How To Become A Data Informed Church

This post has been adapted from episode 10 of our podcast. You can listen to the full podcast here or keep reading.

Kevin Fontenot:  Hey there, I’m Kevin Fontenot and I’m here with Scott Magdelain. We’re your hosts of the Thriving Ministry Teams podcast, where we talk about all things related to church leadership, discipleship, and training.

Kevin Fontenot:  On today’s episode we’re gonna be talking about tracking church metrics and analytics, and this is something that I’m a little passionate about. Scott, I don’t know if you know this or not?

Scott Magdalein:  Oh, my gosh.

Kevin Fontenot:  But I’m a little bit of a data nerd.

Scott Magdalein:  A little bit? That is the understatement of the century. Kevin, you are more into numbers than an accountant is into numbers. You … Anyway, yeah, when it comes to data … We’ve actually even shifted talking about what Kevin does from marketing guy to marketing scientist because he’s so into the data.

Kevin Fontenot:  I mean if you don’t track stuff you’re never gonna know what’s happening, right?

Scott Magdalein:  Right. Exactly, and what’s great for me is I can be like, “Hey, do you got the numbers on X, Y, or Z?” And he’s just like, “Yeah, sure. Hold on one second,” and he’s got it handy somewhere. And then we, and then of course we like to geek out about some of our marketing numbers, or engagement numbers, or whatever.

Kevin Fontenot:  Yeah, it’s funny ’cause I used to do a lot in my head and then Scott would never believe me on why I thought certain things, so I started having to put it all in spreadsheets so he could actually see it.

Scott Magdalein:  Yeah, so we went through this phase where he kept, we kept making estimates on what the next month, the next few months is going to, is gonna happen, and I would be way off, and he would be almost dead on. And I’d be like, “How are you so accurate on your estimates?” And he’s like, “Well, I don’t know. It’s just I know exactly what’s going to happen because of numbers. ‘Cause I know numbers.”

Kevin Fontenot:  I guess all that math nerdiness in school helped me out a little bit.

Scott Magdalein:  It must have helped you out a bunch.

Kevin Fontenot:  Awesome. Let’s talk about three types of data when it comes to church metrics and analytics, and we’re gonna split this up into what I like to call engagement data, spiritual health data, and marketing data. And the first one that I want to talk about is the idea of engagement data, and I think this is the one that most of the people listening are going to be most familiar with, and this is gonna be things like tracking attendance, giving, number of people serving, number of people in groups, number of baptisms, number of salvations that you have, and I like to refer to this as engagement data because it really tells you whether or not people are actively engaged inside of your church. And this is really, it can be one of those hindrances, where if we’re just measuring these things of engagement data it’s hard for us to see past that, and we only measure certain things, but Scott what are your thoughts on engagement data in the church?

Scott Magdalein:  Yeah, engagement data are those things where when things are going really good we like to report on these numbers, and then when things aren’t going good we’re like, “We don’t really need to count. It feels like there are about the same number of people as last week.” The only number that churches really never stop counting is the dollars coming, but I’ve been at churches where attendance feels like it’s starting to wane, or it’s been waning for a while, and the church just kind of decides to stop counting because they’ve gotten … It’s too disappointing every week to report the same numbers as last month, and the month before, and the month before, but keeping track of these numbers is absolutely vital to understanding the health of the church. It’s not the only numbers of course that tells you about the health of the church, but if a church is not growing at all over the course of a long period of time numerically, both in terms of number of people showing up, number of people serving, number of people taking next steps in their, in actual physical, concrete next steps in their faith regarding their church, then you’ve got a spiritual health problem.

Scott Magdalein:  These are lagging indicators to a spiritual health issue in the church, and that includes giving as well. The helpful thing about these numbers is that they can be motivating, both, in terms of if the numbers are bad, they can motivate us to do better, and if the numbers are good, they can motivate us to continue on doing what we’re doing. The problem is looking at these numbers and thinking that they are the only indicators of spiritual health, that they are the only indicators of doing things well.

Scott Magdalein:  And then of course the next, to harp on this a little longer, the next risk or danger of this is to make decisions in ministry that just boost these numbers, and start to neglect some of the things, some of the spiritual health things that are good drivers of these numbers, versus bad drivers of these numbers, which might just be kind of event driven ministry, or gimmicks, or things to get people in the door, or boosting numbers with kind of adding on special events, or adding ten percent because we’re always ten percent off. You know? That kind of stuff.

