Should Churches Use Members’ Data?

Church Tech feat. Dean Sweetman and Frank Barry
Should Churches Use Members’ Data with Frank Barry and Dean Sweetman from the Church Tech Podcast

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Should Churches Use Members’ Data?

Data—it's such a short word, but many institutions have turned this term into a buzzword of obsession, particularly in this digital age. 

Today, data could arguably be the most valuable commodity. Without any data, it's hard to imagine how most people or organizations can decide on their most significant decisions. Most importantly, the data that people collect now includes even the more sophisticated details that were never thought of. 

Let's face it— data drives decisions! 

In this regard, churches also need data to inform their complex decisions. 

Pastors in the churches could have started collecting data out of necessity, like gathering basic details such as the church members' names, ages, and home addresses. In fact, these data are so familiar that church pastors only rely on their memories.

But today, it's an entirely different story. You have more sophisticated church members; you church membership has increased. Then, you have to encode other significant information like tithes collection, employment, attendance, or cultural orientation. And these are only a few of the myriad details that church leaders bear in mind for important church decisions.

So, you turn to digital software and services to assist you in all these activities.

It's more likely that these technological services will request the church members to share their personal data to have the best experiences of these services. As the church leader, you have access to all these data from your church members.

Yes, you have the idea that you can use these data for church purposes or even beyond that, as most tech services may subtly suggest to you. But there are some pressing questions that you must consider:

Should you use the church members' data? 

Even more important is this: how do you use these data?

Do you follow what most institutions do with the data they have in their hands 'for the benefit of the church'? 

In this episode, Frank Barry and Dean Sweetman have this intimate and enlightening conversation on the central and sensitive themes surrounding the use of church data for many purposes. Ultimately, the answer concerns how pastors can use these data to shepherd their church members.

"That's our fundamental belief that pastors are trying to care for their people, and that's the reason they're using the data. We think it's really about caring for your people and paying attention to the things that really matter. How do you do that? And how do you use data as part of all of those things to be healthy?"
-Frank Barry

Dean is the co-founder and CEO of Tithe.ly. Before launching Tithe.ly, Dean was involved in ministry for more than 30 years.

Frank is a founding Executive Team member and COO at Tithe.ly. Prior to being at Tithe.ly, Frank spent nearly 15 years helping churches, charities, and nonprofit organizations leverage technology to advance their mission. 

You can do much more with your church members' personal data while remaining ethical, moral, and Christian. If you’re searching for answers to the most pressing questions about church data, we have the right data that you need for your questions in this episode.  

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • A comparison of how pastors collected data then and now
  • Why churches shouldn’t be afraid of collecting data
  • The data that really matters at church
  • How effectively using data equates to loving people
  • Practical, ethical, and Christian means to uphold the value of church data
  • Embracing the technology to use data for the church’s benefits 

Resources Mentioned:

Know more about Tithe.ly: get.tithe.ly
Follow Tithe.ly on Instagram: tithe.ly
Follow Tithe.ly on Twitter: tithe.ly
Like Tithe.ly on Facebook: @tithelyapp

Other Episodes You May be Interested In:

What is Church Tech
How Churches Can Become More Effective Online
Church in the Metaverse

Here's a glance at this episode:

[6:19] As a pastor, you're learning stuff about your people. And when you're in a small church, you tend to know everybody, and you get to know them really well. And so, you're actually collecting a lot of data. And you're using it!

[8:22] Don't be afraid. It's always been done. Mentally, you are tracking data about people, not because you want to do something crazy or malicious, but because you want to care for them. Fundamentally, it’s like loving your neighbor. 

[15:16] So I have consistent, then I have this drop-off. That's not a cue to call someone up and say, ‘Hey, why haven't you given?’ It's a cue to say, ‘Hey, Frank, you know, we didn't haven't seen it for three weeks. Is there anything going on that I should be praying about?’

[16:13] But I think using data effectively is a way to love people. And do it in a little bit more of a scaled manner.

[16:49] We believe the software makes you more productive. That's the whole point. If I’ve gone from storing stuff in my head to writing it on bits of paper to having something that I can access from my phone anywhere, anytime to be able to get some, that is like productivity plus because I can do things more efficiently.

podcast transcript

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Frank Barry (00:00):

If that's our fundamental belief that pastors are trying to care for their people, and that's the reason they're using the data... I think you can get all kind of weird stuff going on, but that's not what we are talking about. Or what we think people should do. We think it's really about caring for your people. And paying attention to the things that really matter, around taking care of your church. And taking care of the people. And adding new people. And growing as a church. How do you do that? And how you use data as part of all of those things, to be healthy and grow.
We're here with another episode of the Church Tech podcast. I don't remember what episode this is. I think it's three or four. And... Four or five. Somewhere in there. But we're having a good time, talking about this stuff.

