If you’ve recently walked through an airport, flipped through a business magazine, viewed any commercials on tv, or paid attention to almost any news source, you have likely heard terms such as “Big Data,” “data analytics,” “business intelligence” and “artificial intelligence.” For many, these terms are more mysterious than meaningful. Churches who desire to maximize their ministry and steward their resources well must become familiar with these terms and wield the technology effectively behind them.
What is “Data Analytics”? What Does “Business Intelligence” Have to do with My Church?
As we start this series on the applications and benefits of this developing technology for enabling church ministry, we first pause to describe what these varied concepts mean. These terms, while different, all refer to related ideas. Primarily, data analytics and business intelligence, refer to a set of technologies, applications, and practices that provide for the collection, integration, analysis, and presentation of business information. These capabilities allow businesses to make better decisions by not only revealing patterns hidden in past data but also by predicting future outcomes, behaviors, etc. through the use of sophisticated algorithms to unearth non-obvious correlations and connections.
What are the Goals of Data Analytics and Business Intelligence?
Companies in all industries, major league sports teams, political groups, and organizations of almost every stripe, are investing heavily in data analytics and business intelligence. They have learned that data-driven decisions guided and supported by statistical connections and correlations produce much better outcomes than those provided through “gut feelings” or experience-driven hunches.
Just as these powerful tools and approaches can help businesses become more productive and successful, data analytics and ministry intelligence can assist Kingdom-minded churches in making informed, helpful, and accurate ministry and stewardship decisions. As churches seek to reach, serve, educate, and care for people, these tools can become powerful allies in helping churches to bear fruit and steward resources most effectively.
What Will I Learn?
In this series, we will focus as always on ministry enablement as the end goal of the technology discussion. Specifically, we will: (1) explore multiple areas for the application of data analytics in churches, (2) describe practical steps in using analytics, and (3) consider some ethical implications that arise in the context of employing these powerful tools.
Before we dive in, however, we pause to highlight and remember what technology does not and cannot do.
It does not and cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit. It does not and cannot replace relationships. It does not and cannot substitute entirely for the wisdom of experience. It does not and cannot supplant the power of personal observations and human connections. It does not and cannot change and convict the hearts of people. Technology is a stewardship tool that can improve and enhance certain aspects of ministry practice and decision making.
What are the Ministry Benefits of Employing Data Analytics and Ministry Intelligence?
Data analytics and ministry intelligence can help pastors, ministry staff, leaders, and volunteers in many ways, including those outlined below.
- More Fully Understand Your People
Understanding the makeup of a congregation (especially in larger churches with lots of influx, change, and turnover) can be a challenging proposition. It may be difficult for church staff to keep up with who is new to the area, new to the church, or who has experienced a recent life change such as a marriage or the birth of a baby. Even if the church does collect such data, it can be challenging to know what specific actions to take next in a rapidly changing environment. Analytics tools can help track and identify the progress that people are making as they move through your assimilation and discipleship processes. The tools can also identify relationships between people and groups, and can utilize past data and algorithms to predict likely needs, patterns, behaviors.
- Make Better Informed Ministry Decisions
Analytics tools can help decision-makers such as pastors and boards make more informed decisions. For example, analysis of giving and attendance records can help show whether people are genuinely committed to the church’s specific mission and strategy. The same report may provide insight as to whether the church’s members are likely to contribute to an upcoming capital campaign. Are gifts from “core” or regularly attending members increasing or decreasing? Are new members increasingly investing time and resources into the life of the church? Are new members quickly plugging into small groups, volunteer positions, etc.? Are there roadblocks in the assimilations process that, if changed, could lead to easier integration and involvement in the life of the church?
- Analytics Can Reveal Ministry Opportunities
Analysis of internal (first-party) data and public (third-party) patterns can reveal ministry opportunities. By now, you’ve probably heard the news of Target recognizing through particular purchasing activity when women were pregnant. Additionally, utilizing the same data, Target was able to predict the approximate birth date of the child accurately. Target accomplished this by looking at buying patterns and discovering through data analytics that the purchase of a specific group of products resulted in a high likelihood of pregnancy. In the same way, churches can utilize member data and city/neighborhood demographic data regarding giving, attendance, participation, volunteering, population, construction, social concerns, and many other items to recognize key indicators of ministry need. Anticipating and predicting specific ministry needs, the churches can then plan for the provision of particular ministry efforts and programming to address the unique needs in their communities.
- Analytics Tools Can Help Gauge Effectiveness and Return on Investment
By tracking the efforts and resources that your church puts towards various programs, analytics can help reveal those that are yielding the desired results and redirect resources to those that have the most impact. The result of this may be that many longstanding, “untouchable” programs (sacred cows) that consume excessive resources without comparable results may cease in favor of programs or efforts that are bearing fruit. This pruning represents good stewardship. Useful analytics can help leaders make such tough, emotional choices by providing the much-needed clarity that stems from an objective analysis based on concrete facts.
- Targeted Communications Customized to the Recipient
Analytics tools provide the ability to segment your audience and help them to receive content that is relevant to them. The church saves the cost of sending information to people who are unlikely to be interested. And by better understanding your audience, you can craft a message that is more likely to be received. For example, you may change the wording of an invitation for a men’s event based on whether the recipient fits a profile showing interest in the teaching content for the event versus a recipient who would be more interested in the social activities at the event.
- Understand the “Local Predicament”
In Church Unique, Will Mancini describes the unique needs of a church’s community as the “local predicament.” Understanding the local predicament is key to understanding God’s specific calling for your church as it participates in the broader work of the Great Commission. Public “third party” analytics tools can help you identify specific needs and opportunities in your local area. The identification of these needs can then aid your church in developing localized programs that target the underlying spiritual causes.
- Provide Insights for Greater Efficiencies
For most churches, owning and operating facilities represent one of, if not their highest, costs. Understanding how churches use facilities, and the costs associated with running HVAC, lighting, and cleaning can help a church to optimize the scheduling of space and plan for maintenance. A sophisticated analysis of usage patterns and the optimal utilization of building systems are made possible through the strategic employment of information provided via data analytics and information intelligence.
In Part 2 of this series, we will explore the first steps in embarking on an analytics initiative for ministry enablement.
Written by: Elliott Wood, Director of Consulting, Enable Ministry Partners