Data Analytics Series | Part 2
In Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he identifies Habit 2 as “begin with the end in mind.” This concept is directly applicable to the topic of analytics. Our world is awash in data. Data, in and of itself, can be more confusing than helpful if you do not order and process it in a way that yields concrete answers to specific questions.
To ask the right questions, collect the correct data, and formulate the right processes for useful analytics, you must start with a clear understanding of the problems and opportunities you are trying to solve. You need to identify both the signposts that help you know if you’re on the right track and the measurements that help you confirm when you’ve successfully reached your destination. The problem you are trying to solve is the end you are trying to achieve: begin with the end in mind.
Consider what would be necessary if you chose to make a trip to New York City from Nashville. Without the use of a GPS, you’d probably start with a roadmap and a pen or highlighter, and you would chart a course. You would also need to think about the various measurements of progress as your trip continued. Along the way, you’d see mileposts and signage directing you to the next location on your map. You’d likely monitor your speed limit, gas gauges, and other instruments to ensure that your car was operating in a manner that would enable you to arrive safely. And finally, you’d know for sure that you reached New York City when you could look across the Hudson River and see the Statue of Liberty.
For our discussion regarding analytics and ministry, starting with the end in mind means understanding the following questions:
What are the most pressing ministry problems and opportunities you are trying to solve?
Perhaps you are trying to understand why attendance is up, but giving is down. You may be trying to figure out how to better connect with and serve a specific age group, e.g., millennials. Perhaps the big opportunity is that your area is experiencing exponential growth with new apartments, home builds, and a pattern of gentrification–and you are trying to understand the changing demographics so you can more effectively communicate and connect with the changing population.
Why do the answers to these questions matter?
Do these answers to these questions impact your core ministry objectives? How do you plan to take action with the identified data? Will the findings enable you to make crucial decisions? Will you create new ministry programming based on the result of the data? Will you use the data to target communications more precisely? Are you looking to provide more transparent insights to your leaders, members, and guests so that they can understand where the church is in its journey?
What are the essential measures? What questions do they answer?
Some measures aid in understanding overall church health and whether any concerning trends are at play. Like the “check engine” light on your car dashboard, they help you to understand whether or not things are operating as they should. Financial, attendance, and church involvement reports may help indicate essential church health.
Some measures are leading indicators that help plan for future needs and opportunities. For example, what if you were able to measure your new baby registrations accurately and combine that knowledge with a thorough understanding of the typical turnover and involvement over time for families who register their new babies? You would then be able to plan more effectively for kindergarten needs in five years.
The Most Important Question
For all the reasons detailed above, we believe that the most important consideration for churches who desire to utilize data analytics to support ministry is having a clear answer to one question — “Where are you going?”
In the analogy above, we described a trip to New York City. But imagine how different your use of measures would be if you started a journey with no defined endpoint. Some measurements would continue to be significant (fuel gauge, engine temperature, etc.), while others would be meaningless. If you don’t know where you are going, the “200 miles to Atlanta” sign is not particularly useful to you.
For churches, the imperative of the Great Commission is to “make disciples of all nations.” Ultimately, that’s the plan and the destination. But due to God’s design, the church’s location, its internal resources, and specific calling, each church will play a unique role in fulfilling that overarching purpose. For your church specifically, what does it look like to develop mature disciples? Where do you hope to be in that process in the next 1, 3, or 5 years? How will you measure whether your members are taking the next appropriate steps in fulfilling your discipleship calling? What are the indicators that your ministries are healthy and are yielding disciples?
Data, and the practical analysis of that data, is available to assist you in reaching your destination. Still, answers to the types of questions posed above are crucial to effectively employing that data for ministry.
In Part 3 of this series, we will dive into Measures: which ones are essential and what questions do they answer?
Written by: Elliott Wood, Director of Consulting, Enable Ministry Partners