Dean Sweetman (00:44):

We can do it all day. Let's just be clear to the audience. This is what we do all day, talk about technology and church. We're just filming 45 minutes of it, for our feed.

Frank Barry (00:55):

Yeah. We thought we'd just get on camera, get on microphones, and see if it turns into some hing magical.

Dean Sweetman (01:00):

We'll see.

Frank Barry (01:02):

Who knows? Let us know. Leave us a review, or a comment. Or a like. Or send us -

Dean Sweetman (01:07):

We're into it. That's the main thing.

Frank Barry (01:09):

Yeah. We're having fun. But we do... We have lots of topics, but sometimes it's hard to pick. We want to make sure we're talking about stuff that people are also interested in.

Dean Sweetman (01:18):

Yep.

Frank Barry (01:18):

Or enough people are interested in. And hopefully, today's is somewhat -

Dean Sweetman (01:22):

I think today's is fantastic.

Frank Barry (01:24):

Yeah. So talking about church data. And really, I think the question that we landed on is, should churches be using the data that they have access to about their members and visitors? And people that they're touching, as a church.

Dean Sweetman (01:45):

Right.

Frank Barry (01:46):

It's a [inaudible 00:01:47] question.

Dean Sweetman (01:48):

In an age of big data and what's going on... Maybe just a contrast outside the church. What's been going on in the last, call it 15/20 years, is the sophistication and growth of the ability of the tech industry to collect data. And then, actually monetize that collection. And now, even pushing it into artificial intelligence machines. And coming up with stuff that is just, could be revolutionary on one side. Or totally apocalyptic, scary on the other side.
So that's what's going on in technology. It's... The last 20 years is trillions and trillions of gigabytes of data are being collected, monetized and used.

Frank Barry (02:38):

And it started with the likes of Yahoo and Google, and AOL. And probably stuff before that, that I'm no expert on.

Dean Sweetman (02:51):

Right.

Frank Barry (02:51):

But they're creating these cool things on the new internet.

Dean Sweetman (02:55):

Yep.

Frank Barry (02:56):

And eventually something like Google comes along, and people are searching. And so, now they're tracking...

Dean Sweetman (03:02):

Yep.

Frank Barry (03:03):

They probably didn't track it on day one. But eventually they realized, oh. I should -

Dean Sweetman (03:06):

I don't think they had the business model on day one. They were just indexing every website they could.

Frank Barry (03:11):

Right.

Dean Sweetman (03:11):

And then they stumble on into... Dean searches for Utah real estate. And all of a sudden, somehow through my Gmail account or through other searches that I do, ads for Utah real estate -

Frank Barry (03:26):

Yeah. They... And that was my point. They started off... Or they eventually got to the point of data collection. And then letting advertisers run ads, as a way to generate revenue against the data that they're tracking about people using the product.
So fast forward to Facebook, that's probably one a lot of people are pretty familiar with. And there's lots of data... Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft. There's lots of data security drama.

Dean Sweetman (03:56):

And we know a lot about that. Because, we... Our... The way we market to our potential customers is they do searches on church giving, or [text 00:04:08] giving. Or CHMS. And there we are. We know that game pretty well. And have used it to our benefit.
So that's what's going on out in the tech world. I mean bring that into the church, and all of a sudden... So there's been really obvious bits of data that churches collect.

Frank Barry (04:26):

But before we start with what they collect, let's go back... Because I just feel like there's something here, that maybe is first principles. If you're a small, a 50 member church or a 100 member church, let's talk about those guys for a quick second.

Dean Sweetman (04:43):

Oh, yeah.

Frank Barry (04:46):

50 years ago...

Dean Sweetman (04:47):

Yep.

Frank Barry (04:48):

And you're that 100 member church, 75 member church, how did the pastor use data then?

Dean Sweetman (04:59):

If you're -

Frank Barry (04:59):

Because, I think they did.

