Using data analytics is an invasion of privacy
As we near the end of our series on myths and misperceptions about using data analytics in the church, we must address the elephant in the room – data privacy.
There are a couple of facets to this. Part of it is a cultural response or backlash to highly-publicized instances of companies (I won’t mention any names…like Facebook) who gather data about you (with or without your knowledge), learn about and profile you, and then sell your data to people who don’t know you…so they can market/sell you products or services. The other component is our general belief that the individual owns or maintains control over any ‘personal’ or ‘private’ information. Even the terms we use – like ‘invasion of privacy’ – possess inherent connotations that elicit or represent our emotional response to this type of practice. It’s a violation of our personal space. It makes us feel vulnerable or exposed to unknown parties with unknown intentions.
These violations – along with general notions of personal privacy – have led to international privacy laws (e.g., GDPR in Europe, CCPA in Canada) and numerous new state privacy laws in the U.S. (which will no doubt eventually lead to a federal privacy law). The purpose of these laws is not so much to prevent data from ever being used – as many of us like or appreciate the benefits such as recommended movies on Netflix, product recommendations on Amazon – but it puts privacy protections in place for people to understand what data is being collected, who will have access to it, and how it will be used.
So how does this apply or fit into the privacy issue of data collected in the Church?
The counter-argument to the notion above – data being collected by an unknown entity with unknown (or potentially nefarious) intentions – is hopefully that congregants would have a little (or a LOT) different perception about sharing their information with their church. Maybe your response is, “You haven’t been to my church.” Kidding (maybe) aside – who else, besides your church, would you rather share your data with?
In the book of Acts (2:42-47; 4:32-35), we see amazing examples of what the communal relationship (Koinonia is the Greek term that encaptures this) within the church is supposed to look like. It is a daily, ongoing, expansive relationship where our lives are intertwined – relationally, emotionally, spiritually, financially – and we are joined in our commitment to each other, to God, and the growth of His kingdom. It’s well understood we don’t always have that level of community in our churches – but that is the goal and expectation we should be establishing. And although people often object to the generic idea of “sharing their data,” – offer a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card on some random online survey, and you would be amazed at what pieces of personal information folks are willing to share. The point here is that if people share their data with anyone, their church should probably be just about the safest place they can do that.
The second element here that’s vitally important is that churches must communicate “why” data is important, who has access to it, and “how” the data will be used. Churches can distinguish themselves from the misperceptions by being proactive around privacy – take the lead and be upfront about data usage. For example, churches can clarify that data stored in their ChMS (or other systems) isn’t just so the church knows who you are, how much money you give, whether you’re married or divorced, or what neighborhood you live in, etc. Rather, communicate that data access, i.e. privacy, is tightly controlled and is utilized to help the church get people plugged into the right ministries, the right small groups, and notify them of programs or services that might be highly valuable. Align the usage of data with the overall ministry of the church – effectively ministering to the needs of congregants and the community.
So although data privacy can be a touchy subject, churches can eliminate a lot of the drama around it by communicating clearly and honestly about data’s role and value for the church.
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 the organization, its ministry partners, and the market.