Better Data, Better Decisions

Justin Hassun

March 25, 2021
5 min read

In a complex world, it can be difficult to make decisions. There are so many factors to consider, so many competing concerns. The more complex our world gets, the more we can face analysis paralysis. How can we simplify, clarify, and decide? One of the most effective ways to combat this growing complexity is to gather great data. I don’t know what ideas that little word sparks in your mind. Whether the proposition of gathering data excites or scares you, we can all benefit from it.

Technically speaking, data are facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis. I like this more colloquial definition from The Council on Quality and Leadership: “Simply stated, data is useful information that you collect to support organizational decision-making and strategy.” To simplify even further, data is information that helps you make decisions. Who wouldn’t want that? The problem is, we are often intimidated by the tools, systems, and terms associated with data. Something intended to bring greater clarity sometimes ends up just bringing more confusion.

Why should we devote our scarce time and resources to gathering data? Data empowers us to be proactive in our leadership. It helps us to understand our audience, evaluate the effectiveness of our systems and strategies, determine the causes of our problems, and direct our scarce resources. You may know something is not working. Data can help you figure out why it’s broken and how you can fix it. It can enable you to continue doing what’s working and to stop doing what is no longer delivering results. That’s why you should never implement a strategy or build a system without creating a way to measure its effectiveness. How will we measure success? should be a consistent question in your organization.

So how do you measure success? The answer will vary with your context and your goals. But there are principles of gathering and utilizing data that you can apply regardless of the specifics of your current situation or season. Here are two basic steps of the process of using data effectively.

1. Gather & Track The Data

The first thing you have to do with data is gather it. Of course, without this step, you would have no information to analyze or act upon. At VOUS, much of our data gathering is done by our amazing servant leaders (volunteers). In order to execute this step effectively, we have had to build clear, simple systems and work to ensure that they are being followed consistently. For every event we host—be it a Sunday service, small group gathering, Growth Track class, service project, etc.—each of our teams submits a roster. This is a count of every person who served for a given event. The responsibility for ensuring this step is completed is shared among a handful of people—team leaders, our A-Team (administrative team), and staff oversight. Every time we gather, our staff receives real-time text updates on which of the teams they oversee have and have not submitted their rosters. It is part of my job as our Servant Leader Coordinator to push to have these rosters submitted on time. For events that include guests, our Host Team provides a headcount of everyone in attendance. Tracking data doesn’t just happen for us. It requires consistent energy and effort. We have built clear systems and appointed leaders to run them.

As we have stepped into streaming services online, we have had to create standards to gather new data points. We now produce weekly reports tracking online streams, peak views, and followers on our social media accounts. We have servant leaders assigned to watch our services on YouTube and provide peak view updates every ten minutes. This information tells us at what point in our services engagement is the highest. Knowing which parts of our services are the most engaging for people helps us to make programming decisions in the future. Having the data doesn’t mean we have to change everything (or anything), but it gives us specific insight to act upon.

The main tools we use for this step are Church Community Builder, our church database; Church Metrics, the free tool that helps us organize and view our data; and the native insights provided by the various social media platforms we use (YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter).

2. Analyze & Act On The Data

Once you have gathered the data, you need to analyze it. The truth is, having information is not enough. You have to take the time to understand, interpret, and analyze it. Knowing a particular set of facts does not tell you what you should do with them. It just empowers you to make a decision based on real information, rather than on feelings or assumptions. If you don’t gather data, you won’t have any information to work with. If you don’t analyze it, you will lose the value it could provide. The goal is not just to have information, it is to use it to solve problems and make better decisions.

Visualizing and presenting information is just as important as gathering it. All the data in the world won’t help you if you, your teams, and your oversight cannot understand and act upon it. My guess is that you probably already have a database. But you may not be using it to its full potential. Take the time to deepen your understanding of the tools at your disposal and look for opportunities to optimize its features for your organization. Look for ways to align the capabilities of your tools with your goals. One approach that has helped us is developing a consistent relationship with a contact at the organizations we partner with. Representatives at each of the organizations mentioned in this article have helped us immensely as we have sought to grow in our understanding and use of their platforms.

The main tool we use for this step is Grow, a platform that connects, stores, and blends data from hundreds of sources. Grow helps us to build dashboards and generate graphs so we can visualize and digest the data we’re gathering. Our system for utilizing this data is a weekly Directors’ Meeting, where our department directors meet each Monday to discuss our reports and Sunday evaluations and make decisions together.

I hope this short explanation has served to demystify data just a little bit for you. I hope you’re walking away with some practical handles to take the next steps in this category in your organization. The decisions you make matter. They impact and influence countless people around you. If you will take the time to grow in gathering and analyzing data, I believe you will be empowered to solve problems, save resources, and make better decisions.

As a bonus, here are three reports we generate regularly at VOUS:

Church Report - a weekly report on church metrics from the previous Sunday. This report includes numbers for overall church attendance, servant leaders, Growth Track, VOUS Kids, Watch Parties, Connect Cards, salvations, and more. Each data point includes a comparison to numbers from this time last year.

Forecast Report - a weekly forecast of church metrics for the upcoming Sunday. This report is based on historical data, comparing each projected number to this time last year, with a percentage increase added based on our current trends.

Department Report - a monthly report generated by the director of each of our staff departments. These reports include both quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data consists of serving numbers for each team in the department in the previous month. Qualitative data consists of small group attendance, Growth Track completion, and stories/updates from servant leaders gathered by our staff over the previous month.

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