Church data matters, because people matter

By Jason Terrell

Have you ever found yourself asking questions like, Why aren’t visitors to our church coming back? or We don’t seem to have as many people involved in our ministry as we used to have. I wonder why?

The answer to these questions (and many more) can be found in your church’s data.

Unfortunately, while most churches gather a variety of data ranging from names and addresses to family and marital status, far too few churches understand which information is best to gather and how to use that data to spot and correct problems — and, ultimately, grow their ministries.

So, how can churches leverage data in a way that helps them grow?

Let’s start by answering two fundamental questions: 1) Why should churches gather data? and 2) What data should you gather?

The short answer to the first question is this: Church data matters because people matter. It’s impossible to know if your ministry is truly serving the needs of its congregation, unless you have meaningful data on how those members are interacting (or not interacting) with your church.

The importance of gathering data is seen most famously in the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. The number was calculated specifically and mentioned in all four Gospels, which shows that this type of information was important to the life of the early church.

So, what data should churches gather? The answer to this question is based on the values and mission statement of your ministry. Ask yourself, What are the key activities or causes that our church family values most? What kind of Kingdom-forward impact do you want to have?

Let’s assume your church’s mission statement is “Love, connect, grow and serve.” One way you could measure this is to establish data points based on engagement, such as small group attendance, participation in missions, or giving frequency.

How many people has your ministry served?

Are there certain areas of your community that have a greater need or have been more receptive to your message?

These are all great questions and the answers can help your church fulfill its mission. The data you collect is key to finding these answers.

More data = better insights

It’s also important to make sure you have enough data points to give a complete picture of the health of your ministry.

According to a 2014 survey done at the Strata Data Conference, 84 percent of business leaders need a blend of four or more data sources in order to get the data they need to make good decisions. Nearly half surveyed said they needed between eight and 15 different sources.

Once you’ve established which data you are going to collect, it’s essential to make sure that data is gathered and recorded in one system for tracking and analysis. Data that doesn’t exist in your church management software (ChMS) won’t help your church move ahead. A strong church management solution will allow for multiple data gathering options — such as a robust check-in process — so you can make sure you are capturing the most important information when it happens.

Speaking of a ChMS, does your current system give you several ways of displaying that data through reports so you can analyze trends and spot potential problems? If your software can’t accomplish these essential tasks, it’s time to go shopping for new software.

On-Demand Webinar: Data Matters, Because People Matter!

Is your church collecting all the data it should? Is it the right kind of data? Are you able to properly input that information and use it to help your church grow? Hundreds of churches have learned how get the most out of the information they gather. This on-demand webinar will give you some great tips for gathering — and using — data more effectively, so you can grow your ministry.

Let’s assume you’ve found a software solution that gives you the option to gather multiple data points, as well as to store and report data in a way that allows you to spot trends. Now you need to be sure that there are procedures in place to address the issues you might uncover in the data.

Let’s say you notice that a certain group of members has stopped attending small groups in which they once played a key role. Involvement tracking is a great way to find out who might be disconnecting from the church and needs to hear from you. In this case, attendance and participation are two data points you should be watching. A noticeable dip in either one, or both, of these figures should be a sign to your team members that they need to reach out.

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Once your ministers follow up with these church members through an e-mail, text, phone call or a visit, be sure to record the results of those follow-up efforts in your ChMS, as well. Remember: Data that doesn’t exist in your ChMS can’t help your ministry. Take the opportunity to stress the importance of recording these interactions with members of your ministry team so that everyone knows who has been contacted, at what level, and which of these members might have needs that call for a response from the church that goes beyond a simple touch base.

Don’t forget to monitor financial health

So far, we’ve focused on the health of the people in your church — but what about managing data around your church’s financial health?

Are you meeting your goals in giving?

Does your church have the necessary financial resources to handle its business obligations and still meet the needs of its members and the community it serves?

In addition to a robust church management solution, your software provider should also be able to help you connect their people-driven software with a strong financial solution that can move data (such as contributions) from one solution to the other seamlessly and securely.

Financial regulations and reporting for churches and nonprofits varies from those of their secular counterparts. With new laws and reporting standards in place, it’s more important than ever that your church’s finance team has all the data they need to not only assess the fiscal health of your church, but provide the necessary reports to your church’s reporting body as well as to state and local authorities.

Make sure your ministry is also using a financial solution designed for churches and their particular needs.

Gathering and using data correctly can be intimidating to some people. The good news is that there are solutions out there that make gathering and analyzing data much easier — and that’s a win for everyone.

Jason Terrell is the Marketing Manager for FellowshipOne
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