When will churches begin to understand the value of data?

When will churches begin to understand the value of data?

Plot lines:

  • Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Netflix meet their customers' needs by understanding how to learn and make decisions based on the data.
  • Traditionally, churches have leveraged their Church Management Systems to track information and provide successful Sunday morning services and classes. 
  • We believe that churches now need to strategically leverage data to understand better when a person becomes known within the church.
  • Without smarter data, churches will miss out on robust online ministry opportunities to meet their congregation's individual needs. In this digital age, they attract the lost who may be looking for a better life than what the world has offered them so far.

Social media, video streaming, and online learning have grown at a rapid pace.

Internet connectivity everywhere and a powerful computer in everyone's pocket only partially explains the rise of the new corporate giants, like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Netflix, that dominate a growing part of our world – life online! Thanks to fast-growing digital startups such as Uber, Airbnb, and Spotify (to name a few), society now swims in an ocean of information.

What do these companies do well that most churches do poorly?

They understand the strategic value of data to learn, test, adjust, and make decisions. These companies collect and leverage data, whereas most churches lack valuable data, let alone know how to use it well.

Today, the most successful businesses collect all kinds of data about you.

  • Amazon knows a lot about you based on what you shop for and purchase online.
    The COVID pandemic has taught us all that we can buy nearly anything without going to the store! Have you noticed that sometimes they know things about what you are shopping for even before you do?
  • Google knows so much about you because of what you search.
  • YouTube, Netflix, and your streaming-cable provider know what interests you based on what you watch (and don't watch).

Today's successful companies are trying to get into the "intimacy business."

Why? In order to better understand YOU through what you buy, view, and do, all in the attempt to offer you a better, more personalized experience. But not necessarily a better life!

How well does your church know its people?

Based on reviewing the data churches have collected in their database, you may be surprised about how little most churches actually track.

  • Traditionally, your church might know where you live, who is in your family, sometimes when you attend an event, whether you give and how much, and whether you are in a small group, even though they may not know if you actually attend.
  • And until recently, to be successful, not much more data is required as they define it.

Generally, to be successful in their eyes, churches only need to track enough information to conduct Sunday morning church successfully.

Why? Because the two things churches are known to track consistently - "Nickels and noses:"

  1.  How many people came to service – are we growing?
  2. How much money was given – and can we meet the budget?

Pre-COVID, to conduct Sunday morning services using any of the better church management systems on the market, churches needed to track who your kids are for check-in purposes, and that's about it for the weekend service.

In the early years, churches needed to track where you lived so they could send out giving statements at the end of the year, and maybe mail out a weekly or monthly newsletter. In those days, churches would count total attendance in church and take individual attendance at Sunday school but didn't do much with it outside of awards for perfect attendance, much like the local grade school.

Even as more robust systems came to market, churches struggle with collecting valuable information to provide individuals with a more personalized message. 

The problem is not always the technology.

Many of the church systems on the market today only track basic demographic information about people. The primary data collection form has been, and in some cases still is, the contact card in the pew back. Unfortunately, there are NOT standards on if, when, and how much information to captured on a visitor card.

Depending on a process that is 100% non-compulsory is a poor way to capture information that may be vital to providing better service within an organization's operation.

Even when the congregant fully completes the card, the information is usually fairly basic and provides limited value in understanding who that person or family is.

Unlike how people share more about themselves as a relationship develops, many churches do not have a strategy of best practices in collecting more in-depth information as the person becomes known to the church staff and others in the congregation. Why? Because most churches' data collection processes are archaic.

If you look within the database of many churches, the data is very "holy." Meaning, it has a lot of holes in it. :)

Many systems do not require certain pieces of data to be entered, such as birthday, married or single, gender, etc.

How can a church give a more personalized experience in a digital world if they do not know how old you are, whether you are male or female, married, etc?

One of the most annoying things about being online is sorting through anything that is not relevant to you.

  • If you're just starting to explore Christ and searching for God you might not understand, or be ready for, a sermon about Spiritual Disciplines.
  • If you're living your life close to Christ, you might be looking for more than a blog post about why you should accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

Over our careers in church software, we have looked at the data of hundreds of churches.

Many of their systems have, at best, incomplete datasets even for the information they try to collect, let alone for additional data that would help them know individuals better based on where they are in their journey.

If the tech giants mentioned above consider data so valuable, why don't churches have the same mindset?

There are many ways for churches to collect more information.

  • Is your ChMS vendor helping you design processes to collect more in-depth information?
  • Or are they more hands-off, and that is up to you?

Software should be developed with a certain set of processes in mind that is supported directly by the software.

In other words, the software should be opinionated about:

  • What needs to be tracked and why;
  • What needs to be inspected and why;
  • What outcomes are trying to be achieved, and why?

What should you consider as you look to learn how to understand the value of data?

Our findings support that churches often switch out their ChMS but continue using the same processes only to find they have the same problems with the new systems as they did with the previous one.

Additionally, they do not change the amount of time the leadership team examines the information. If the data is not inspected by leadership, it will atrophy and become worthless over time.

Are you ready to learn about what other data you should be tracking and how your church management systems can help?

We would welcome the opportunity to partner with you to digitally transform your church so you can provide better ministry, even in this age of uncertainty.

Schedule a Platform Tour of Communitas, and we'll talk about what church systems should track and how valuable data can and should be.

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