Data Analytics is just about cold, hard numbers
Next in this series about common misconceptions regarding data analytics in the church, one of the most substantive arguments against it is that data analytics is just about cold, hard numbers. Since I spent the entire last post explaining how, at its core, analytics is essentially applying mathematical analyses to data (church data or otherwise), you might think that’s hard to refute. However, the answer to this can be found in several principles that we’ll explore below.
One of the most important clarifications to make at the outset is that, at its core, analytics is just a tool. It is not inherently good or evil. A great parallel to this can be found in how scripture describes money. Although there are many principles taught about finances in scripture, one of the key messages is that money, in and of itself, does not have inherent moral qualities. Like analytics, it isn’t inherently good or bad. It doesn’t even really do anything to us…rather, it reveals what’s already in us. So the truth (what we think and believe) is already there. Money just kind of brings it into the light. Analytics is very similar in that it often just simply reveals what already exists.
The other key principle is that data should always be analyzed in context. This means that any data we look at has to be considered in light of our church’s unique mission & purpose.
We see a similar application of this principle regarding interpreting and understanding the Bible (particularly the Old Testament). If we look at a certain scripture by itself, it can sometimes seem confusing or out of place. But when we look at it in the context of the time & place it was written, how it fits into the whole story of scripture, and particularly in how it relates to the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus, it often brings not only revelation to that particular scripture but also even gives greater insight into the whole. The same is true for analytics – looking at data in the context of the church’s overall mission, and purpose often brings greater understanding & clearer application. So let’s take a look at a practical financial analogy that illustrates it quite effectively.
Most folks are familiar with Dave Ramsey or have at least heard of or taken the Financial Peace University® course. When I took the course, one of the first activities they had us do was record (track) all of our spending for the previous month. Wow – that was eye-opening and painful – but that alone didn’t effectuate any changes. The next, and more important, steps were to begin setting goals and budgeting our money accordingly. In their words – “telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” There is a huge difference in those steps – and it correlates very strongly to the use of data in the church.
So how do we apply those principles? First, we must understand that although analyzing data does bring an inherent focus to “the numbers,” – it’s more about what those numbers reveal to us. The data and analysis themselves are agnostic, but they often bring revelation to otherwise unknown insights. The second half of the equation is then applying context to those findings to bring understanding and give direction. What does the data tell us about ourselves? Is the way we utilize our resources aligning with our stated mission & purpose? For example, if a huge piece of our mission as a church is local outreach, but we only spend a minuscule portion of our budget on that…what does that tell us?
So although there is a risk of getting too caught up in the numbers, this can be alleviated by a proper understanding of the purpose of analytics and a commitment to contextual analysis.
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. As the Director of Ministry Intelligence at ACS Technologies, Brett is responsible for leveraging ACST’s research, data, and analytical IP to deliver true “Ministry Intelligence” to its ministry partners and the Church.