Planning Center Review: Is This the Best CMS?

Thomas CostelloUncategorized 3 Comments

How does Planning Center measure up when compared to other church management software programs? Although you may have started your church tracking everything in excel spreadsheets and Google docs, many user-friendly software tools can massively improve your data collection and communication processes. This Planning Center review will show you how that could be the case for you!

Customer software and database management tools aren’t just for businesses, they can also help churches gain efficiency and take their experience to the next level.

In this review, we’ll cover one of the most well-known church management software programs. After looking at the key features and pricing, we’ll discuss the pros and cons and what type of church could benefit from Planning Center Online.

Looking for a review for another CMS? Church out our deep dive on the 9 best church management software platforms.

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

What is Planning Center Online and What Does it Do?

What is Planning Center Online and What Does it Do?

Planning Center is a church management software with a variety of integrated app options. In the church world, we often use the term CMS as an abbreviation for church management software.

Another key point when it comes to terminology is that Planning Center used to be called “Planning Center Online,” or “PCO” for short. But now, this family of products is known as “Planning Center.”

The core of the software is “People,” which is the database of all your members, guests, parents – basically anyone who might be visiting your church.

In addition to tracking your members via the People database, you can add other tools such as:

  • Calendar
  • Check-ins
  • Giving
  • Groups
  • Publishing
  • Registrations
  • Services
  • Music Stand

These products cover a broad range of options for managing events, ministries, and communication within your church. Planning Center tools can be managed through an online dashboard or various apps.

Church members can download the “Church Center” app to connect to groups, register for events, and view updates. This is their central source of information related to church activities.

Let’s review the most common products and how they operate, starting with People since it’s the hub of all Planning Center’s Online activity.


As their website says, “The center of the Planning Center world is People—a shared database that connects to all the other products.” People is the first and foremost in planning center services.

Each individual has a profile including contact info, service attendance records, children’s membership, and more. The membership record shows all information related to an individual.

You can assign people to groups, track activity attendance, and run reports for insight into who is coming to your church.

Profiles are created when people register or check-in for ministry events or fill out a form. For those without a profile, you can manually enter their information and save it for later.

Planning Center People also allows you to move people through processes and track their activity. You can add them to workflows, which may include automated messages and follow-up reminders.

You can also view data dashboards and run custom reports to see demographic info, background check statuses, and activity records, among other things.

PCO People also allows you to add people to send emails, text messages (if you purchase this option), and push notifications through the Church Center app.


The Online Calendar is a powerful tool for organization and communication. It allows you to schedule events based on factors such as days of the week, time slots, and location. These variables, combined with other customizable options, make it easy to find available event times that work for you and your ministries.

You can also see your service times, address, maps, nearby parking information (if applicable), and more. The calendar can be very helpful in service planning, as it gives a clear layout and data set for organizers, administrators, and managers scheduling volunteers.


If you want to make it super easy for people to attend your events or services, check-ins may be the tool for you. With this option selected, all someone has to do is open their phone and check-in with a button, QR code, or barcode.

Check-ins also help with data tracking. When someone checks in to an event on your church’s schedule, it will automatically post attendance to the event and give you a report that shows who checked in and at what time.

This can be hugely helpful to your support team, which may normally have to do all this manually. The check-in system has been very valuable for many churches that need that data. Check-ins are an example of one of the many benefits a team can have from using a church software.



Planning Center Giving offers flexible options for accepting offerings and donations. Your members can set up recurring giving, and have options to give via ACH bank transfer, Apple Pay, or card.

People can donate via:

  • Mobile App
  • Online
  • Text-to-give
  • Cash and Check

When it comes to reporting, Giving offers a broad range of potential reports, including graphs and charts. They can give you a picture of monthly activity, donation lifecycle of an individual, and estimate future income using monthly forecasting.

This simple and integrated system of giving is another example of the Planning Center ease that comes with using this platform. You can skip lots of the extra work and time required to build a sustainable giving system.


Planning Center Groups helps you to manage and communicate with your church small groups via an online group platform. Whether you call them fellowship groups, cell groups, Bible studies, or have another name, this app will work for you.

You can enter group names and information and designate leaders. Then, leaders can manage group members and communicate with them.

Monthly emails, group announcements, and other communications can be sent directly to the groups you create from the online dashboard or Groups app.

The group index listing (directory) with information about each group can be featured on your website and the Church Center app.

Groups also allows people to RSVP for meetings and events. Leaders can easily take group attendance following the event, and the reports feature allows you to see attendance trends for individuals and the group overall.


Planning Center’s Publishing tool allows you to create and manage your church’s publications easily. You can create custom publications or use one of the many templates that they provides.

Publications can be in PDF or HTML format and include a Table of Contents, images, and links. You can also add an introduction, copyright information, and endnotes.