Dean Sweetman (05:00):

Yeah. They did. They might not have known they were doing it, but they were. The obvious thing is around money and finance. You have to track that in the United States. Because you have to be able to receipt the donation for the year, so the deduction can be claimed. So that's the first thing that you start collecting.
And I remember when I planted... In 1996, I got it on an Excel spreadsheet. I literally put the names on the left, the dates across. And put in the amount. That's how we did it.
Now 50 years ago, you're probably using bits of paper and a ledger. The old school accounting ledger. And it was... But it's essentially, the same thing. You had to collect it.

Frank Barry (05:48):

Yeah. And I think that's a good one. And it's an obvious one. But I also think, a pastor of that small church is actually collecting data. They may not be writing it down anywhere, but they know their people.

Dean Sweetman (06:05):

Well, they probably had a Rolodex. Remember the old...

Frank Barry (06:09):

Yeah. They had a Rolodex of name and address, and phone number. And things like that.

Dean Sweetman (06:13):

Yeah.

Frank Barry (06:13):

But even the level beyond just like, okay. I know the contact information.

Dean Sweetman (06:17):

Right.

Frank Barry (06:18):

As a pastor, you're learning stuff about your people. And when you're in a small church, you tend to know everybody. And you get to know them really well. You know their kids, you know where they live. You've had dinner at their house. You've brought them something to the hospital. You're in a small group with them. I don't know. You golf with them. You know your people really well, because it's not a big community. And so, you're actually collecting a lot of data. And you're using it. Because -

Dean Sweetman (06:51):

Yep. Absolutely. You may not be writing, is your point. You might not be recording it -

Frank Barry (06:55):

Yeah. You may not be putting it in a software.

Dean Sweetman (06:57):

Right. Or a notebook.

Frank Barry (06:59):

Or may... Yeah. Maybe you have a notebook. If you're probably with it a little bit, you're taking notes for yourself. Not because you're doing something malicious, it's actually because you're trying to shepherd and pastor your people. And you're using the things you're learning about everybody, to help love them and take care of them.

Dean Sweetman (07:16):

I mean since the telephone, there's been a dress box. It's like, the [inaudible 00:07:21]. Trying to remember... My wife can remember everyone's phone number. And she makes it a practice to remember phone numbers that she calls regularly, and not just use the phone like I do. But back... I remember having the old phone -

Frank Barry (07:35):

That's impressive. That's... I don't even know if I remember... I knew my mom's number and my grandma's number for the longest time. But I don't think -

Dean Sweetman (07:42):

Yeah. I only know one number. That's my wife's. That's it. That's all -

Frank Barry (07:45):

Yeah. I know my wife's phone number. That's -

Dean Sweetman (07:50):

So I remember the early phone as a kid, and there's a thing beside it. And I pressed a button, and it sprung up. And then, there were all the As. And my mom had written... And then, the Bs. It was just like... So there's been several forms of that, before anything digital.
And that's probably how churches' data was first stored. And so like everything else on the planet in the last 50 years, it's now gone into computers and mainframes. And on premises. To now, cloud storage.

Frank Barry (08:22):

Yeah. And I think... My main point in this conversation for pastors is -

Dean Sweetman (08:29):

Don't be afraid, because it's always been done.

Frank Barry (08:32):

It's always been done. And you're doing it yourself.

Dean Sweetman (08:36):

Right.

Frank Barry (08:36):

Even if you aren't putting it in software, or in some kind of system. Or even in a notebook.

Dean Sweetman (08:40):

Good point.

Frank Barry (08:41):

Mentally, you are tracking data about people.

Dean Sweetman (08:44):

Yep.

Frank Barry (08:45):

Not because you want to do something crazy or malicious.

Dean Sweetman (08:49):

Right.

Frank Barry (08:49):

But because you want to care for them.

Dean Sweetman (08:50):

Right.

Frank Barry (08:51):

That's all it comes down to, at the end of the day.

Dean Sweetman (08:54):

Yep.

Frank Barry (08:54):

Fundamentally, is loving your neighbor.

Dean Sweetman (08:57):

Doing your job better.

Frank Barry (08:59):

Doing what you do in your role, and being able to do it better and better. And now when you're a 50 member church, that's pretty easy. If you're a 5,000 member church or a 500 member church, it starts to get harder and harder. And I think that's where folks like us come in, with software. And thinking about using data in a bigger environment. That's where I feel like, people get weirded out. People... Software knows things, and that's bad news.

Dean Sweetman (09:26):

Yeah.