Kevin Fontenot:  I think one of the keys to this is really figuring out why you’re measuring certain things. ‘Cause I think a lot of times we just measure because we’re supposed to measure, we need to know what’s going on, and we think that that’s the reason why we count everything, but the reason that we really measure data is because if we don’t measure it we can’t change it. If we don’t have real solid numbers of what is actually happening inside of our churches, inside of our ministries, then we can’t do anything to actually influence that in a positive direction, and instead it’s just going to either keep doing what it’s always been doing, or it’s going to steadily decline over time because we have no clue what the actual number is. ‘Cause it’s easy to kind of look and say, yeah, I think we have about the same number of people that we did last week, or last month, or last year, but unless we’re actually measuring those things we don’t really know. It’s kind of like the guesstimate. Some of us are really good at guesstimating things, but for the most parts we usually don’t actively estimate the way that we should.

Kevin Fontenot:  I mean, I’ve definitely been in those meetings, especially for church folk. We get in churches and say, yeah, there are hundreds of people here today, and there’s like 17 people in the crowd.

Scott Magdalein:  Right. Exactly. There’s some seriously optimistic counting.

Kevin Fontenot:  And that kind of trickles into the idea of measuring spiritual health data. I was looking on Twitter the other day, and David Platt had this great tweet talking about measuring things like attendance, and the number of people inside of our churches, and instead of doing that really focusing in on are we actually making a difference in those people’s life? Are they actually growing closer to Jesus? Are they actually becoming mature disciples of Christ? And I think that’s one of the most important things that we can measure inside of our churches. It’s a lot trickier to measure that. We’ve done and talked about this a lot because we run a separate company called Disciple Labs, in addition to TrainedUp, where all we do is kind of measure the spiritual health data, and help churches, help their people take the next steps in their faith.

Kevin Fontenot:  And so it’s been really cool to kind of work with these churches, to have conversations about this because it’s completely new. There’s this idea of measuring spiritual health. I’ve been a small groups pastor in the pastor, and so making sure that people are growing in their faith, that they’re getting into community, that they’re growing in their relationships, that’s something that I’ve always been really passionate about.

Kevin Fontenot:  Last year as I was talking to a lot of pastors that we serve at TrainedUp, one of the things that I kept hearing over, and over again was that they just had no clue how their people were doing, and how to help their people grow. We can always make these guesses based on some of those trends that we see in numbers. Number of salvation’s, number of baptisms, number of people actually serving, number of people in our groups. We can kind of make some inferences based on that kind of high level engagement data that we’re collecting, but if we’re not actually measuring some spiritual health data inside of our churches and our ministries, it comes a lot harder for us to actually influence that in a positive direction.

Scott Magdalein:  One of the fascinating things about spiritual, like moving and introducing and kind of starting to quantify spiritual health is the stark, sometimes disturbing reality of the health of our church. And ’cause it’s easy without hard data, it’s easy to sort of spiritualize away the situation in our church, or say that I feel like my church is healthy because we’ve got X percent of people in groups, or we’re growing by X percent per year, but looking at those, sometimes I like to call them vanity metrics, those engagement data marks, and inferring spiritual health from those isn’t enough. And so being able to match, of course continuing to track attendance, and giving, and people serving, and people in groups, and all of those vanity metric kind of stuff, but being able to relate that to actual spiritual health data that’s quantified based on recurrent … The way that Disciple Labs does it with recurring surveys, or if there’s some other way that they might, that a church might be able to extract data, quantifiable data about spiritual health in their church.  That can give you a much clearer, a much more honest of picture of your church.

Scott Magdalein:  Now of course an honest of your church’s spiritual health can be scary for a pastor whose job is to help the church grow spiritually, and then of course now you’ve got this tool that’s going to show well am I actually doing a good job of that? Or am I actually making decisions as a leader that’s helping my church grow spiritually? In the beginning I think it would be something of a gut wrenching kind of like, “Oh, maybe things aren’t as good as I thought. Maybe our people aren’t reading their bible, or they’re not sharing the Gospel, or they’re not engaged in worship like I think they’re engaged in worship.”

Scott Magdalein:  But while it’s a gut wrench in the beginning, so is stepping on the scale the first time you go, before you haven’t been working out in years. Stepping on that scale is a gut punch, it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t realize I was that big,” but then that gives you the information that you need to be able to make a good decision on how to fix the problem. Without that spiritual health data there’s no way for you to know exactly what you’re supposed to do to help your church grow. While there’s a gut wrench in the beginning, it leads to much better results, better knowledge about where your people are so you can make good decisions about how you can grow your church spiritually as well as numerically in the future.