Once your publication is complete, you can publish it to your website, the Church Center app, and social media pages with just a few clicks.

If you purchase the options to make a publication available offline or on Apple devices, you can even distribute publications via your website and app.


One of Planning Center’s most helpful features is its ability to manage event registrations. With this powerful tool, you can control all aspects of event registration, from setting maximum capacities to reserving spots for people with special needs.

You can also require online payment or set up a donation option. And, if you’re using Planning Center’s Giving feature, donations can be automatically tracked and recorded.

When someone registers for an event, they are automatically added to the event’s guest list and receive confirmation emails. You can also export your guest list to a CSV file for easy importing into other software programs.


If you’re familiar with the history of Planning Center Online, you may remember that it originated as a tool specifically to help coordinate worship services. With the overall growth of the platform, the Services tool now provides scheduling and coordination features for any team in your church. Planning services has never been easier.

Services still includes robust features for your worship team. You can create service plans that include all sermon and song lyrics, media files for projection in advance, bulletin text, and music setlists. You can also add notes for yourself or other team members to use during rehearsal and live events.

Key features of Planning Center Online Services include:

  • Volunteer Scheduling: allows people to set serving preferences and block out their calendars. You can send requests so volunteers can confirm their schedules.
  • Worship Planning: enables you to create unique plans designating worship sets, songs, service elements, and assigning a length of time for each segment. You can also upload lyrics, chord charts, or sheet music for your musicians to use during service.
  • Rehearsal Tools: upload chord charts, audio files, and videos to help your team practice. You can also upload songs and arrangements into the Song Library.

Services can have multiple dates and be recurring weekly, monthly, or yearly. You can also specify the time of day that the service occurs and whether it is open to the public or just for church members.

Music Stand is an add-on app for your worship team that allows you to edit sheet music, collaborate with synced displays, and have helpful practice tools. Monthly pricing is based on the number of team members who will be using Music Stand.

Planning Center Pricing

Planning Center Pricing

Pricing is a major factor for any church. Thankfully, Planning Center offers flexible options. Planning Center People is always free, and when you subscribe to any other service, the first 30 days are free.

After the free trial period, each additional product starts at $14 per month. There’s also an “a la carte” pricing plan allowing you to choose which products you would like to include. Furthermore, pricing is scaled based on your capacity and usage.

For example, you can get Check-ins at

  • $14 per month for 50 daily check-ins
  • $59 per month for 500 daily check-ins
  • $199 per month for unlimited check-ins

Full features access includes unlimited rooms, check-ins, group members, monthly donations, and team members. For Planning Center Registrations, attendees are capped at 5000. The other exceptions are Music Stand, which is an add-on feature based on the number of team members, and Publishing, which is priced by feature.

Currently, the full feature access package would cost just under $1200 per month.

Planning Center Pros and Cons

Planning Center Pros and Cons

Now that we’ve covered the basic features and seen all that this program can do, let’s focus on the pros and cons in this Planning Center Online review.

Planning Center Pros

Overall, Planning Center has great customer reviews. According to Capterra (where anyone can submit an honest review), Planning Center has 4.7 out 5.0 stars overall, 4.4 for ease of use, and 4.6 for customer service. Here are some of the main pros:

  • PCO is intuitive. It is easy for anyone to use because it provides a well-designed and user-friendly interface.
  • PCO is customizable. Although there are currently seven products in addition to Planning Center People (with the additional option to add on Music Stand), you can decide which products to include in your plan.
  • People and Church Center App are included for free.
  • PCO helps churches to streamline, organize, and coordinate. Automatic notifications are reliable and offer time-saving advantages.

Planning Center Cons

No software program is perfect. Planning Center still has some gaps, complexities, and frustrations. Here are some of the main ones:

  • PCO can be expensive depending on your budget.
  • The software can be challenging for volunteers to learn. Churches need to dedicate substantial time to training both staff and volunteers when implementing the system and recognize the learning curve.
  • While there are positive aspects to having robust tools like Services and Registrations, the downside is that it can be challenging to learn how to use these complex features.
  • While church members can download one app, the Church Center App, leaders and administrators may have to download multiple apps.

What Types of Churches is Planning Center Online Best For?

What Types of Churches is Planning Center Online Best For?

Planning Center Online is a powerful tool that helps churches organize their operations efficiently. It’s particularly useful for three main types of churches: small churches, medium-sized churches, and large churches. It is valuable for each of these churches in different ways, so let’s cover them now.

Small Churches

Small churches often have limited resources and manpower. They need a system that is easy to use and doesn’t require extensive training. PCO fits the bill perfectly for small churches because:

  • Affordability: PCO offers various subscription plans, including a free plan with basic features, making it accessible even for churches with tight budgets.
  • User-Friendly Interface: The platform is designed with simplicity in mind, making it easy for volunteers and staff members with varying levels of tech-savviness to navigate.
  • Essential Features: Despite being budget-friendly, PCO doesn’t compromise on essential features like volunteer scheduling, event planning, and communication tools, which are crucial for small churches to stay organized and connected.