Frank Barry (09:26):

That's where I think, this debate gets...

Dean Sweetman (09:28):

And if it's used wrong, absolutely. It's bad news.

Frank Barry (09:31):

Yeah.

Dean Sweetman (09:31):

But if it's done correctly and enhances the whole... At a very minimum, every pastor on the planet, almost in just about every country, has names and phone numbers in their phone.

Frank Barry (09:41):

Right.

Dean Sweetman (09:42):

And they're using them. And they're going to text, and they're going to set up stuff. And they're going to meet for breakfast. And they're going to go to golf. And it's going to be text. And it's... That's happening.
So next level is the automatic capture. So maybe, there's some data entry. So we get all the names, and addresses. And the kids, and how old the kids are. And maybe the baptism date, or when they started joining and coming to church. All of that, you can pump in. And that's... CHMS in it's current form, has been around for a while. And so, that has been mostly inputted manually. And then, that data is then used. Do they go to a small group? So now, we're starting to really know a lot about our flock. Which is as a shepherd, that's what a pastor is. They are shepherds to care for the people. Like a -

Frank Barry (10:37):

Right. And should a church be collecting all that information?

Dean Sweetman (10:39):

Well, so... I think there's two things. I'm collecting it by putting it in myself.

Frank Barry (10:46):

Right.

Dean Sweetman (10:46):

Now, I have access to data. Basic database on the people. The next stage... And this is this maybe the scary bit is, what about the data that I'm collecting as a result of software being really smart?

Frank Barry (11:03):

Or just simple, let's go... Before really smart, just somebody checked their kids in. So I know Frank checked in his kids.

Dean Sweetman (11:10):

Right.

Frank Barry (11:11):

So I've got Frank in the system, because Frank had to go to a kiosk.

Dean Sweetman (11:14):

Yep.

Frank Barry (11:15):

I'm not the 50 member church now, I'm the 500 member church. [crosstalk 00:11:19]. So I went to a little kiosk [inaudible 00:11:23] iPad.

Dean Sweetman (11:23):

Yep.

Frank Barry (11:23):

I put my name in for the first time. I said I have three kids. Now I'm on in the system, so I can check them in. And it's a safety thing. I know who's there, I know who the teacher is. I check them out.

Dean Sweetman (11:35):

It's a security thing too, in this day and age.

Frank Barry (11:37):

Yeah. Totally. So there's... And that's widely used. People use kids check in -

Dean Sweetman (11:40):

Check in, check it out.

Frank Barry (11:42):

Yep. So you're collecting that data.

Dean Sweetman (11:44):

Yep.

Frank Barry (11:45):

If somebody's giving digitally, we talked about that. You have to collect that data, because you want to tax receipt them. And you have audit your books, and things like that.

Dean Sweetman (11:55):

So you're capturing that automatically.

Frank Barry (11:56):

So you're capturing some data, just around those two things. Maybe they register for VBS. It's summer.

Dean Sweetman (12:01):

Right.

Frank Barry (12:02):

So VBS is happening.

Dean Sweetman (12:03):

Right.

Frank Barry (12:03):

So people are registering their family [crosstalk 00:12:07].

Dean Sweetman (12:09):

Maybe they sign up for a class. And maybe they want to get on a volunteer team. Or... So all of this... Now you can start to see pretty quickly, if you're running a church and you've grown a couple hundred people, and you've got some kind of member database going, you are now collecting a lot of information about the behaviors of your church members. So... Okay. What do we do with that?

Frank Barry (12:34):

It's happening. Yeah. And then, is that okay?

Dean Sweetman (12:37):

Yep.

Frank Barry (12:39):

And I think we would say yes. Because again, I go back to...

Dean Sweetman (12:42):

You were doing it.

Frank Barry (12:44):

You were doing it in your head.

Dean Sweetman (12:45):

With a pencil and paper.

Frank Barry (12:47):

Or a notebook, or something like that before.

Dean Sweetman (12:51):

So no difference.

Frank Barry (12:51):

This is just a way... It's just doing it with more people. And letting software help you with some of that, so that you know things. So if you're the 300 member church, you may not know everyone personally like you did when you were a 100 members. But you would like to know, did somebody miss kids' class a couple weeks in a row? As a pastor, you really would want to know that. Because maybe something's going on, that you want to check in on them.

