Developer Connection:

Meet Scotte Meredith, Developer of ChurchWorks

by David Lang (Posted: 8/17/01)

Ever wondered who develops the software Christian Mac users depend on? The CMUG Developer Connection is a series of articles designed to introduce you to these enterprising individuals. In this first installment, we interview Scotte Meredith, the president of StarSoft Technologies and developer of ChurchWorks, a church management software package for Macintosh.



What is ChurchWorks and what does it do?

First, ChurchWorks 6.0 is NOT ChurchWorks 2000. We are the original ChurchWorks, originally developed in 1988. There is another lower-end program out there with the same name that we have not been able to convince to change their name. We regularly get calls and EMails meant for them.

ChurchWorks 6.0 is a constituent information, demographics, groups, abilities, mailing list, EMail, and gift tracking and receipting program for Macintosh and Windows. It tracks demographics, relationships, contacts, volunteer abilities, interests, renewals, alumni information and automates gift entry, receipting, reports, pledges and many other things. ChurchWorks can search on any information, has multiple ways to subset your data and includes a custom report generator and special events module. Constituent profiling includes the ability to display photographs or digital images. There are over 300 user-defined fields and a built-in word processor. ChurchWorks integrates with many general ledger programs and most word processors, spreadsheets, mapping and bulk mailing programs.

Full working demos limited to 150 records are available for download from our website (http://www.starsoft.com).

[Ed: A detailed list of features and system requirements is included at the end of this interview]

We also have DonorWorks, for non-profits. We particularly target Christian ministries, as this is the type of non-profit we want to support. We have special pricing for Christian ministries.


How did you first become interested in developing church management software?

I had a friend, Bill Mounce, who moved back to town. (We refer to him as the "Greek Geek". He writes Greek grammar textbooks used in seminaries around the world, as well as Greek lexicons, commentaries, and was chairman of the New Testament translation for the new English Standard Version of the Bible.) He had a church management software package and a donor tracking/ fundraising software package he had developed. Training, marketing, and support were outsourced and it was horrible! I was working at a bank that was moving their data center to another city and we had a "buy out" option. I took the option, we combined our companies and brought everything in-house. A few years later, he went back into academia (department head at Gordon-Conwell Seminary) and left the company. I've been doing this ever since. Bill is now back in Spokane (vowing never to leave again) and is the pastor of our new church plant (just under 3 months old with 120+ attenders).


Why is it necessary to have specialized software for church management? What unique needs do churches have, and how did these direct your software design?

We write software for non-profits in general besides churches. We have found that with very few exceptions, they both have the same basic needs. Non-profits tend to be larger than churches and have more extensive needs than the typical church. By giving our church management system (CMS) the same (nearly) feature set that non-profits need, we are able to meet the needs of larger churches, which is our target market. Most new features in the program came from suggestions by current users. We take their specific suggestions and develop them into features all our clients can use.


What distinguishes ChurchWorks from other church management software programs?

ChurchWorks goes a little different direction from most other CMS software. We are geared specifically to larger churches (350+). Once a church gets to the point where the pastor doesn't know everyone's uncle's son's name, their needs change. Being able to track all that information that usually is stored in the pastor's head lets the churches maintain a small church feeling with a larger church. Being able to get people with similar ministries, interests, gifts, etc. together is easier. If all pastors, lay leaders and administrative staff keep their info in ChurchWorks, they can share that information at any time.

Many other CMS packages can physically handle the number of records needed for a larger church, but once the church reaches a certain size, they hit a wall with the feature set of other CMS software.


Your product is cross-platform, but do you do your development primarily on Macs or Windows machines? Why do you prefer one platform over the other?

All development is done on Macs. When I want to get work done, I use a Mac. When I want to mess around with getting things to work, I use the Windows machine.

The software we use for development, Omnis (http://www.omnis.net) was one of the first databases available for personal computers. It started on Apple II's and was available for the Mac Pluses, the first Windows machines and everything since. We can develop on the Macs, copy the file to any Windows platform and run the software AS IS. All we need to do on the Windows side is testing. In fact, until about 18 months ago, we didn't have an actual Wintel machine in the office. All testing from Windows 3.1 to NT was done on Virtual PC on a Mac.

We are currently working on a new version that will also be available for OS X and Linux. The next version will also be available with a SQL database and in a web version.


Of your customers, what percentage would you say are Macintosh users? Are there any appreciable differences between your Mac- and Windows-using customers?

When we first started, we were all Mac. The company that did the sales had a DOS fundraising program and sold our Mac version only when they couldn't convince someone to buy DOS. They wouldn't let us release a Windows version because they said there was not a market for it (this was in 1993). After we brought everything back in-house we came out with a Windows version about 12-15 months later.

