Because of my work in new media for the Church, especially as I have advised parishes in the past on various tech tools to use, I sometimes get asked by developers who wish to put their skills at the service of the Kingdom of God what kind of technology solutions parishes need. I’m afraid that they might be hoping for something cool like a new Confession app for the phone or some new Catholic social network. Unfortunately, parishes’ needs tend toward the more prosaic. On the other hand, these are the sorts of things thousands of parishes might be interested in buying from you.
If you are a developer, here’s what I think parishes need most: an online event/project registration and payment system. They need an easy way to sign up and track children for religious education programs and to allow parents to pay for it online or in person, using check or cash or credit card. Parishes need an event system that lets them run, say, a parish trip, to sign up people easily, receive their payments, and communicate with them effectively. A system that would be flexible enough to accept payment on a smartphone or tablet in the nave of the church after Mass for tickets for a parish dinner and to have a page on the parish website where people can do that same.
So what’s the business model? Well, you could sell your product with a service plan model or you could sell monthly or yearly subscriptions to it, but what if instead you gave it away and took a small bit of each transaction? Taking religious education alone, in the US in 2013, there were more than 3 million children in non-parochial school religious education. A piece of every one of those transactions is a pretty good business. Then add in all the other event and ministry registrations.
Heck, throw in online giving for good measure. And do a combination of a low-cost subscription and per-transaction fee.
Yes, there are registration and payment systems out there. A parish with a halfway talented techie could cobble together a simple registration form on the parish website with a Paypal account. But that’s exactly what it would be: a cobbled-together solution that relies on the person who made it to maintain and whose user experience would probably be so bad that no one would use it.
To be frank, I’m tired of half-assed Catholic tech solutions. I want to see the kind of care and attention put toward software and hardware aimed at the Catholic market as I see coming from Apple and the best Apple developers. Some are already there now. The latest stuff coming from eCatholic is pretty impressive. Little iApps started the trend with their awesome iPhone apps. I’ve had private demonstrations of other software that show a lot of promise too.
So, developers, there’s your answer. Event and organization relationship management isn’t sexy, but it’s needed. So who’s willing to step up?