In an interview on the Social Media Church podcast, Gloo’s data expert and Leadership Network Fellow, Matt Engel, shares eye-opening insights about data in the church context. Here are eight highlights from the interview that caught our attention.
1. Churches need to be data-informed, not data-driven
“We have a lot of data that we’re sitting on and not using. This data can really help us know our people better in the context of ministry,” says Matt, who strongly believes that the purpose of data is not to drive but to inform.
As data never ‘drives’ a decision, “churches should not be data-driven but data-informed.” Good stewardship is all about finding information that helps churches get the information they need to make better decisions. As church leaders, we need to use data to help us know how to increase engagement with our congregations and communities.
2. There are untapped data sources available in your church
Data is not just limited to metrics such as website impressions and click-through rates. There are data sources that exist in a ministry environment that we might not even think about as data. For example, prayer requests, youth events, and outreach programs can provide actionable data within a church context.
What if you discovered that the most repeated prayer request was centered on a relationship or on finances? Would that help a lead team make a better decision on sermon series or program offerings?
So, how can we identify potential data sources? The first step is to acknowledge that we don’t know everything and to get feedback from church members.
“In our church, we started by asking three basic questions about any program that our congregation would take part in,” says Matt.
- On a scale of 1 to 7, what did you think about it?
- On a scale of 1 to 7, how likely is it that you would bring a friend?
- Is there anything else you want to tell us?
“We have a lot of data that we’re sitting on and not using that can help us know our people in the context of ministry.”
3. Developing a culture of feedback loops is a crucial step
When Matt and his team started sharing the results of these mini-questionnaires with their congregation, two things happened:
- Non-participants who didn’t agree with the results wanted to participate going forward
- There was an increase in the participation rate of feedback loops
Their feedback provided an opening for the team to dig further. “We started identifying gaps in leadership development and looking for patterns to help us decide how to fill in the gaps and know our people and our city better.”
“It became this generative network effect that we hadn’t planned on, largely because we started inquisitively asking questions, delivering results, and developing that feedback.”
4. Regular church attendees are not necessarily your biggest church promoters
Surprised? Let that thought sink in for a while. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, it reveals something big that churches need to pay attention to – the untapped potential of new attendees.
This revelation came to churches that Matt had worked with who were using the Net Promoter Score, a feedback exercise used to measure the likelihood of someone recommending their church.
These churches found that regular attendees who gave, served, and were in a small group got the lowest scores! The common feedback from this group of people was “We’re comfortable” and “We don’t want to give up our seats”.
In contrast, the highest scores came from those who had one form of engagement with the church for about six weeks. Basically, they were new to church and within six weeks, they wanted to bring a friend.
Didn’t see that one coming, did you? This was a unique data point that led to a bigger question – what other patterns will possibly emerge from this that we aren’t expecting?
“Our ability to know our people better is the gap we need to close.”
5. Catch the pulse of your community with Google Trends
Consider this. In the next 60 seconds, there will be 156 million e-mails sent, 4.1 million videos viewed on YouTube, 900,000 logins into Facebook, and 3.5 million Google searches. If these revealing numbers can tell us one thing, it’s this – churches need to harness the power of the Internet to maximize engagement with their communities.
And it doesn’t have to be a complicated process. One of the easiest things that Matt and his team started doing was looking at Google Trends. They typed in words, such as ‘divorce’, to see how many times these words were being searched in their local area, which helped them understand the need in their community and strategize ministry plans accordingly.
The result from a search could be one data point that gives us insight into our ministries. The question we need to ask ourselves is this – if we knew what was happening in our community, would it cause us to do something?
6. Not every newcomer should be invited to a Sunday morning service
Over the years, the language around inviting people to church has transitioned from “Invite a friend” to “Invite the right friend first”. Rightfully so! We need to acknowledge that not every person is hardwired to show up on Sunday.
Some people need to show up on Tuesday in order to come on Sunday. Some may need to come for several outreach events before they are ready to attend on a weekly basis.
For Matt, it’s all about knowing where people are on their engagement journey. “The better we know them, the better we can match them to the next step God has for them.”
“There are data sources that exist in a ministry environment that we might not even think about as data.”
7. Nehemiah used big data to assess the damage in Jerusalem
As much as we’d like to think of big data as a ‘now’ phenomenon, it’s actually not. In fact, they were already using big data in an analog setting back in the time of Nehemiah.
In Nehemiah 1:1–4, Nehemiah asks his brother for just two pieces of data – “tell me about the people, and tell me about the city.” Acting upon the data points he got back changed the course of his life and the life of the nation.
8. Assembling an in-house data team isn’t as hard as you’d imagine
You have untapped potential in your church – people who flow in this type of thinking whom you might not even be aware of. What better volunteering opportunity than this!
“We’ve seen full-blown data scientists serving in children’s ministry when really this is their calling,” says Matt. “Our ability to know our people better is the gap we need to close. And the easiest way to know is by asking them.”
Once they are on board, Matt cautions against overwhelming them with spreadsheets and figures. “One way you can ease the team into the role is to give them a visual profile of the city that can be easily digested and tell them where to look for ministry outreach opportunities.”
Did Matt’s insightful observations challenge you to expand your perspective on using data in your church? If so, you’re in good company! Join many other church leaders on a data-informed journey to maximize engagement in your church.