Medium-Sized Churches

Medium-sized churches have a bit more complexity in their operations compared to small churches. They require a system that can handle a larger congregation and more activities. PCO is well-suited for medium-sized churches because:

  • Scalability: As the church grows, PCO can scale up to accommodate the increasing demands without overwhelming the staff or volunteers.
  • Integration: PCO integrates seamlessly with various other church management tools and software, allowing medium-sized churches to streamline their processes and avoid duplicating efforts.
  • Customization: The platform offers customization options, enabling churches to tailor the software according to their specific needs and workflows.

Large Churches

Large churches often have multiple campuses, numerous ministries, and a vast volunteer base. They require a robust system that can handle a high volume of data and interactions. PCO stands out for large churches because:

  • Centralized Management: PCO provides a centralized platform where all campuses and ministries can coordinate their activities, ensuring smooth communication and collaboration.
  • Advanced Features: Large churches benefit from PCO’s advanced features such as check-in systems, resource planning, and donor management, which are essential for managing complex operations.
  • Reliable Support: With dedicated customer support and a thriving online community, PCO offers assistance and resources to help large churches maximize the potential of the platform.

As you can see, Planning Center can work for churches big and small. Because it offers customizable features and pricing, your church will be able to tailor each product to meet your specific needs based on your capacity.

Churchgoers can use PCO, but multiple parts of the system require an administrator or leader to access. Before diving into PCO, create a plan for how you will use the program. You need to know who will be responsible for maintaining the database and making updates.

Planning Center Tips and Tricks

Planning Center Tips and Tricks

Planning Center offers many features that can streamline church operations and enhance collaboration among team members. Here are some simple yet effective tips and tricks to make the most out of PCO:


Scheduling volunteers, events, and services can sometimes be challenging. Here are some tips to simplify scheduling using PCO:

  • Recurring Schedules: For regular events like weekly services or rehearsals, utilize PCO’s recurring scheduling feature to set up schedules automatically, saving time and effort.
  • Templates: Create schedule templates for different types of events or services to streamline the scheduling process and ensure consistency.
  • Availability Tracking: Encourage volunteers to update their availability regularly in PCO, allowing schedulers to assign tasks more effectively and avoid conflicts.
  • Reminders: Set up reminders in PCO to notify volunteers and staff members about upcoming shifts or events, reducing the risk of missed commitments.


Effective communication is key to a thriving church community. Here are some tips to enhance communication using PCO:

  • Group Messaging: Utilize PCO’s group messaging feature to send announcements, updates, and reminders to specific groups or teams within the church, ensuring targeted communication.
  • Integration with Communication Tools: Integrate PCO with popular communication tools like Slack or email services to streamline communication workflows and reach volunteers and staff members more efficiently.
  • Feedback Channels: Create feedback channels within PCO where volunteers and staff members can share their thoughts, suggestions, and concerns, fostering a culture of open communication and continuous improvement.
  • Mobile App: Encourage users to download the PCO mobile app, allowing them to stay connected and informed on the go, enhancing communication accessibility.

Data Management

Efficient data management is crucial for informed decision-making and ministry planning. Here are some tips to master data management using PCO:

  • Data Entry Consistency: Establish guidelines for data entry in PCO to ensure consistency and accuracy across all records, minimizing errors and confusion.
  • Regular Data Updates: Schedule regular data updates and clean-ups in PCO to keep information current and relevant, preventing data clutter and maintaining data integrity.
  • Custom Reporting: Take advantage of PCO’s custom reporting features to generate insightful reports on volunteer engagement, event attendance, giving trends, and more, empowering church leaders with valuable data for strategic planning.
  • Data Security: Implement robust data security measures in PCO to protect sensitive information and maintain the trust of church members, ensuring their privacy is respected.

By incorporating these tips and tricks into their use of Planning Center Online, churches can maximize the platform’s potential and reap the benefits of improved scheduling, enhanced communication, and efficient data management.

Final Thoughts: Planning Center Online Review

Final Thoughts: Planning Center Online Review

Overall, Planning Center is one of the most popular software programs on the market. It has lots of useful features and customizable plans to meet each church’s specific needs. Although it has a few challenges that could cause frustration, PCO offers many benefits.

Because all churches are unique, the best way to know whether it will meet your needs is to sign up for a free 30-day trial. When choosing any new software program, it’s important to properly plan, train, and communicate during the transition.

For a full list of features and pricing options for each product, check out the Pricing page on their website here.

Has your church used Planning Center, or do you love a different CMS? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.

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