Dean Sweetman (13:18):

Maybe I gave every week for 16 weeks, and I missed three. So I'm this consistent giver, which usually is a sign that I'm committed to the church. And this is my place of worship. And these are my friends. And I stop for three weeks. Would someone... Would a pastor... Maybe not the senior pastor, but would a real, those shepherding people that love to go to the hospital and visit. They love... They just... That's what they do. The true shepherd. Is that a piece of information that could be really helpful? Giving 16 weeks in a row, same amount. Consistent. And then, dead stop for three weeks. Just as a practical manner, would you want to know that as a minister? A 100% I would.

Frank Barry (14:07):

Yeah. I mean it... Again, it's it... And the same could be true as, you didn't show up for three weeks in a row.

Dean Sweetman (14:15):

Same thing. You checked your kids in for 12 weeks in a row. And maybe it's July, and you missed a couple. So obvious, the [inaudible 00:14:22] are on vacation. But if it's back to school, September, everything's rocking and rolling. And you had consistent attendance checking your children in. And then you took [inaudible 00:14:31] off, of course you want to know that stuff.

Frank Barry (14:34):

Yeah.

Dean Sweetman (14:34):

As a [inaudible 00:14:35].

Frank Barry (14:35):

And you use that information to care for people.

Dean Sweetman (14:39):

Right? So -

Frank Barry (14:40):

I think that's the... If that's our fundamental belief that pastors are trying to care for their people, and that's the reason they're using the data... I think you can get all kind of weird stuff going on, but that's not what we are talking about. Or what we think people should do.
We think it's really about caring for your people. And paying attention to the things that really matter, around taking care of your church and taking care of the people. And adding new people. And growing as a church. How do you do that? And how you use data as part of all of those things, to be healthy and grow.

Dean Sweetman (15:13):

In the giving example... So I have consistent, and then I have this drop off. That's not a cue to call someone up and say, "Hey, why haven't you given?" It's a cue to say, "Hey, Frank. We haven't seen you for three weeks. Is anything going on, that I should be praying about?" And you're like, "Oh, no. We just had this work thing, and Mabel came into town. It was just a thing. We'll see you Sunday." Or it could be, "I just lost my job, and I'm devastated. And I feel ashamed."
And I'm like, "Well mate, let's have breakfast and talk it out. Don't be by yourself through this. Let's go through it together."
So it's not like, oh. Frank stopped giving. I need to go get him... It's like, something's going on with the Barry family. Because, they're so consistent. And I'd love to know that sooner rather than later, so I can go and check in.

Frank Barry (16:08):

Right. Yeah. So... I don't know. There's probably more to dig into. But I think using data effectively, is a way to love people.

Dean Sweetman (16:18):

100%.

Frank Barry (16:19):

And do it in a little bit more of a scaled manner.

Dean Sweetman (16:24):

Right.

Frank Barry (16:24):

Which sounds weird and all of that. But as churches grow, it can get harder and harder. And it also depends on how many people you have on staff, and what all that looks like. And sometimes, churches run really lean.

Dean Sweetman (16:36):

As they should. You don't want to be wasting money in the church business. But... There, you're a nonprofit. And you're...

Frank Barry (16:43):

Yeah.

Dean Sweetman (16:44):

But we believe the software makes you more productive. That's the whole point. If I'd gone from storing stuff in my head, to writing it on bits of paper. To having something that I can access from my phone anywhere, any time, to be able to get some... That is productivity plus. Because, I can do things more efficiently. I can do them faster. I can be more thorough. So that's the fundamental belief around software, is that it makes things run better. And there's no difference for churches. Having the leadership team with the access to every member on their phone, so they can do a quick message. The ability for the small group leader to message the small group that's coming up that night. And "Don't forget to bring the pizza." And the this, and the that. I mean, that's just productivity awesomeness. For running the church.

Frank Barry (17:33):

Yeah.

Dean Sweetman (17:33):

And we spend our life trying to help churches embrace that, because there is so much benefit.

Frank Barry (17:40):

Yeah. And then... I feel like now, there's... You were talking about AI, and things being smart. There's this new layer, that isn't necessarily new. Because social apps like Instagram and TikTok, and Facebook. And even Amazon. Amazon might even be a really good one. Lots of people use Amazon. And it's a utility to buy things.

Dean Sweetman (18:02):

Yep.

Frank Barry (18:02):

It's really simple. It's to buy things. But Amazon knows you.