Kevin Fontenot:  We kind of knew that that was going to happen when we launched Disciple Labs. With Disciple Labs we measure spiritual health in eight different ways. We measure it by, and these kind of spiritual health categories is what we call them. We have bible application, character, evangelism, fellowship, giving, prayer, serving, and worship. And we’ve kind of boiled it down to these eight characteristics based on the conversations that we’ve had with pastors across denominations, different things that we’ve researched, and we came up with these eight different characteristics because they really encapsulate the overall spiritual health of someone inside of your church.

Kevin Fontenot:  And so with Disciple Labs we have the survey, where we send it out to your church members, by default it gets sent out three, or four times per year every three months, and this gives a few different data points so we get of an overall spiritual health score for each person, an overall spiritual health score for each ministry, and an overall spiritual health score for each, for your entire church. This really allows you to kind of go in and see how people are doing in kind of a bigger way. You can see on the ministries if they’re, if some ministries are being really effective at raising up people and discipling them, and you may some that aren’t doing so well, and that need to work on coaching them, but the cool thing about the data is it allows you to go in and have those conversations. It can definitely be scary at first when you’re seeing that data for the first time, so we created resources to kind of help you walk through that process of what to do after you’ve gotten that data, and one of the first things that we put in that guide is don’t freak out. Because most likely you’re going to get a bit of a punch in the gut when you see that data for the first time, because it’s probably not going to be what you expect.

Scott Magdalein:  Yeah. I mean, that’s the … That’s what I meant about being scared getting started, and so from building an app, and running, building a business out of it kind of thing, the biggest concern that I ever had was not is this gonna be a useful tool, but are people gonna have the courage to sign up and use it? That’s the biggest thing because you have … In app world you have barriers to entry. Things like making it hard to sign up, or hard to get started. Well, Disciple Labs is not hard to sign up or hard to get started. The biggest barrier to getting started is just can you be … Can you face the honesty of where your church is spiritually? And the road that you’re gonna have to go ahead to get those numbers to improve on the spiritual health forefront.

Kevin Fontenot:  Yeah, absolutely. And one of the other things that we’ve done inside of Disciple Labs kind of based on those conversations early on is that we knew people weren’t, people inside of your church wouldn’t take the survey if they knew that pastors could see every single answer to every single question. Yeah, some of the questions that we ask inside of our survey are kind of personal. They’re things that really kind of punch you in the gut to see if you’re serving the Lord the way that you’re supposed to be serving the Lord, and it can be scary answering those questions from a member’s perspective if you know that your pastor can see every single answer that you put inside of there. We made the choice early on to make sure that pastors can’t see the answers to each individual question, but instead of that we have those eight categories, and so we create a score for each of those categories in addition to the overall spiritual health score.

Kevin Fontenot:  You can go in and dive in a little bit deeper to see if your people are struggling with specific areas inside of your church. If they are struggling with things like prayer, and evangelism, those are common ones that we see people struggle with a lot, and then giving is kind of right up there with it. You can go in based on that and then have real data where you can go in and implement different things to try and influence that data in a positive direction. For instance if people are struggling with evangelism and prayer, those are your next two sermon series that you can roll out. And we kind of roll out these ideas based on the macro level and the micro level.

Kevin Fontenot:  The macro level are things that affect your entire church that you can speak on during sermon series, things like that. And the micro level are gonna be things like your small groups, and your one-on-one relationships that you have inside of the church because those are what you can really dive in deep, and if we couple the macro and the micro, and take kind of a holistic approach to tackling these discipleship areas based on the data that you’re receiving from Disciple Labs, or any other tool that can do something similar with spiritual health surveys, it really allows you to influence data like you never have before. It gives you this look of, yeah, it’s gonna be scary at first seeing what’s out there, and what people are actually struggling with, and how low their scores are going to be in certain areas, but then once you actually start being able to see changes happen inside of that data, because you knew about it and could make changes inside of the way that you’re doing ministry, it becomes really exciting at that point.

Scott Magdalein:  The thing I keep going back to is being able to have that honest, that honest look at the reality of where your church is spiritually is the biggest tool you need to be able to make good decisions as a leader. And without that data you can’t make informed good decisions to know where to lead your church. I mean, of course, there’s prayer and churches have been led without data, without good spiritual health data for centuries, but I do believe that data is gonna help pastors make better decisions. Along with prayer, and along with consulting scripture, and consulting the elders in their church, but data is gonna be able help inform those decisions big time.

