Roll Call

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Roll Call is a church management software package for membership and financial records.


Due to the unique needs of churches, church management software is a very specialized market. Even small churches need more than basic membership management. They need to be able to account for both individuals and families, and organize those into various flexible subsets (visitors vs. members, Sunday school classes, Bible studies, cell groups, shepherding areas, etc.). They need to be able to track contributions, both monetary and non-monetary, designated and undesignated, and generate meaningful reports for accounting, analysis, and tax purposes. They may wish to track attendance. Every church's needs are different, so the software must be flexible enough to allow "buffet style" use of the features.

From a technological standpoint, the software must be easy to learn and use. Church management, especially in smaller churches, is often handled by unpaid volunteers who don't have the time or financial resources for training. Good tech support is a "must have" feature. The software should be able to run on older hardware, with standalone or networkable versions, and it must be reasonably priced. Cross-platform functionality is a big plus. Not only does this give volunteers and staff the freedom to use the OS of their choice (or whatever has been donated!), but a commitment to cross-platform development is also a mark of a forward-thinking company with good programming depth and ability.

Roll Call, from By The Book, meets these needs very well. I won't go into much detail on the feature list here, as you can read all that on their website. I've been using Roll Call for five years in our small church (<100 members). I use it primarily for membership management and contribution tracking, and it has been a huge time-saver. Entering weekly tithes & offerings takes mere minutes (so I can still beat the Methodists to Luby's), and I can quickly generate the yearly tax reports, print them all to PDF files (using CUPS-PDF), and email or print them as needed. I'm running the previous version (9.5) on an old 1GHz Power Mac G4 under Mac OS X 10.5.8, though the latest version requires an Intel processor. Many of Roll Call's bells and whistles (barcode scanning, security tags, etc.) are obviously targeted at larger churches, but you don't have to use them unless you need them, and Roll Call is happy either way.

Roll Call uses 4D, a very robust cross-platform database engine. I'm a big fan of FileMaker Pro, but 4D is right up there with FileMaker, and is better in some respects. I have some experience designing and supporting relational databases, and Roll Call seems to have a good setup in that regard–in my usage, it has a robust and scalable "feel" to it. While I'm not taxing the software's capabilities at all, I'm confident that it could just as easily manage 4,000 members as 100. I'd need more data entry help, of course.

Documentation is good, with hardcopy and digital manuals, and you can be up to speed quickly. Using any "monolithic" management application requires you to try to wrap your brain around the developer's paradigm–you have to figure out how they think the software should work. In this regard, I think By The Book did a pretty good job. Roll Call is fairly intuitive to use, though I do recommend keeping the manual handy, at least at first, until you get the hang of it. The Roll Call GUI, though eminently useful, is perhaps a bit less slick than most Mac programs, partly due to limitations of the cross-platform 4D environment, and partly because it's designed to be keyboard-friendly for efficient data entry. A relative novice can point-and-click their way through it, but once I figured out how to work things using the keyboard, things really started to speed up. After I had been using the software for several years, we reassigned bookkeeping duties to one of the deacons, and I was able to get him going with just a few minutes' worth of hands-on training.

By The Book offers a trial version of Roll Call, so you can try before you buy. They have a tiered pricing structure, starting at a very reasonable $129 for the single-user version to track up to 100 individuals. Network versions are priced according to the number of concurrent users you require. See their pricing page for a full price list.

The few times I've had to contact By The Book support, they have been very responsive and helpful. Moreover, the company appears to be genuinely interested in helping churches–they're not just out to make a buck on their software. They offer online training classes–the basics class is free, more in-depth classes are $69. I haven't taken advantage of these classes myself, so I can't offer a legitimate review, though I suspect that they're worthwhile.

See also

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Reviewed in 2011 by Jon Gardner.