Using data analytics depersonalizes people
“Numbers are boring. People are interesting.” – Hans Rosling
The next (mis)perception to tackle in our series is that using data analytics in the church somehow depersonalizes people. This is related to the “cold, hard numbers” objection we already discussed but differs. While we were primarily concerned with the decision-making process, we looked at the potential relational disconnect and impact. Regardless, this is a valid and important objection but can be evaluated by examining perception and motivation.
A helpful analogy for this is perhaps by thinking of a telescope or binoculars – and how which end you look through makes a big difference in what you see and perceive. Do you look at the data through the lens of the person, or do you look at the person through the lens of the data? If we use data/numbers as the primary lens, then the “depersonalization” risk can be quite high. But if we start and end with people, then that can yield a very different perspective.
Another example where we see this play out in the church is how we view certain cultural and moral behaviors. Do we view our culture or behaviors through the lens of scripture, or do we view scripture through the lens of our culture? Regardless of which application we tend to adhere to, it helps to show the importance and impact of the lens we use for the data analysis.
There is a second explanation here that I believe can also help address this concern. As we covered in the “cold, hard numbers” post, there is the principle that money doesn’t necessarily do anything to us but rather reveals what’s already there. Similarly, the Bible establishes the principle that our words and deeds tend to show what’s truly in our hearts (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45). So even though we may have convinced ourselves we believe something – certain situations may reveal otherwise. For example, I believed and would have told anyone I trusted God completely with my family, finances, and life…but my emotional response to being laid off in 2010 revealed that might not have been entirely accurate. James 2:18 captures this beautifully where he says, “…Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
So the point of this is that it can often be quite hard to evaluate or analyze what is in people’s hearts – or even sometimes in what they say. It is much easier to analyze (and track) people’s actions.
Most pastors or leaders have come across these two people. The first is the very vocal congregant who always makes a point of talking to the pastor at services, telling them how much they love the church, and making a big show out of everything they do. The second is the person no one notices but is constantly serving behind the scenes, meeting needs, and sacrificing the body. It can be easy (even for leadership) to mistake which one of these members has a bigger impact on the body, but data (like attendance, volunteering, group participation, giving) can help us cut through some of that “noise” and get a better view of reality.
So as we address this argument that data and data analysis depersonalizes people, I think we can take away several main points. First, we need to be sure we are using the right “lens” when analyzing data. Secondly, using data can be viewed as applying biblical principles where we evaluate actions as an outflow of the heart. As a further bonus, especially when dealing with people (and the subjectivity of even our perceptions), data can often provide a useful, unbiased view of things that may give us greater clarity and understanding.
For more resources on Data Analytics, please visit Church Growth.
Brett Herzog is a husband, father, pastor, and tech nerd. He has served in new product development since 2003 for industry-leading companies such as Thomson Reuters, Merrill Corporation, and Follett Corporation. He’s also co-vocational – pastoring a group of home churches in the Greenville, South Carolina area. Brett is responsible for leveraging ACST’s research, data, and analytical IP to deliver true “Ministry Intelligence” to its ministry partners and the Church.