Dean Sweetman (18:06):

They know everything. They know every purchase you've made.

Frank Barry (18:09):

Yeah. And they know when you bought stuff, they know what you bought last. They know what to suggest to you, next time you open the app. All the things that they're learning about you and surfacing back to you, is super convenient. If you're somebody who uses the Amazon app, you go, man. I love the fact that they make the shopping experience -

Dean Sweetman (18:30):

Okay. Well, let me throw a scenario to you. Let's say I sign up for a marriage enrichment retreat, or course.

Frank Barry (18:40):

Yeah. Weekend getaway, marriage retreat.

Dean Sweetman (18:44):

So let's say I sign up for that. Is that a signal that maybe I'm looking for more information about that? Maybe books to read. Maybe sermons to listen to. Is...

Frank Barry (19:00):

Or a small group. A small group that is families, or it could be new marrieds. Depending... There's other data you might know about this person. How old are they? Did they get married recently? These kinds of things.

Dean Sweetman (19:14):

Yeah. So...

Frank Barry (19:17):

Yeah. Now, you know.

Dean Sweetman (19:17):

In the zone of this AI, new world, all this data's coming in. The fact that I could target, which... Targeting is a really loaded word in our world. Could I take this information, and target messaging to that family? Or that person? Or that demographic? Or that sex? Or that age group? I've got... And then should I be sending something to the 65 year olds that have been married 30 years, as opposed to the 25 year olds that have been married two years? As opposed to the 15 year olds that aren't even thinking about getting married yet?

Frank Barry (19:56):

Right.

Dean Sweetman (19:56):

There's a whole new world.

Frank Barry (19:57):

I mean... Here's a real practical one, that I think... Let's say a church is 500, 800 members. They have small groups. They're a small group focused church.

Dean Sweetman (20:09):

Yep.

Frank Barry (20:10):

And they've been around for a while, so they have established small group leaders that are pretty consistent. When it's time... A lot of churches will do a seasonal, small group rotation. Almost like school. Semesters.
And you've got your small group leaders. And should those people get the message to join a small group? They shouldn't. They're a small group. They're already a small group leader. They don't need to join a small group. So you shouldn't send that message to that -

Dean Sweetman (20:44):

They shouldn't get the email encouraging you to go to small group. They're leading -

Frank Barry (20:49):

Yeah. They shouldn't... Exactly. They don't need that. It's a wasted touch that actually communicates to that person, that you don't know who they are.

Dean Sweetman (20:57):

Yeah. Well, you're bringing up something really important. The amount of information we're all consuming now, is literally a fire hydrant. You wake up. I try to do my devotion Bible reading first, before going into email and other things that I like to read in the mornings.
But it's just... You just wake up to... And anything that remotely doesn't get me excited, I just swipe left. And it goes in the trash. And that's including things I've signed up for. I don't want to read that.

Frank Barry (21:27):

Totally.

Dean Sweetman (21:28):

So getting eyeballs to actually see the things that are pertinent for them, I think is absolutely critical in this age where information is [inaudible 00:21:39].

Frank Barry (21:39):

And that's a real simple one, I think. For people to go, yeah. You should try to get the information to the people that it's relevant to. And not waste other people's time, with stuff that's not relevant. But it's actually more just about knowing people. You wouldn't... Physically, in the 50 member church, if you have three small groups, you wouldn't walk up to the person in the congregation that is one of the small leaders and say, "Hey. Are you in a small group?" You would know that. You just wouldn't -

Dean Sweetman (22:09):

But if you have 40 of them, that gets really hard.

Frank Barry (22:13):

It gets different. But my point is that, you know that about the person. So you wouldn't go have that conversation with them. So why are you sending them the email, or the text? Or the in app message, or something like that. That is essentially like walking up to them, and not knowing them.
It's like, tech allows you to get a little smarter about it. Versus just looking like, "Hey, pastor. Yeah. I'm a small group leader. You didn't know that?"

Dean Sweetman (22:38):

Yeah.

Frank Barry (22:41):

There's only 50 of us here, man. You should know... Yeah. Yeah. When you get bigger and bigger, that's hard to do. But you can use tech to get smarter. And then, you can start where we're headed. You can start recommending things to people, just based on activity that they have with you as a church. That you may or may not even know, if you're a thousand member church and you're trying to take care of people.

