Why Church Leaders are Intimidated by Data (And How Not to Be)

Does collecting church data intimidate you? Do you know how to use the data you gather? In this episode of Modern Church Leader, Dean Sweetman shares how data can inform the decisions you make.

Why Church Leaders are Intimidated by Data (And How Not to Be)

Dean Sweetman

I want to talk about something that is very, very near and dear to me. 

It’s something that I've been talking about for so long.

And it's not that sexy, actually.

We talk a lot about technology and how we use technology, but there's a reason why we make, produce, support, update technology for churches. 

And we believe it makes church life easier, we believe it helps people in their growth, it helps churches engage with the church community and all the things that Tick does. And we talk about that all the time. But there's a reason that we want that technology working in the everyday life of the church.

I'll give you one word: data. “Oh my gosh, Dean, I can't believe you're saying that. Facebook's getting my data, Google's got all my data. Everyone knows what's going on. I want my privacy back.” Yes, that's true, but I think the boat has left, the train has left the station.

Data and the collection of data can be used for nefarious and bad purposes. We've all seen that. And when companies do the wrong thing with data, that's an incredibly bad thing. 

I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about getting data, getting information that you already have access to it but you're not doing anything with it. 

I pretty much guarantee everyone listening to this, if you're a church leader, you count how many people came Sunday. You certainly count the offering and put a deposit, whether it's digitally, automatically, through something like Tithe.ly or you're bundling those checks up and taking them to the bank and the accountant's creating the ledger and you know how much money came in because you know how much money...

We do a lot of counting. We do a lot of things with data in church life. Wouldn't it be great if we could capture and use the data that we're already collecting in a more powerful way? 

The next obvious thought is how am I going to capture, collect and organize this data? For instance, checking the kids into the kids ministry. 

Right now you have some system. Maybe it's writing names on bits of paper, writing a sticker, slapping on the back of a kid, and then checking them out at the end. Maybe that's what you do. That's data, you've just collected it. You just did it in an analog way.

What if you did that digitally? What if someone took their custom app and brought up a barcode and checked little Johnny in and it spat the label out and then the parent came back and buzzed it again and little Johnny could come out? Great little security feature in there as well. The point is, all this data is being collected. Mostly, though, it's not being managed and then it's not being used.

So the next obvious thought is how do we manage that data? Of course, well, you need a data management system for your church. And whether it's something like we provide or some other system, you want to digitally manage that data, get all that information and use it in such a way that's beneficial to church leadership. 

We want to collect all these data points. And it's kind of a little bit like when I go to the doctor. The first thing they do, they put the thermometer in, they do the blood pressure, they check my pulse. They've got the vital signs, right? Well, there's some vital signs that you want as a church leader. How many people turned up? How much is being given? Maybe how many people are in small groups? How many kids checked into kids ministry? There's all these things that are data points for how church is going.

We can put our head in the sand and say, "You know what? Numbers don't really matter to God, it's just about the people." I don't think that's true. I think God was in the numbers. He's got a whole book called Numbers counting people. 

If God knows every hair on our head, as the Bible says, I think God likes to know what's going on. And I think as church leaders, we need to know what's going on. The thought of capturing this data becomes incredibly important. And as much as we do on a financial side, I think we can capture a lot of other data that really helps us as church leaders try to kind of manage, pastorally care for and grow the people in our churches. You need a management system with a bunch of easy ways for that data to be collected.

And then the next obvious thing is this: You need to be able to read it and you need to be able to look at it. Let's just say for instance I had how many people checked into my kids ministry in October 2019. And let's just say, for instance, there was 400. And let's say I had accurate, beautiful data from October 2018, and let's say I had 250. What's happening? Well, I can create a chart now and there's a growth. 

Let's say I took every month in the last 12 months and I could see dips, maybe I see a little dip in the summer, maybe I start to see these trends and people are back from school, the fall, church starts to grow. And I've got a beautiful feedback line on kids check-in or finance or attendance or discipleship classes. Imagine if I could track and see how people are growing by going to the discipleship classes that we're providing.

The point is this:

You want to not just collect this data, you want to let this data talk to you. Because let me tell you this; data doesn't lie. The numbers don't lie. If you're an accountant, if you're in the realm of accounting, and I'm not an accountant but I read a lot of profit and loss statements, I can read a balance sheet. And sometimes I'm like, "Man, we did better than that." No, you didn't. The bookkeeper is like, "This is the number. This is what came in, this is what went out. Here's your profit, here's your loss." There's no feeling, there's no, "Yeah, I really feel like the church is really growing." Really? Okay, well let's look at the data.

You know what I've found over the years? There's a church of leaders that don't want to look. They're afraid because we all want our churches to be growing and it's kind of discouraging when we see some of this data that we track go down. I think the key is with data is that not only do you have to understand that you have to collect it and look at it and manage it, but you can't be afraid of it. Allow the feedback that you're getting in your management system to help you make better decisions. Maybe you've got to switch up the staff, maybe you've got to change the service time, maybe you've got to start a new service, maybe you've got to do a lot of things. Make big decisions not based on a feeling. "Oh, we really feel like this is what's happening in the life of the church. The kids church feels really full and overwhelming." Well, let's have a look at the facts.

Data matters to churches.

Collect it, look at it, process it, don't be afraid of it. And the last thing I'd say is use it. Use the feedback to make great decisions and it'll help you as a manager and as a leader make great decisions about the life of the church because you'll have real, great numbers and great, real time feedback that'll ensure what you are maybe feeling from the holy spirit, maybe through prayer to making some big decisions about the church, but you'll actually have time real time data to back it up. Get into data. It's a really big deal and it's going to help you grow your church.

Show Notes

Today on Modern Church Leader, Tithe.ly CEO Dean Sweetman shares why gathering data can be used for good purposes, be helpful for leading your church, and doesn't have to be shied away from.  

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Why Church Leaders are Intimidated by Data (And How Not to Be)