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 Church 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.