Do church accounting and business specific accounting software differ from each other?
There are commercial accounting software products available designed primarily for businesses, plus church specific accounting software that will probably be more appropriate for your needs. You should keep in mind that a nonprofit organization like a church, has accounting needs that are much different than those of a for profit business.
Churches and other nonprofits differ significantly from businesses in that they use a special style of accounting called fund accounting. It is quite important for churches to utilize this specific type of accounting for their books. The difference with this form of nonprofit accounting is that is looks at assets and liabilities based on their intended ultimate purpose.
Cost accounting differentiates between funds that are restricted such as contributions for missions, and those that have general or unrestricted flexibility. Differences in what data is collected and how it is organized are significant between a church and a business although they both must keep accurate and audit verifiable records.
Might church accounting software that is free work for your congregation?
A simple accounting program even if it is a business type might work for the needs of a small congregation. A potential problem with not using a more sophisticated system is that if someone with bad intentions makes incorrect entries to cover up financial wrongdoing it could be difficult to find who did it or even what was done. This could prove to be an audit nightmare.
If you try to make a business accounting system work for your church, you will run into a number of issues. Some of the things you need to track or at least are interested in such as weekly attendance by member will certainly not have any native functionality in a business program. If your church is quite large with many facets to its operation, then free church accounting software might not meet your needs in a number of areas.
It is unfortunate that there is not more free software available for new churches to use for their accounting needs. If you find a particular program that you would like to try for your church, contact the vendor because they sometimes will make an exception to or reduce the cost for a small or startup church.