Making the Most of Your Church Database


You have access to so much attendee and guest data. The question is, are you using it well? This is a longer post than usual, but I want to help you understand HOW your church data can make a massive difference in discipleship growth. Click the link to access the full post. This may be something to bookmark for future reference, as well.

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This is a longer post than usual, but I want to help you understand HOW your church data can make a massive difference in discipleship growth. You might want to bookmark this for future reference.

Let’s get into the details…

You have access to so much attendee and guest data. The question is, are you using it well?

From Mass Marketing to Micro Targeting

This will make me sound old…but I remember when most people only had three television channels to watch. Can you imagine?! Some friends in my neighborhood had cable, but only a few. On December 2, 1983, several of us gathered at our cable friend’s house to watch the worldwide premier of the Michael Jackson Thriller music video. “I want my MTV.” And we watched plenty of commercials waiting for the video to start!

Back then, nearly all marketing was mass marketing. Television commercials and other forms of mass advertising were the only options. When a company mailed a catalog to your home, that exact same catalog was mass-produced and sent to every home. The cost to crank up printing presses was expensive enough. Nobody could afford to print custom catalogs. And how would you customize them, anyway? We didn’t have customer data. 

When I graduated with my marketing degree, I began working at a marketing fulfillment company, primarily in print. That job was short-lived, but while there, I saw one of the first evolutions of “print-on-demand,” a massive printer/copier that used customer data to custom imprint brochures or catalogs for individual customers based on buying patterns. This was really high-tech stuff!

Today, print-on-demand is nothing. When you get a catalog in the mail, it’s been custom designed specifically for you based on your previous purchases, website browsing patterns, items you’ve placed in a web-store shopping cart yet didn’t buy, and more. The best companies use data to target you with specific ads and opportunities. Your catalog is different from your neighbors, even though it came from the same company. 

With the data and technology we have today, every organization should think like a data company. Including your church. 

Micro Targeting at Church

The opportunity to think like a micro-marketer in our church holds massive opportunities for our congregation and community. Yes, growing generosity or volunteer teams benefit our church, but this is much more important than us. We are in the disciple-making business. And there’s no better way to support discipleship growth than knowing where people are in their faith journey, what steps they’ve already taken, and what options could be the best next step for them.

All of this is possible IF we have good, clean data.

Data helps churches:

  1. Make better decisions.
  2. Inspire better next steps.
  3. Offer programs or classes to support felt needs.
  4. Grow engagement.
  5. Communicate more clearly.

How To Become a Data-Driven Church

I assume you already have some data. You have data from children and student check-ins. You have data from group participation, volunteer teams, and giving. And you may have data from other sources.

The first step is to clean up the data. Most churches have a dirty database. It’s full of names, numbers, and emails since you planted the church! Regularly scrubbing your data is vital to using data well. Your first cleaning session is going to be taxing. Think of it like cleaning a teenager’s bedroom for the first time in a year (or a decade!). But once it’s cleaned, maintenance is much easier.

How to Clean Your Church Data

The simplest solution is to pick a date (I’d suggest one year) and move anyone who has not pinged your database since that time to “inactive.” You don’t necessarily have to delete them, but you need to remove them from showing as active. If they have yet to engage with you in any way in a year, they are not active!

Once you’ve cleaned your data for that first time, you now have a clear picture of your actual congregation. Now, you need to systematically commit to scrubbing your newly cleaned database, either monthly or quarterly, depending on how often you want to run reports or send segmented communications.

How to Use Your Church Data

Now that you have a clean database, we can do two specific and critical things to help us move people forward on their faith journey.

1. Inspiring Discipleship

When you know where people are, you can better inspire them to take their best next step. Just like a company knows what you like and uniquely feeds you recommendations, as a church, we can segment our communication and inspiration into categories of people. I say “categories” intentionally, as most churches don’t have the resources to fund a multi-member data analytics team! If you can track, encourage, and equip people at an individual level, go for it. If that’s daunting, use categories instead.

For example, consider how you can categorically communicate with your congregation about serving.

  • Option 1: Send an email to your entire church about serving, using the same language and call to action for everyone. Or,
  • Option 2: Segment your congregation using your data to be more targeted in your email campaign language and action step. HINT: This is MUCH better!

For Option 2, you may want to send a targeted email to:

  1. All parents who are not currently serving.
  2. People who are in community groups but not serving.
  3. People who give but do not serve.
  4. People who previously served.
  5. Everyone else not serving and not listed in the above segments.

* Segmentation requires you to purge each list as you go. We don’t want people getting multiple emails to serve. 

When you segment, you can customize your message. For “parents who are not serving,” you can talk specifically about the impact kid’s ministry has on the community, knowing they have experienced that in their child’s life. For “people who give but don’t serve,” you can speak to (and thank them for) their desire to invest in others through generosity before asking them to consider investing their time. For “people who previously served,” you can thank them for their contributions and announce some new, lower-commitment opportunities.

Segmenting your general population keeps you from sending general information. The more targeted your information is, the greater the inspiration will be.

If you’re thinking ahead, you’ve probably noted that this can be done for nearly every type of participation. You can segment your giving communications and group participation. The possibilities are endless if you have good data.

In my Funding Funnel that Funds Your Church Masterclasses and Course, we talk a lot about segmentation. I even provide a year-end segmentation approach with seven unique emails. If that’s helpful for you, check it out.

Let’s take it up a notch!

Not only can you segment your overall population, but with good data, you can also nurture connections and participation as new data emerges. For instance, when a person gives to your church for the first time, this data moment can trigger a thank you note or an email nurture sequence. Again, the possibilities are endless, but it begins with good data.

2. Monitor Progress

I know you have metrics or a dashboard at your church. Most churches do, and most of these dashboards tell us what happened through lag metrics.

How many people attendED, how much money was givEN, and how many people servED are all important, but they are historical, not predictive. These metrics let us know how we did but not how we are doing.

With good data, we can now begin analyzing percent change over time (Current month vs. the same month last year, This quarter vs. the same quarter last year, and Rolling 12-month averages vs. the previous year rolling 12). With good data, we can evaluate more than history; we can evaluate steps and trends.

Steps and trends are better indicators of movement. Since faith growth is about movement, these metrics are essential to our mission.

Let me show you how this can work. Let’s look at giving this time. With good data, we can now evaluate the following:

  • Percentage of our active database giving to our church.
  • Percentage of households not giving, giving regularly, or giving extravagantly. In my Funding Funnel system, we use five categories of givers. 
  • Total giving growth.
  • Average gift size.
  • First-, Second, and Fouth-time givers (for Thank You system triggers).
  • New Recurring Givers.
  • Recurring Givers dropping off.

Now, let’s not go crazy. The above might be a tad much. We only want to measure actionable data. Metrics that are interesting but not actionable are not helpful. But steps and trends are immensely valuable, especially compared to lag metrics.

How to Get Started

Just start. That’s my best recommendation. As I mentioned, cleaning your data is the first step to being a data organization.

If you need help or want to consider how to best use your data, I offer coaching, masterclasses, and courses on church funding and models. I’d love to help you better understand what data is available and how you can use it to inspire discipleship. After all, that’s why your church exists.