Dean Sweetman (23:09):

Yeah. I think we're not there yet. But where I think we see things going, especially in... We call it 250/500 plus environments, is lots of data around behavior. And collected. And can I ethically within the privacy laws of states... And Apple's gone hardcore on privacy, on the iPhone. Whacked Facebook's business model upside the head, a year ago. So always got to be thinking about that stuff. But is what's coming next, all this incredible information where I could... Again, for the purposes of looking after and caring for the people that God has put under my care, serve better? Can I serve them better with this information? And if... It's harder... Especially, for men. When men are going through things, they don't want to talk about it. They're not going to sit in a group, and unload all their burdens on other guys. We're just not going to do it.
But man, wouldn't it be great if you were going through something... Going back to the giving thing. If the giving consistency stops, that's an indication of something that could be really going on in the family. And in that real life world, I never had the technology to know this. But I always found it out afterwards, that when people stopped giving, usually something was going on in the... It was job related, marriage related. Somewhere in there, there's a thing. And you never... When it's cashing checks and we're putting in, you just... It was hard to track. And you just... You didn't even know how to do it back then. The finance thing is an interesting one, because money is so important to people's wellbeing.
And there's a reason the Bible talks about not having a love of money. Because, it's the root of all kinds of evil. Is that, it's so interconnected into every part of our life. And I've always maintained that I wanted to know financial information about what's happening in the church, because I knew it led me... The breadcrumbs were easy to find, for me to actually start conversations. Not about money, but about other things that could be going on. And it's... That information that we've built into some of our insights tools... That were built now, that are in their early stages, we... If church leaders want to opt in, beyond Betty the bookkeeper having this information, surfacing up lapsed givers and all this information that we collect automatically now, I think is a powerful tool that we shouldn't A, not be afraid of. And B, start to think about how this could really help you helping people. Right in the grassroots of where they're at, in their life.

Frank Barry (26:14):

Totally. That's what I think it comes down to. I'm a dad of three, it's summer. And if I open my church app and I'm logged in... Think Amazon, think Instagram. Or... Instagram's probably not a great example. Think Facebook, think TikTok. Show me content that's relevant to me. Show me some... If there's a... VBS is coming up, or maybe the church has a summer reading program for kids, that they've put... And surface that to me. Show me that stuff.
But the empty nesters whose kids are married and gone, don't show that to them. Because, it's not relevant. They don't need it. They need something different, that's relevant for them. And I would find that helpful. That's the church serving and being a resource to me, in my stage. Going like, oh. I know Frank has three kids, because we have all this data on him. And he's a regular. And all the things. And so when we release that summer kids series, we want to make sure it shows up on his phone to him.
I just think that's what it comes down to. Is churches using their data to help people. And help serve the people that have decided to make that church home.

Dean Sweetman (27:32):

So what we're landing on here, the moral of this whole conversation is get comfortable with data. Be comfortable, because it's always been around. Embrace the tools and the technology, because they're going to help you be a better church leader. And ultimately we think if our motivations stay correct, it is actually going to really help us grow strong, healthy churches that are serving families on a daily basis.

Frank Barry (28:05):

Well said. I think that's it. Don't be afraid. Use it. It's a mindset. Get in the mindset that your data can help you serve people better. And it's your... Not... It's their data. They've given you access to it, by being a member and being involved. And doing things with the church. Just use it wisely. And use it to help people. I think that's it.

Dean Sweetman (28:24):

Love it.

Frank Barry (28:25):

That's it.

Dean Sweetman (28:25):

Awesome. All right. Solved more problems. Love it.

Frank Barry (28:30):

Tell us what you think, y'all. I mean, to all the listeners out there. Those that comment, tell us something. Ask some questions. We'd love to hear if you're using data, or if you think that's a bad idea. Maybe there's some good...

Dean Sweetman (28:43):

You guys are off your minds, talking about this stuff. Let us know either way. It's good for us to hear from you.

Frank Barry (28:51):

Yeah. Absolutely.

Dean Sweetman (28:51):

All right. Love it, mate.

Frank Barry (28:54):

All right, man. Good times. Yeah. Let's go to the next one.

Narrator (28:57):

If you enjoyed listening to this episode of the Church Tech podcast, the easiest way to help support the show is by sharing this episode with the pastor or the minister you know, would benefit the most from listening to it.
You can send them over to churchtechpodcast.com, to learn more about the show. Or share this episode directly, from within your podcast app. To get new episodes on the church tech podcast, you can easily subscribe or follow the show for free on YouTube, Apple Podcast, Spotify. And anywhere else that you listen to podcasts.
Thanks for listening. And we'll see you again next week, with the next episode of the Church Tech podcast.

