given by individuals and their families. Tied to the membership module’s database, which must be purchased if contributions are to be recorded, there is a wide variety of options that Shelby has developed over the years to handle the many different ways churches register gifts. Allocations can be made on a contribution statement for three funds plus all others (one option), seven funds plus all others (another option), or detailed listing of all contributions by
designated fund (still another option).
“Contributions are handled in a church-friendly manner,” Sherry Miller added. Year-to-year comparative reports and both Pledge and contribution inquiry functions optimize the operation of this sensitive and vital area of church records.
The accounts payable option available from Shelby provides an invoice register for an accurate edit and audit trail, prints a cash requirements report to enable the church to properly manage cash flow,
furnishes a vendor list, vendor analysis, payables list, historical summary, payables checks with automatic posting to general ledger, and listings of open (unfilled) purchase orders, among many other reports.
Kay Nay, office manager, and Kim Loeffler, financial administrator of the 2300 member ST. PAUL’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH in Indianapolis, Indiana agreed, “Shelby Systems is superb in its regular functioning and has added great flexibility to our church accounting and membership functions.”
Attendance tracking is a perfect example of the type of time-consuming laborious repetitive task that is ripe for automation by computers. The software available from Shelby Systems can prepare class rosters,
provide year-to-date totals, do statistical analyses to reflect trends, capture data for worship services, or any other event or organization. Functions are versatile, ranging from recording by numbers, rosters or name, to completion either of present or absent with default to the opposite condition, interface with membership data for labels, reports, and follow-up letters, generation of rosters weekly, quarterly, or by specifications, as well as publication of visitation lists, attendance histories, year-to-date reports and user-
defined exception analyses.
PROSPECTS AND OUTREACH
The core of church growth from a human standpoint depends upon the ability to prevent prospective members from falling through the cracks. If prospects are to become members there must be an effective
pre-membership system in place. Shelby is able to group prospects according to key church leaders, by geographic location, interests, homogeneous groups, etc.
Oversight can be provided to track dates prospects visit in addition to the visitation history of each group. As an added bonus in a recent upgrade Shelby has the ability to transfer prospect data to a membership file without the need to re-key data.
Many churches have associated schools, and Shelby Systems has developed software to meet the challenges of this application. The same financial applications are used so that the church with a school can automatically have personnel cross- trained as well as maintain a consistency only obtainable from a single-source vendor
In an age all too prone to finger-pointing, there is an administrative peace obtained by reducing the possible gamut of culprits when something goes wrong. Shelby provides many customized and proven
school reports such as finances, schedules, lists, billing, information databases, and transcript information. One user reported some delays in the completion of writing of the school software, and some minor difficulties in the area of transcript reporting – yet also remarked that they had paved the way for others and given Shelby’s responsive track record they did not consider these items insurmountable.
FIXED ASSETS AND INVENTORY
The most demanding application, because of the internal discipline it imposes upon an organization where long-standing informal arrangements are often the rule rather than the exception, is in the area of fixed
assets, property, plant and equipment and inventory. These areas are addressed by a Shelby system that again received high marks from users.
Shelby Systems also provides miscellaneous name and address recording, library recording (whether literature or music), and a calendar which enables the church to manage resources of time, treasure, and talent by wise forward planning. Linda Craft of the FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH in Jackson, Mississippi said “the membership profile options combined with the advanced calendar functions really help our 7000 member church to keep on top of things and use our resources wisely.”
Pat Faudree, director of advertising and public relations for Shelby Systems announced the forthcoming release of a new Family Life Systems Module to track team membership, activity fees, scheduling, membership and participation, and an expanded resource scheduler. “With this program Shelby Systems has again responded to the requests of its church users by a major software release specifically designed to meet a need. We try to be very responsive to users within the framework of responsibility to all,” she added.
SUPPORT AND SERVICE
Shelby Systems received excellent user comments for support and service. Jenny Wunderlich commented, “This was my first experience with computers, but the excellent support and service from Shelby helped make the system very easy to learn and enjoyable to use.”
As part of its commitment to quality, Shelby requires that churches obtain training either at the Memphis, Tennessee location or at the church site. In semi-monthly classes users are trained using actual data from their own churches. They can leave with a solid foundation as well as a completed chart of accounts and a partially-complete membership list, depending upon the size of the church.
In commenting upon training Sherry Miller highly recommended the on-site training option. “First, a church must select an individual to be responsible for the implementation of the system, next all people must be trained (preferably by a Shelby expert on-site), and finally there must be a cross-check with system specifications agreed upon in writing in the beginning. Shelby guarantees upgrades without cost, other than normal support, and through the years they have worked hard at improving their product with upgrades users have requested. Custom programming is at extra cost, though, and can be slow going.”
Shelby Systems has a major market penetration with over 800 churches currently being served. It is a tribute to the quality of the product that 306 of those churches-are listed as user references. After in-
depth analysis of company stability, user satisfaction and product specifications, IBM developed a “Business Partner” relationship with Shelby Systems. IBM provides information to its marketing
representatives that Shelby is an approved software vendor to churches. It even allows Shelby to designate hardware configurations – a function performed only by the highest level of IBM affiliate marketers. Whatever your personal bias, this is nevertheless an important benchmark to note. Shelby Systems will operate on any IBM – compatible PC on the low end, while on – the high end it operates exclusively on IBM hardware such as the system 36 and the powerful AS/400.
Some references that were larger churches indicated a mild amount of dissatisfaction with a perceived lack of flexibility by Shelby in custom situations. This is not unusual, because megachurches have enough varied situations to generate quite distinctive demands. To meet all of these would compromise the ease of upgrading and integrity necessary to rapidly restore a system in the event of catastrophe. The advantage of a software vendor who can bring a multitude of options and maintain them well more than offsets, in my opinion, the headaches of a completely custom program. As Mary Dennis, assistant bookkeeper of the COLLEGE AVENUE BAPTIST CHURCH in San Diego, California said, “although we have to manually calculate a very specialized contribution report that is unique to our church, we selected Shelby
because it was a superior system to what we had before and they have always been responsive to our requests and resolve problems rapidly.
All of the references contacted complimented Shelby for its responsiveness. Shelby concentrates on solving problems over the telephone immediately. One user indicated that a toll-free number would be nice.
According to Pat Faudree, the Shelby System is available for as little as $750 (membership, contributions, and general ledger) for churches less than 500 members at the PC level. Support is about $17 per month.
Shelby Systems has turned dream into reality in little more than a decade. An evaluation of their product would seem to be essential for anyone looking for quality software from an experienced vendor.
(The above material is a reprint from an issue of Christian Computing Magazine in Belton, MO.)
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