Planning Center Review: Is This the Best CMS?

Stephanie Hodges Uncategorized Leave a Comment

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, there are many user-friendly software tools that 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 Planning Center 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.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

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 Planning Center 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 Planning Center 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 Planning Center “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 Online activity.

People

As the Planning Center website says, “The center of the Planning Center world is Peopleā€”a shared database that connects to all the other products.”

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.

Calendar

The Planning Center 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.

Check-ins

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.

Planning Center Check-ins also helps 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.

Giving

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, Planning Center 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.

Groups

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 have ability to 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.

Publishing

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

Registrations

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.

Services

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 Planning Center, the Services tool now provides scheduling and coordination features for any team in your church.

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

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. Planning Center has 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 Online Review of 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, 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. Planning Center is easy for anyone to use because it provides a well-designed interface that is user-friendly.
  • 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.
  • Planning Center 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 Planning Center 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?

Planning Center can work for churches big and small. Because Planning Center 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 there are multiple parts of the system that require an administrator or leader to access. Before diving into Planning Center, 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.

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, Planning Center offers many benefits.

Because all churches are unique, the best way to know whether Planning Center 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 the Planning Center 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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