According to the Barna organization only 35% of Americans attend church weekly. In the article Christian America is in Decline, authors, Anthony B. Pinn and Tom Krattenmaker explain, “One reason so many are opting out of religion, or never opting in to begin with, is that churches are addressing the wrong questions.” In short, members leave because they feel their church doesn’t provide enough spiritual engagement. Some want more opportunities to serve, while others look for ways to solve frustrations or doubts. Many even feel church is irrelevant, and list the struggle to connect as the primary reason they leave—or never get involved at all. It’s time to rethink the decline in church attendance, learn about data, and discover how you can use church data to reach your communities and retain congregants.
Churches that Adopt New Ways to Connect are Thriving
Not all churches are declining. Some churches are thriving as they discover new ways to meet the spiritual and communal needs of those in their congregations and communities. One of the newest ways churches can determine these needs is with church data.
Carl Kuhl, lead pastor of Mosaic Church writes in Outreach Magazine, “The typical church is not good at tracking data. We keep track of how big the offering is. We keep good track of attendance. But we honestly don’t use data well.” It’s understandable why many church leaders are skeptical about data. Measuring success in a spiritual environment can be tricky—especially when you’re working with various demographics and opinions. “However,” Khul shares, “what has happened is we have gone so far into the ‘numbers don’t matter’ realm that we don’t have enough helpful data.” This proves a need for a healthy balance and understanding of data usage in churches.
Patricia Lotich of Smart Church Management writes in her article, 7 Keys to Church Growth, “Church members are one of the key customer groups in a church. Understanding their unique needs and ensuring their needs are met—within the scope of the vision—is critical to church growth.”
Using church data is an accurate and efficient way to gain insights about your people and make confident decisions, but before we jump into the ways you can use data in your church, let’s take a minute to discuss how data became big data.
How Data Became Big Data
Google defines data as “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.” Similarly, Google defines big data as “extremely large data sets that may be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions.”
Though the terms are relatively new, the idea of using data to guide decisions is not. In fact, data-informed decision-making dates back to ancient cultures. Ancient tribespeople tracked data by carving notches in bones or sticks, calculating trade activities, and determining how long their supplies would last.
In the 1660s, John Graunt collected mortality data and analyzed it to determine the frequency of various causes of death. He used that same data to refute the idea that the bubonic plague spreads by contagion. He even theorized an early warning system for the plague. Though mortality information had been collected for years, Graunt was the first to use the information to make connections to disease and population. The key here is that he used the data.
Today, analysts use data to predict heart disease or the spread of malaria and, of course, to track buying habits and encourage new purchases. But, just as John Graunt used data to draw conclusions to certain illnesses and disease, the data collected today does little good if it doesn’t drive action.
Data Only Offers Solutions When it Drives Action
We consciously, or subconsciously, match our reactions to the information we have available. Another way to think of this is through the idea of “know and match.” The more we know, the better we’re able to match our responses. For example, when you connect to your weather app you know the forecast and can match your clothing or activities accordingly. You act on the information provided.
Doctors predict disease based on genetics and family history, which allow them to act by providing preventative care. As a pastor, when you see data indicating your members are at risk of divorce, you can act on that data by planning sermons that focus on building stronger relationships or promoting marriage support groups.
Access and Use Data for Your Church Today
There are many ways you can collect data to understand the needs of your congregation and community. Here are a few tools you can use today.
- Social media analytics.
There are many ways to collect and analyze your church data from social media. Facebook has Insights, and Twitter has Analytics. Additional tools are available through LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social media channels—and there are other resources with advice about how to understand what these tools surface, and to help you with the heavy lifting of interpreting the data.
- Surveys and assessments.
Many churches use surveys to assess the needs of their members through first-party information. These can be done through software like SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizmo to assess the spiritual and temporal needs of your congregants.
Some churches find it helpful to collect data through formal assessments, but church data can also be collected in meetings, private interviews, or detailed reports from church leaders.
- Demographic reports.
Demographics can provide a lot of insight into your community. Through these reports, you can often access religious affiliation, marital status, household income, and the ages of residents.
- Third-party data vendors.
While some data can be collected from individual sources, there are services that gather, sort, and provide data for their clients on a much larger scale—searching millions in their databases and producing thousands of data points per person for analysis. This information creates predictive models of behavior.
In other words, you’ll be able to know things like a specific person’s likelihood to get divorced or your congregation’s need of financial support.
9If you decide to use a data analytics platform make sure you select one that corresponds with the data you need to reach your local community and congregants. Also, be sure it provides a high degree of privacy—more about that next. If you are wondering how data can turbocharge your ministry: Take your next steps toward an effective digital strategy by watching this free 90-minute webinar. You’ll learn from a handful of experts in the church marketing and tech industries who show you how data can strengthen the people you serve.)
A Note About Privacy
When using church data and analytics, it’s important to keep the details private. When working with a trusted data analytics platform, all identifying information is kept private. The data is processed, scrubbed of any personal details, and then returned to you with only relevant information.
At Gloo, we’re passionate about data integrity and privacy. Data is increasingly important in the world we live in, and we believe using the power of data for good is essential and a moral imperative.
Know your People to Match them to the Right Resources and Provide Opportunities for Growth
It’s important to remember that church data is predictive, not prescriptive. It should gather known ideas, habits, demographics, and activities—allowing you to organize the information to represent the whole and act on it. Churches that use the power of data in this way are able to predict struggles and pain points—and they generally know more about their congregants and community. When they use that information to tailor their message, they see long-term engagement that leads to personal growth.
As Carey Nieuwhof explains,
“I’m trying to read the minds of the people in the audience, in the congregation every week and I’m trying to think through the minds of a church person, of a non-church person, someone on the verge of divorce, someone who’s single . . . You run your message through a lot of filters, but with data, you can actually know.”
Using data in your church is about understanding your congregation’s needs and then matching those needs with relevant solutions. As you learn more, you can match more accurately and take a proactive approach to ministry. The outcome is personal growth for your people.
GET THE GUIDE TO DATA AND THE CHURCH