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Why You Need Those Reports

When I was in school, perhaps no professor left more of an impression on me than Dr. Amorose, the English prof whose catch-phase was “So what? Who cares?”. It sounds a little cold, but his big idea was that how and what you write are not as important as why you write. If a project didn’t have a point, didn’t say something of value for the reader to draw meaning from, it didn’t matter how well written it was, it didn’t achieve its purpose, because it never had one. Though the lesson was specific to essays, the principle can apply to anything, even administrative reports.
So What? Who Cares?
One of the easiest things to do as an administrator—or really anyone—is to go on autopilot. We’ve all done it. When you start your job, someone teaches you how it’s done: who you report to; which office supplies to buy; and how to run all the reports pastors, volunteers, and everyone else at your church need. As you do it day in and day out, you become so accustomed to the way your job is done, you can almost do it in your sleep—and truth be told, some days you almost do.
But have you ever stopped to ask what those reports are for? There must be a good reason you’re running them. Right?
Knowing Your Purpose
Don’t get me wrong. Collecting information and running reports is incredibly important. But if you want to make the most of it, you have to run the right reports to support your church in its specific context.
Your leaders are trying to encourage your church toward love and good deeds in a real-world context. In most cases, the way your church does this is summed up in a mission statement: the specific way God has called your congregation to worship Him and love others. When people ask you for reports—even if they don’t know it—they’re asking you to provide the information that helps them wisely move toward that mission. If you can keep that mission in mind, you’re more likely to give them the information they need.
Answering the Right Question
Once you know the end-goal you’re aiming for (that mission statement), you need to understand what questions are being asked of your reports, so you can give an answer that’s actually helpful.
See, every report answers some question, but not always the one that’s asked. For example, let’s say one of your missions as a church is discipling believers in volunteer-led small groups. Your small-groups pastor wants to know if this is happening, so every month, he requests the attendance record from each group, which you gladly give. The question he’s really asking is whether or not the groups are tighter and loving Jesus more today than they did a week, a month, or a year ago. The question an attendance report really answers is how many times every person showed up at someone’s house on a Tuesday night. That might be a piece of the puzzle, but in itself, it’s not the answer to his question.
Taking a Critical Look at Things
Because you’re a ministry-minded administrator, you want to produce reports that answer the questions your leaders are really asking, to help them drive toward your church’s mission.
Some of the reports you run are exactly what they need. Others may not answer their questions very well. There are some reports that you don’t use, but when you think about it, they’d really help. Maybe there are even some that you don’t think exist, but they would be awesome to have! The trick now is deciphering between them all and building the set of reports that will really do the job for your leaders and your church.
At this point, you and your leaders will know far better what you need than I do—I’m just the general-principle guy. Here are some ideas to help get you moving, though:

  1. Type out your church’s mission statement and tape it to the wall. Well, maybe not literally, but do something practical to make it easier to remember why you do what you do.
  2. Schedule a meeting with your leaders to understand what information they need and begin to discuss how to provide that.
  3. Assess every report you currently run and determine if it’s answering (even in part) a real question that’s pertinent to your mission.
  4. Knowing the unanswered questions of your leaders, find ways to collect that data and create those reports. These may be single reports; combinations of different reports; or entirely new ways of gathering information.
  5. Walk through this process regularly, so you can continue being a better and better support to your leadership as time goes on.

Now let’s play this out. In the case of our attendance-report scenario, you know the mission, you know the community pastor’s questions, and it’s clear that there’s a hole in the information—that takes care of #1-3.
Thinking about question #4, you know that group attendance is a piece of spiritual health, so that report may be worth keeping, but you need to find other things to round out the picture. For instance, to see if groups are growing in love of Jesus, you can incorporate reports on the way they give time and treasure. First, take church giving reports, and see if the number of people in small groups who faithfully give money (versus those who are not in groups) has increased over time. Then, look at your rosters of service teams, and chart whether or not the number of small-group participants in those teams has increased over time. Include personal reports from the overseers of the group leaders—the people who actually know them—and you’re starting to build a solid picture of your groups’ health.
As you collect these pieces of information, there will always be the question of causality (is being in a small group the reason more people are serving, or was it that month-long sermon series on service?). The more solid reports you bring to the table, though, the more certainty you can bring to your answer to that question. It’s an ongoing process.
Asking So No One Else Has To
In everything you do, the hope is that your hard work frees your leaders to do their work more efficiently. When you take the time to critique your own work and ensure its value to the purposes of your church (asking “So what? Who cares?”), the people you serve don’t have to; they can just do better ministry. And what more could you ask for?
And remember, you’re not in this alone. It’s easy to forget, but you have a whole community of peers using ACS Technologies products and facing similar ministry challenges. If you have questions about your current reporting practices or bright ideas that you’d like to pass on to others, we’d invite you to share them in the comments on this post. One of the greatest assets you have is community, so let’s start the conversation together!
Josh is the guy at The City who writes user help, creates guides, edits everyone’s grammar, and laughs at everything—because really, things are just that enjoyable. Give him a warm beverage, jeans and flip-flops, and a good story, and he ‘s good to go.

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