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The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

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Should Churches Use Members’ Data?

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Should Churches Use Members’ Data?

If you’re searching for answers to the most pressing questions about church data, we have the right data that you need for your questions in this episode.

Show notes

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Should Churches Use Members’ Data?

Data—it's such a short word, but many institutions have turned this term into a buzzword of obsession, particularly in this digital age. 

Today, data could arguably be the most valuable commodity. Without any data, it's hard to imagine how most people or organizations can decide on their most significant decisions. Most importantly, the data that people collect now includes even the more sophisticated details that were never thought of. 

Let's face it— data drives decisions! 

In this regard, churches also need data to inform their complex decisions. 

Pastors in the churches could have started collecting data out of necessity, like gathering basic details such as the church members' names, ages, and home addresses. In fact, these data are so familiar that church pastors only rely on their memories.

But today, it's an entirely different story. You have more sophisticated church members; you church membership has increased. Then, you have to encode other significant information like tithes collection, employment, attendance, or cultural orientation. And these are only a few of the myriad details that church leaders bear in mind for important church decisions.

So, you turn to digital software and services to assist you in all these activities.

It's more likely that these technological services will request the church members to share their personal data to have the best experiences of these services. As the church leader, you have access to all these data from your church members.

Yes, you have the idea that you can use these data for church purposes or even beyond that, as most tech services may subtly suggest to you. But there are some pressing questions that you must consider:

Should you use the church members' data? 

Even more important is this: how do you use these data?

Do you follow what most institutions do with the data they have in their hands 'for the benefit of the church'? 

In this episode, Frank Barry and Dean Sweetman have this intimate and enlightening conversation on the central and sensitive themes surrounding the use of church data for many purposes. Ultimately, the answer concerns how pastors can use these data to shepherd their church members.

"That's our fundamental belief that pastors are trying to care for their people, and that's the reason they're using the data. We think it's really about caring for your people and paying attention to the things that really matter. How do you do that? And how do you use data as part of all of those things to be healthy?"
-Frank Barry

Dean is the co-founder and CEO of Tithe.ly. Before launching Tithe.ly, Dean was involved in ministry for more than 30 years.

Frank is a founding Executive Team member and COO at Tithe.ly. Prior to being at Tithe.ly, Frank spent nearly 15 years helping churches, charities, and nonprofit organizations leverage technology to advance their mission. 

You can do much more with your church members' personal data while remaining ethical, moral, and Christian. If you’re searching for answers to the most pressing questions about church data, we have the right data that you need for your questions in this episode.  

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • A comparison of how pastors collected data then and now
  • Why churches shouldn’t be afraid of collecting data
  • The data that really matters at church
  • How effectively using data equates to loving people
  • Practical, ethical, and Christian means to uphold the value of church data
  • Embracing the technology to use data for the church’s benefits 

Resources Mentioned:

Know more about Tithe.ly: get.tithe.ly
Follow Tithe.ly on Instagram: tithe.ly
Follow Tithe.ly on Twitter: tithe.ly
Like Tithe.ly on Facebook: @tithelyapp

Other Episodes You May be Interested In:

What is Church Tech
How Churches Can Become More Effective Online
Church in the Metaverse

Here's a glance at this episode:

[6:19] As a pastor, you're learning stuff about your people. And when you're in a small church, you tend to know everybody, and you get to know them really well. And so, you're actually collecting a lot of data. And you're using it!

[8:22] Don't be afraid. It's always been done. Mentally, you are tracking data about people, not because you want to do something crazy or malicious, but because you want to care for them. Fundamentally, it’s like loving your neighbor. 

[15:16] So I have consistent, then I have this drop-off. That's not a cue to call someone up and say, ‘Hey, why haven't you given?’ It's a cue to say, ‘Hey, Frank, you know, we didn't haven't seen it for three weeks. Is there anything going on that I should be praying about?’

[16:13] But I think using data effectively is a way to love people. And do it in a little bit more of a scaled manner.

[16:49] We believe the software makes you more productive. That's the whole point. If I’ve gone from storing stuff in my head to writing it on bits of paper to having something that I can access from my phone anywhere, anytime to be able to get some, that is like productivity plus because I can do things more efficiently.

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