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What is Data? Why should you care?

What is Data

At ChurchDesk we often promote the collection and use of data, and encourage our users to incorporate it into all aspects of their church. But we sometimes hear that churches feel this is not necessary - merely a nicety if they find the time, or even a distraction from the core mission of the church. Some even feel this is an invasion of their congregation’s privacy. We believe this is a misunderstanding of the function data plays. So what really is “data”, and why should your church care about it?

Data is simply a set of information. By definition, it is actual information (as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation. The term “big data” has become popular recently. Big data means, quite literally, a lot of data. These large data sets can be analysed to reveal patterns and trends, in particular relating to human behaviour and interactions.

“Big data” is the kind of thing Tesco (or any other large retailer for that matter) might do to get you to keep coming back to their store. When you scan your clubcard they can see what kind of purchases you have made, and then make sure to send you coupons for similar products. This incentivises you to come back. Those ‘similar’ products are chosen because Tesco can see you like that type/style of product, but want to encourage you to try a larger range of their products. All sounding a bit too corporate? Whilst big data might sound more suited to businesses, it has a lot of relevance to the church.

The church would like as much engagement with its congregation as possible, right? This allows your mission to spread deeper into the community and for relationships to strengthen. So it makes sense to encourage your members to get involved with as many aspects of the church as they can. Big data helps you do this. Take Tom, for example. Tom might come to the church every week for Sunday service, but that’s the only time you see him. If you email him about every event that you run, he might get turned off and stop reading your communication - or worse, unsubscribe! But if you collect some simple data, you can make sure he only gets things he has real potential to be interested in. Data on age/gender/hobbies/marital status etc. makes it much easier to target your congregation. Tom is a 35 year-old, unmarried working professional. This means he probably won’t be interested in your “Mums and Toddlers” group on a Tuesday morning, but he could be open to your “Bread and Wine Christian Speed Dating” on Thursday evening.

The example above hopefully exemplifies the idea that churches who effectively gather and analyse data make better decisions for their congregations. Rather than trying to fit people in their existing processes, churches with data can know their members better and adjust their processes to fit them.

It is important to note that good decisions come from good information. This means making sure that you collect the relevant data when you first enter someone’s details onto your ChurchDesk system, but also that you keep the information up to date. Doing this as you go along would be great, but this doesn’t need to be a continuous process - it could be done via a quarterly or annual review. It goes without saying that the more you sow, the more you reap, as your analysis can better identify trends and patterns.

So what data should a church be collecting? Some key metrics to get started with, are:

  • Basic Details: Number of people in your congregation, their age, marital status etc.
  • Giving Trends By Age/Season: You can then have insights into your church’s effectiveness in promoting Contributions across age ranges, and seasonal patterns.
  • Member Involvement & Interests: You should know what events are popular, what kind of person is attending them. If people aren’t getting involved, you need to work out why (and then work to fix it). Knowing past involvement and interests should help you build a profile for the kind of events you should be offering.

With this data you’ll be able to look at your data and see the questions you should be asking such as what does someone’s giving pattern tell you about their commitment to your church, and is that changing? Who’s coming back and who’s not? Which types of communication get the best results?

We understand that there are too few hours in the day, church staff are already stretched, and it might seem like a struggle to initially collect the data - but the benefits you can gain from really understanding your members are plentiful. This data allows you to plan with a better understanding of what the current and future trends might be. It enables you to value people — and show them they are valued — in a whole new way.

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