Small Group Management Systems: Building Your Own

Why we built our own software, and how it works

Crossroads Christian Church of Evansville, Indiana, addressed the challenge of gathering, tracking, and maintaining a database for small groups by building our own database.

How It Works

Jack Arney, our church staff member in charge of software development, customized a tool to meet our specific needs. Using a program called FileMaker Pro, he created two databases:

  1. "SMALL GROUPS" is our name for the program that tracks every individual enrolled in a small group. In this database, we can find, for example:
    - What groups any individual has joined
    - Which active constituents of the church are in a
    group and which are not (helps with
  2. "SMALL GROUP LEADERS" indexes every group by the name of their leader. This allows us to find a profile on any group, such as:
    - Time of meetings
    - Age
    - Location
    - Singles, couples, mixed, women only, etc.
    - Who is their coach or division leader

Why Did We Develop Our Own?

We were aware that several excellent programs are available that track data for church small group programs. However, in our case, it was easiest to utilize our current program for three reasons:

  1. FileMaker Pro is high-quality software. We have had a positive experience with it for a number of years and had in-house expertise for development and ongoing support of the system.

  2. The program allows for numerical growth without increasing cost for extra database space. We currently have about 2000 in groups, and we can add an unlimited number.

  3. It linked with what we had already developed. Our database already linked information for our ministries in worship, youth, administration, involvement, and a number of smaller ministries. It was natural to add small groups to the list. (A side note: this across-the-board approach to data has also proven useful as we have worked toward the "church of small groups" idea, which involves all the ministries of the church.)


Here are some things we like about our program:

  1. UPDATES CENTRALIZED. All of our databases draw profile information from a central database, the one where we record personal info about all the individuals in our church. Our FileMaker programs link so that if we update membership information about a person in the general database, it automatically updates all the others, including the small groups databases.

  2. EASY TO CHANGE/ADD CATEGORIES. FileMaker Pro allows our programmer to add a category to the screen with relative ease. For example, I recently wanted to be able to sort by "Type" of small group (adult home group, youth d-group, worship small group, involvement, etc.). I asked Jack, and within minutes we had a button with a pull-down menu listing all the types of groups we offer.

  3. Here are some of the OTHER CATEGORIES we have found helpful:
    - Listings by YEAR (offers a history of involvement)
    - Listings by LEVEL (the more criteria your group meets on our list of elements of a “successful small group”, the higher your level)
    - Is CHILD CARE provided by the group?
    - Who are the CO-LEADERS?

  4. Easier for VOLUNTEERS to help.
    - A volunteer helping place someone in a group can quickly find out current info on any group (just ask the computer to sort by the night of the week, the age range, etc. that the person is requesting).
    - This system is also easy for volunteers who help with database entry.

  5. Easy to TARGET specific people.
    - If we have an all-church small groups promotion coming up, we can find out who is not currently in a small group and send them a tailor-made mailing or make a phone call.
    - If we want to mass e-mail a lot of people info about our small groups, the database can sort those e-mail addresses and give us a list in a matter of seconds. We can also sort by phone number, home address, age, or location in town.

What Does Not Work

The program itself works well for us with few glitches. As with any database program, the degree of helpfulness is directly related to how current the data is. Like all churches with large programs, we face the constant challenge of the data becoming outdated. Our program is a centralized program that is not publicly accessible by our small group leaders. This means that we need office staff to make updates rather than having the ability for group leaders to update the information themselves from their home computers or other Internet connection. We try to do a big push for database updates at least twice each year.

Free Newsletter

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter: Regular access to innovative training resources, Bible-based curriculum, and practical articles.


Reasons to Report Group Attendance

Reasons to Report Group Attendance

What group attendance can tell you about group health

Small Group Management Systems: Off the Shelf

Tips for buying an "off the shelf" small group management system