Three Perspectives of Using Data in the Church

Leaders have never been able to access so much data and have never been encouraged so strongly to let the data direct them. In recent years there has been an avalanche of books, articles, and conferences on leveraging big data. Data scientists are hired to bring their expertise to companies and “machine learning” is being utilized in organizations. So what is a leader to do? There are three common approaches leaders take with data and only one of them is healthy and wise:

1. Ignore the data.

Some leaders foolishly ignore data. They choose to “trust their gut” or “go with their instincts.” Some ministry leaders have viewed looking at and learning from data as unspiritual and displaying a lack of faith. It is not unspiritual to look at data and it is unwise not to. While data does not tell the whole story it does tell part of the story. It can help leaders understand the context, the challenges, and the opportunities. Data can help leaders know where to invest more resources and where to pull back.

2. Obsess over the data.

For an unhealthy leader data can be a drug. Unhealthy leaders can live from report to report for their worth and their identity. They can lead reactively, based on the latest spreadsheet, instead of proactively setting a direction. Leaders can easily obsess over the less important data points. And their obsession over those data points can cause them to lead with only those data points in view. It is unwise to ignore data and unhealthy to obsess over it.

3. Learn from data.

Professor and management consultant W. Edwards Deming quipped, “In God we trust, everyone else must bring data.” He captures the reality that leaders do not lack people offering them ideas, perspectives, and opinions on which direction to go and what decisions to make. And data can help. Data can help leaders look at the options objectively. Data can help leaders avoid being persuaded by the best sounding approaches and push toward the actual best approaches. Data can help teams learn and adjust tactics. Data should be a strong voice in the room when leaders make decisions.

Wise leaders avoid the two extremes of ignoring and obsessing over data. Instead they learn from it and view it as a tool they can use as they lead and serve their teams.

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Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger

Eric Geiger is the Senior Pastor of Mariners Church in Irvine, California. Before moving to Southern California, Eric served as senior vice-president for LifeWay Christian. Eric received his doctorate in leadership and church ministry from Southern Seminary. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church. Eric is married to Kaye, and they have two daughters: Eden and Evie. During his free time, Eric enjoys dating his wife, taking his daughters to the beach, and playing basketball.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you Ed for sharing your insights into the Church Growth Movement. I have my reservations with Church Growth models because it has done more damage than good in the Body of Christ. Over the years, western churches are more focused on results, formulas and processes with little or no emphasis on membership and church discipline. Pastors and vocational leaders are burnt out because they're overworked. I do believe that the Church Growth model is a catalyst to two destructive groups: The New Apostolic Reformation and the Emerging Church. Both groups overlap and have a very loose definition. They're both focus on contemporary worship, expansion of church brand (franchising), and mobilizing volunteering members as 'leaders' to grow their ministry. Little focus on biblical study, apologetics and genuine missional work with no agenda besides preaching of the gospel.
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comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you for sharing such a good article. It is a great lesson I learned from this article. I am one of the leaders in Emmanuel united church of Ethiopia (A denomination with more-than 780 local churches through out the country). I am preparing a presentation on succession planning for local church leaders. It will help me for preparation If you send me more resources and recommend me books to read on the topic. I hope we may collaborate in advancing leadership capacity of our church. God Bless You and Your Ministry.
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