No one ever really uses the analyses anyway…
“If a tree falls in the forest, and no one’s there to hear it, does it actually make a sound?”
This well-known question is a nice metaphor for the next argument against analytics we’re going to address – which is: what’s the point of doing analytics when no one uses data analytics in the church anyways?
This is a very important, viable objection and question. But one that begs a follow-up question. Why?
Why isn’t anyone using it?
Are we looking at the right things?
Are we tracking the right things?
Are we showing the right things? To the right people?
Are we answering a question no one is asking?
So although the objection may be viable (“why do it if no one is using what we’re creating?”) – it’s the conclusion that is subject to debate. Do we just not do any analytics, or do we figure out why it’s not being used and make it better?
To help address this, I want to provide a simple framework that can be useful in getting to the root of the problem. To be clear, this approach is equally applicable whether you’re just beginning with analytics or already underway. It’s nothing genius or profound – it’s rather simple. But my hope is it will at least spur some thoughts or discussion and maybe help you create an even better framework that fits your body or organization specifically.
The framework is just a simple, four-question process to help you identify (or refine) the analytics you’re using (or want to use) and how to get the most benefit out of your efforts.
Question 1. What question are we trying to answer? What problem are we trying to solve?
This first question is essential as it speaks to mission & strategy. Many groups just start playing with data and sharing various or random data points without thinking about what questions they’re helping answer or address. Identifying exactly what question or problem you’re trying to solve at the start is crucial – as this will direct all the further efforts you make.
Question 2. Does this data/graph/analysis help us answer that question? And how does it do so?
This question starts to get to the heart of the problem – as it speaks to utilization and the proper use of data. It’s easy to take certain data points and try to extrapolate meaning beyond what the data is saying. A simple example of answering the “how healthy is our church?” question. Say your financial administrator comes to the leadership team and says, “well, our giving totals are higher this year; therefore, we’re healthier as a church than we were last year.” Although giving may be an indicator or a part of that analysis, does that alone really answer the “church health” question? This is where leadership needs to be very honest and specific about the questions that need to be answered and what’s needed to answer them.
Question 3. Is the data/presentation easy to understand?
This area of adoption (getting people to use the analysis) often gets overlooked – but is usually pretty simple to address. As most pastors or leaders can tell you, understanding your audience is vital! It doesn’t mean the audience dictates “what” you teach about, but it can strongly influence “how” it is communicated. The same is true for data analysis. The topical areas that analysis is provided on may be set by others, but the “way” they are represented can make all the difference in the world. A pastor may only want to see a few key metrics or data points. However, your financial administrator may want multiple pages with graphs and tables of data. Taking the extra time to understand who is consuming the data and how they want to consume it can be the difference between success and failure.
Question 4. Is the data/presentation actionable?
This question speaks to the tactical value of our analysis – and, honestly, it is probably the most impactful error that we make. It’s very easy to get distracted by analysis – sort of a “missing the forest for the trees…” analogy. The simple truth is that analytics that don’t provide insight (i.e., illuminate a potential challenge/opportunity or point us towards an action/discussion) are limited in their value. As much as possible, all the analytics we use should be helping us answer a question, provide insight into an area of our ministry, or point us towards an action.
Let me provide an illustration I heard from John Maxwell that speaks to this last point very well. Every year he sets goals for what he wants to focus on that year (who, what, and how much time he wants to dedicate to them). He also then keeps a calendar. In it, he tracks all his appointments – personal and professional. He tracks who he meets with, how long he meets with them, what the meetings are about, etcetera. He then sets aside a week at the end of every year to review (analyze) his calendar – the people, topics, and time spent. He then compares those results to what his goals were at the beginning of the year. Based on his findings, he then plans out his next year with associated actions to either reinforce what was successful or change what wasn’t.
This is a perfect microcosm of what analytics is meant to achieve for a church. It’s about setting goals (mission & vision), tracking data about our activities, and then analyzing the results – comparing what we set out to do with what we did and achieved. Based on that, we start back over at the beginning of the cycle.
This speaks to the heart of this argument against analytics. Suppose we can identify goals/challenges, track them appropriately, and provide clear insight into how we performed towards those goals. In that case, the value is usually apparent to all, and this objection tends to disappear.
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.