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Is Data Mining Ethical for Churches?

Should Churches Engage in Data Mining?

Data mining has certainly been in the news a lot lately. Every time you turn around another company has been hacked and more of our personal information has been exposed. In addition, many of our favorite social networks are selling our data to big companies who in turn monetize it for profit. It’s no wonder why data mining has such a negative connotation. (I wrote about this in the May 2018 issue of Ministry Tech if you’d like to know more.)

While data mining can certainly be used for nefarious purposes it can also be used for good. Churches also collect tons of data (much like social networks and your favorite online shopping website) that can be used for greater Kingdom impact. It might be good to spend some time evaluating the data you already have. Many questions about attendance, giving, and serving trends can be found in the data you are already collecting.

Data about giving patterns can help reveal a lot more than just how much money was given. Giving data can be used to help track attendance and correlated with children’s check-in data, [it] can show a lot about how a family interacts with your ministries. What does it say if kids are checking in but there is no giving data? What about giving data with no children’s check-in history?

Check-in and attendance data also help provide a good picture of how an individual or family is connecting (or not connecting) with your ministry. Obviously, you want to see attendance trends for facility planning and discipleship but there is a lot more to it. Closing the back door to keep folks from slipping through the cracks is a challenge every ministry faces. Data mining, or using the data you already have to help you identify problem spots, is a valuable tool to target discipleship.

Serving data is another way to look at how well folks are being assimilated into your ministry and a great measure of discipleship. Having a clear picture of “who is doing what” can help you target volunteers for different ministry opportunities. Many times 20 [percent] of the people are doing 80 [percent] of the work because the other 80 [percent] of the people aren’t being properly asked or discipled to serve.

And then there’s cross-comparing the data: Do you know who’s attending and giving but not serving? What about who’s giving and serving but not attending? With online giving, it is also possible to give and not serve or attend.

We often don’t take the time to mine our data to answer these questions and more in order to grow our effectiveness. Corporations prioritize mining data to make money, churches and ministries should mine data to grow the Kingdom of Christ and help equip those they serve to become more faithful disciples.


Jonathan Smith is the Director of Technology at Faith Ministries in Lafayette, IN. You can reach Jonathan at jsmith@faithlafayette.org and follow him on Twitter @JonathanESmith.