Scott Magdalein:  We use data a ton at TrainedUp to help inform our decisions about how we make changes to our app, what features to add. We use data to make decisions about what kind of stuff we do in marketing. We use a ton of data on the marketing front to figure out how are we gonna make good decisions, so we can get in front of pastors, tell pastors about Trainedup, about Disciple Labs, so that they can make an informed decision about what they’re gonna do. If they’re gonna sign up or not gonna sign up, if they need the app or not. But we have a ton of data that we kind of collect. I say we, I really mean Kevin collects, and gives to me when I ask for it, but Kevin, can you tell, can you talk through some of the types of data that you use on the marketing front? And really the kind of data that also churches would be looking at, and need to know about when they’re looking at their own website’s effectiveness, and driving traffic and stuff?

Kevin Fontenot:  Yeah, absolutely. We’ve created kind of this dashboard of kind of marketing numbers, as well as setting goals for them. And so some of the things that we look for kind of more holistically, and there are other things that we dive deep into as well is one of the biggest things that we look for are unique visitors to our website, and that really tells us how many people are actually there. We don’t look at things like sessions, or page views because those can distort the overall reality. ‘Cause we see a really high number of page views, or a really high number of sessions and we get excited about that, instead of looking at the actual unique visitors or users if you’re using a tool like Google Analytics it’ll label it as users.

Kevin Fontenot:  And the cool thing about this is it really shows you how many people are engaging with your website. You may look and see that you’re a church of 150, but you have 1,000 people looking at your website each week. You have a lot of ability to influence those people, and get them connected in a real way. And some of the things that we measure inside of TrainedUp are related to what’s called a marketing funnel, and so we measure at three different stages of our marketing funnel, which is the top of funnel, the middle of funnel, and the bottom of funnel.

Kevin Fontenot:  The top of funnel are people that kind of know about us, but not really, they’re more interested in things that we have to say like our blog posts, stuff like that. Middle of funnel are people that are a little bit more aware of specifically having a volunteer training problem inside their churches, or looking for help with volunteer training. And our bottom of funnel are people that are actively looking for a solution to figure out how to influence this, and make it better inside their churches.

Kevin Fontenot:  We measure each of those three stages in our marketing numbers to see how many people are at each stage each month.  We’ll go through see how many people are in that top of funnel who have made a step that way, or in the middle of funnel who have made a step towards that, or the bottom of funnel, and this kind of tells us … It definitely influences the number of people that sign up at the end of the month, and our overall numbers that way, but it really just gives us a better view of things. If things are working right, or if things aren’t working right. Because if any of those numbers kind of dip unexpectedly, we can go in and make changes and make tweaks.

Kevin Fontenot:  And one of the biggest problems I see people make with marketing specifically, and engaging with marketing numbers, or really any type of data is that they wait too long to measure it. Because if we wait til the end of the month, the end of the quarter, the end of the year to kind of go in and see how things are going, that’s a lot of data to go through, and a lot of changes to go in and tackle, but if you’re constantly monitoring the data … I update some of our numbers every single day, just so I can see how we’re doing, if there spikes, or if there are downfalls in certain days because then we can go in and make changes based on that data, and I think that’s a really part of it.

Scott Magdalein:  Yeah, absolutely. And also … And Kevin, you kind of are hinting at this but the idea behind what numbers you track, what numbers you look at, it has to be related to what goals you have for your church, or for your business, or for whatever. For us our goal is to get people check out a demo of TrainedUp, or to look into TrainedUp as an option, so get them to that bottom of funnel to consider is TrainedUp a tool that they would like to use, or is Disciple Lab a tool that they think would be useful for them. And if we can get them to that point, then we can say we’re gonna do a good job. If they need our tool then they’ll sign up for our tool. If they don’t need our tool, that’s fine, they’re gonna go their way.

Scott Magdalein:  But there are metrics that we could be tracking more closely, but we don’t because it’s not relevant to our goals. You had mentioned we don’t really keep close track on sessions or page views. Number of people … I mean, we keep track of the number of people that hit our site, not so many, so much people who come back for a second or third time. And we also don’t really track number of pages that people have viewed because those aren’t directly related to getting people to that bottom of funnel, getting them to the point of checking out our tool. We also don’t track really closely what specific pages they track unless they, unless people are coming in and looking at our marketing site, and we’ve been doing a lot of work getting people at top of funnel, people who are interested in leadership things in church through search marketing, or not search marketing, but search optimization.

Scott Magdalein:  And so we have a good number of people coming in at that top of funnel looking at some of our high level content, and we know that that’s just really just an introduction to those people. That traffic coming into our high level content, our top of funnel content is really just for us to know that we’re going to be introducing our brand to them, starting to build trust with them. And so those numbers we work hard to differentiate between top of funnel traffic, and bottom of funnel traffic because the type of people that are at the top of funnel, and bottom of funnel. People who are just interested in general leadership stuff, versus people who are interested in a solution, those are very different types of people that are hitting our site.