Currently we have about 60% Windows and and 40% Mac. When a group decides to move from Mac to Windows, we try to convince them otherwise, because in essentially every case, they are not happy with Windows after the conversion. In most cases, the IT department is regulating what they do/do not want to support. With more Windows machines, their IT department's jobs are more secure.

We've found that a large portion of the questions we answer on the support lines for Windows clients have nothing to do with our software, but with basic Windows questions like "Where did the file go when I saved it?" and "How do I copy my data to a Zip disk?" and "How do I do a mail merge in Microsoft Word?" We pretty much have to answer these questions as well because the end users are sure that it's a problem with our software that is not allowing them to do this. The Mac users are much more savvy overall.


Tell us a little bit about yourself: your educational and work background, your family, where you're located, etc.

I have a BS in Chemistry and a BA in Education. After graduation I became the Biology teacher and junior high basketball coach at a Christian K-12 school for 7 years. Now I'm a computer geek.

At the high school I raised grant money to put in Apple IIe's and started a computer lab and computer classes. I got about 3/4 through a Masters in Math/Computer Science before leaving teaching for a job at the data center for a large agricultural lender. Nearly all my programming skills are self-taught. I've written a book on Framework, an old DOS integrated package that should have taken the computer world by storm... unfortunately it was owned by Ashton-Tate, who couldn't market their way out of a paper bag.

My wife Renae and I have been married for (nearly) 21 years. We have 3 children: Andrew (19), Marcus (16) and Kaarin (12). We've homeschooled them for 8 years. Renae is a writer and director locally. We live in Spokane, WA and the business is based in homes. Programming and main support is based out of my home, a support tech person works part-time here and part-time out of her home, and sales/marketing works out of his home. We may be expanding to take over a remodeled garage in the near future.

ChurchWorks Features and System Requirements

Ease of use:
-- Over 100 user defined fields
-- On-screen field-level help
-- Unparalleled support service
-- Ability to do partial "finds" on multiple fields
-- Manual contains tutorial and reference sections to provide
step by step directions
-- Easy central access to all constituent data
-- Tickler system for tracking "to-do" tasks
-- Many screen labels can be changed to your own wording, i.e.,
"other name" could be changed to "spouse name"; "Classification"
could be changed to "Membership"
-- Multiple levels of password protection

Gift features:
-- Split gift between multiple designations
-- Deductible/non-deductible amounts
-- In Memory of/ In Honor of
-- Automatic pledge crediting
-- Matching gifts
-- Complete pledge module includes: flexible payment schedules,
multiple pledges per constituent, thank you's, reminders, activity
and cash flow reports
-- Integrates with many general ledger and accounting programs
-- Integrates with spreadsheet programs
-- Analyze donations by period to track giving patterns
-- Analysis thresholds can be user-defined

Constituent/Demographic features:
-- Find and eliminate duplicate constituents
-- Track various relations among constituents
-- Unlimited phone numbers, addresses
-- E-mail addresses
-- City and state lookup by zip code entry
-- Multiple note fields; including confidential constituent notes for
each worker
-- Executive screen to summarize constituent giving history
-- Contact / visitation log (notes shared by everyone)
-- Personal notes (notes, such as counseling notes, that are private
to the person who entered them
-- Constituent directories can include pictures
-- Alumni tracking (for church schools)
-- Track constituents by group, category, classification, status,
giving and more
-- Profile screen for each constituent. Includes ability to paste in
pictures. See constituent's giving history, groups, volunteer
information, special event attendance and more, all in one place
-- Employment codes to track where your constituents work

Reporting features:
-- Over 300 system reports
-- Create your own searches for reports with the search and report query function
-- Ad hoc report generator for specialized reports
-- Export information to spreadsheet or word processor
-- Assisted searches

Mailing features:
-- Personalized receipts and letters
-- Integrates with CASS and NCOA and other bulk mailing programs for postal savings
-- Bar coding on envelopes and labels
-- Individual or batch printing of letters, receipts, address labels, envelopes, packing labels
-- Easy export for mailing house use
-- Ability to import and export updated address information from clearing house

And more:
-- Alumni module (included)
-- Special events module: event planning and ticket sales (included)
-- Volunteer/ability module (included)
-- Attendance module (included)
-- Bulk change and delete (included)
-- Planned giving module (included)
-- Internal word processor with merge fields
-- Integrates with word processors, spreadsheet, general ledger, bulk mailing, mapping programs and contact managers.

Platforms and system information:
-- Macintosh
-- Native power Macintosh
-- Windows 95
-- Windows 98
-- Windows Me
-- Windows NT 4
-- Windows 2000
-- Mixed network capabilities


Windows: 486+, 16 MB minimum: Pentium, 64 recommended
Macintosh: 68030, 16 MB minimum; Power Mac, 64MB recommended


David Lang is CMUG's Content Editor. David works as a developer of Accordance Bible Software, and lives in Maitland, Florida with his wife and four children.