Church Generosity Mistakes: Ignoring Your Data

Generosity // June 26, 2019

As a church leader, you wear a number of hats. On any given day, you’re a counselor, administrator, teacher, mediator, and—depending on the size of your ministry—all the “chiefs”: financial officer, marketing officer, operations officer, information officer.

Unfortunately, seminary rarely prepares pastors to fill those roles—particularly the business-y ones. Who has time to learn how to  be a CEO when you’re busy trying to translate Romans from the original Greek? It’s a bit overwhelming, isn’t it?

Today, I want to help you navigate one of the most neglected senior leadership functions in the church: data analysis. Now, bear with me. I’m a confessed data nerd—one of those weird guys who thinks tracking statistics and studying trends is both wise and… fun. Yes, fun. By the end of this post, I think you’ll agree with me. (On the wise part at least.)

First, Let’s Talk About Golf

Golf is a stellar example of how useful statistics can be. As you play the game and keep score, over time you can see your scores improve… or not. But what does your score really tell you about your game? Obviously, it’s in indicator of your ability compared to par and compared to other golfers. But it doesn’t reveal your strengths, weaknesses, and things to work on during practice time. To know those things, you must track a lot of detail in your game:

  • Number of fairways hit
  • Tendencies from the tee box—direction of the ball when you miss the fairway
  • Greens in regulation
  • Number of putts per round
  • Total putting distance per round
  • Distances each club advances the ball
  • Percentage of sand saves
  • Scoring tendencies on par 3s, 4s, 5s

If you watch any golf on television, the level of statistical analysis they can provide the viewer is mind-boggling. Those guys aren’t just nerding out. Every bit of data is vital to helping the player understand what they should be working on to improve their score. 

For example, If my putts-per-round is high (meaning I’m not a very good putter), but I spend all my practice time swinging drivers instead of practicing my putting, my score is unlikely to reach the level it could if I were practicing the right thing. 

Applying Statistics to Ministry

In the church and nonprofit worlds, most of us are great at tracking the “score”: 

  • Total giving
  • Giving this year compared to last year
  • Offering last week, last month, and year-to-date
  • Budget and performance to budget

That’s about as deep as we go. But without further analysis, it’s going to be quite difficult to improve your “score.” So what should you be tracking on a regular basis?

  • Total ministry giving, by calendar year and by a trailing 12-month view, compared to the previous three years
  • Total number of givers
  • Number of givers over and under $500 annually ($1000  annually for larger churches) and the total amount given by those families
  • Average annual giving per family
  • Giving band analysis, which is the number of givers and total given by people, in giving ranges of:
    • $50,000 or more
    • $25,000 – $49,999
    • $10,000 – $24,999
    • $5,000 – $9,999
    • $1,000 – $5,000
    • $500 – $1,000
  • Number of new givers, and the total amount given by this group
  • Number of lapsed givers (people who used to give but haven’t in more than a year), and the total amount lost in this group
  • Net of new givers minus lapsed givers, and the net total amount gained (or lost)
  • Giving concentration
    • The amount given by the top 1% of your givers, and the percentage of total giving this group represents
    • The amount given by the top 10% of your givers, and the percentage of total giving this group represents
    • The amount given by the top 20% of your givers, and the percentage of total giving this group represents
  • Giving retention (the percentage of giving retained from one year to the next by your top 25, 50, 100, etc. annually)

How to Use Church Data

Knowing your statistics is one thing. Knowing and implementing strategies to affect them is quite another.  There are three things to consider related to your data:

  1. What does the data tell us?
  2. What does the data mean to us?
  3. What should we be doing based on what we see in the data?

We’ve been coaching churches in this arena for years now, and the data helps us guide church decisions and action steps. How do we know if the strategies are working? Simple: The outcomes will be reflected in the data going forward!

Let’s go  back to golf for an example. If my putting stats are below par (forgive the pun), and I choose to work diligently on the practice green to improve my putting, how will I know if it’s working? Simple: Tracking my putting stats going forward, and comparing them to my previous averages, will help me see whether or not the practice is paying off. And it helps me know how much more work I have to do.

It’s the same for the church. For example, if the number of new givers you onboard annually is low, let’s focus on strategies to change that—and then watch those statistics to see if the implementation is creating the change we desire. If we want to address the percentage of givers below $500/annually, let’s focus on strategies to change that and then, say it with me now, watch those numbers to see if the implementation is creating the change we desire. 

Giving Data in the Real World

Can numbers really give us such important insights? Absolutely.

Recently, I worked with a church that had a staff member leave with only two weeks’ notice. When I suggested leadership check his giving data, they discovered he’d stopped giving six months earlier. He knew at that time he was leaving—it was in the data. If only someone had been watching!

Here are other examples from a current client:

  • This church dropped one of their Sunday morning services. Attendance at other service times has not increased… and neither has attendance at their second site. Where have those people gone? Are they leaving? 
  • The Senior Pastor just announced his resignation to join a non-profit ministry. Giving is always impacted during senior leader transitions—especially when they are sudden. Are people staying or leaving?

In both instances, giver data will give insight into what people are doing next.

Church Data is Important, But Who Has the Time?

Regardless of how important and insightful all this data is, it’s still true that it takes time to pull reports and monitor them. 

I have great news: We have a tool that will do it for you! Church Analytics takes data from your current Church Management System (ChMS) and creates reports that track all of the metrics mentioned above and more. Reports are downloadable in PDF format, which means you’ll look like a rock star going into your next finance meeting. All tables are exportable to Excel for further data manipulation and custom reporting. I simply can’t imagine running a church without access to this level of data. 

Let’s get you set up for a demo of what the Church Analytics platform can do. Once you see it in action, you’ll want to get your data connected so you can monitor things regularly and easily. If you desire, we can set up a coaching arrangement to walk you through what strategies to use based on what we see in the data—but there is no obligation to take that step. 

I’ve been coaching a pastor through this very process recently, and at the end of their fiscal year, I received a note from him proclaiming a huge win. They had ended the year with a giving surplus of $140,000, compared to what had been a projected deficit of $150,000 – $200,000. That’s roughly a $300,000 swing to the positive!  We’ve seen an improvement in a number of the areas we’ve focused on, and the church is more healthy financially today than they have been in years. And it all started with an understanding of their giving statistics.

Get Your Free Demo of Church Analytics

If Church Analytics seems too good to be true, I invite you to take a test drive—for free and with no obligation. Drop me a note to get started today.

Are you making any of these other classic generosity mistakes?


About Kelley Hartnett

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