Scott Magdalein:  When it comes to like a church, if somebody is coming to your church, let’s say you run a blog and you write about spiritual things. You write about reading your bible. Those people come in, they do a search, and they find your blog post about how to read your bible on a weekly basis. Those people are good, they’re having an interaction with your brand. You’re building trust with them as a church, but what you really want is … You want to be able to drive those people, push those people towards taking some kind of action, so getting in touch, making contact, submitting a prayer request on your website, maybe asking for directions, or planning their first visit, or maybe getting more information about a specific ministry, like a men’s ministry or a youth ministry.

Scott Magdalein:  Those kind of people, in the church world I would call those kind of people closer to a bottom of funnel, people who are starting to look into what your church has to offer that they might be interested in and being a part of, versus people who are just kind of browsing through and looking at information that you might have, or just curious about your church.

Kevin Fontenot:  Your website isn’t just there so that you can have an online presence. Your website has a job that it’s supposed to be doing. For most of the time, for all intents and purposes it’s to get people to come to your church. That’s the number one goal and the number one job that your website has to do. And so if you are looking at it, and one of the things that I do measure … It’s not something that we report on, but something I do measure are what pages are people viewing on our website. The reason for that is if we’re getting a lot of traffic to our blogs, and things like that, but if they aren’t looking at things like our features or our pricing for inside of TrainedUp, that tells me that we’re really not doing a good job of connecting what we’re talking about at the top funnel, with actually getting them to know what we’re doing inside of our software and our core business.

Kevin Fontenot:  That’s something I do track and that’s something that you guys should track as well. If you’re getting a lot of people that just viewing your Giving page, or your Connect Groups page, or something like that, and you’re not getting people looking at your New Here page, or your Staff page because those are going to be the pages that new people are going to check out on your church website. ‘Cause they’re gonna wanna know what’s going to happen when they show up the first time, and they’re gonna wanna know who are the people that are actually gonna be there leading the church that I may see preaching, or leading worship. And so those pages usually indicate whether or not you have new people looking at your website, or whether you have existing people. ‘Cause no new visitor is going to look at your Giving page. It’s just not going to happen.  But that’s the focus of a lot of our church websites because that’s where we want to make it kind of the focus of them. Instead we have to be really intentional about how we do our websites to really optimize for that end goal of what we want to do, and that’s getting new people inside of our doors on Sunday.

Scott Magdalein:  I mean, this topic of numbers and data and analytics is something that Kevin and I could talk about for days, and days, and days. There’s so much to discuss here. And whether it applies to business or to church data, it’s such a deep well of information and topics to discuss. We could keep going, but we want to keep our time here short today. We want to respect your time and give you just the information that you need. Kevin, is there a next step, talking about next steps and driving people to do something important, is there a next step think you think that would be relevant today?

Kevin Fontenot:  Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that we just launched this week, or a couple weeks ago when this podcast goes out is a free survey for Disciple Labs. Whether you are a paying customer of Disciple Labs or TrainedUp that doesn’t matter, we launched the survey for free. It’s something that your people can go in, and take that survey themselves to kind of help them. You can take it yourself to kind of see where you’re at spiritually. If you go to DiscipleLabs.com, you’ll see a link in the header for that free survey that you can take, and then just … The other thing is that I would love you guys to do this week is just engage with us.

Kevin Fontenot:  Go to DiscipleLabs.com, hit on chat there. If you have questions about church metrics, or analytics, or any of the things we talked about because I know we talked a lot about marketing, engagement data, and spiritual health data. But if you have any questions about that just go to DisipleLabs.com. Get in touch with us, and we’d love to talk through any of those questions that you have.

Scott Magdalein:  Well, that looks like it’s it for today’s Thriving Ministry Teams podcast. I hope you guys as you’re looking at your data, looking at your numbers, that you’re thinking in terms of goals what data is important. Consider, as church leaders consider diving into and pulling out important spiritual health data for your church and for your people. And if you have any questions, chat us on our website. We love talking with ministry teams, ministry leaders. You can chat us, if you’re interested in spiritual health, you can chat with Kevin on Disciple Labs website, DiscipleLabs.com. If you’re interested in being able to track, and keep track of your training in your church, and any kind of data related to training in your church, you can chat with us on TrainedUp.Church. We’d love to talk to you. We’d love to talk to ministry leaders. If you get a chance, leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts, and we will see you again next week.