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The Next Landscape Shifting Movement in Churches


If you could identify every single person in your community who would respond favorably to an invitation to your church, would you? Now you can. If you could identify every single person in your community who would respond favorably to an invitation to your church, would you? Now you can.

We live in a time when the question is no longer if you can access this information, but what your church will do with it. “Big data” makes all of this possible.

Target Market

Big data allows retailers like Target to surface pregnant mothers before they register for gifts.


Target collects data on the women who sign up for their baby registry. They analyze their spending habits over the course of their pregnancies and have learned that women who are pregnant will buy vitamins and supplements in their first trimester, unscented lotions and soaps in the second, and in their third they buy washcloths, cotton balls and hand sanitizer. Looking at the same spending habits over a similar time frame, Target can predict with 87% accuracy that a woman is pregnant, along with her due date. That’s the power of linking data.

This enables Target to send the right message at the right time to the right person to nudge them in a certain direction.

Where Does Big Data Come From?

Every activity leaves a digital footprint. This results in 3,000 to 5,000 pieces of information collected on nearly every person in America.  Motherboard magazine (January 2017) explained it like this; “Every purchase we make with our cards, every search we type into Google, every movement we make when our mobile phone is in our pocket, every ‘like’ [on Facebook] is stored. Especially every ‘like.’”

With a ten “likes,” Facebook knows you better that your work colleagues. Seventy “likes” outdo what a person’s friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 “likes” what their partner knew.

These “likes,” along with other information Facebook gathers, form a psychographic profile known as an OCEAN score. OCEAN is as an acronym that stands for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. (To find a general idea of your OCEAN score, go to https://applymagicsauce.com/ and see what Facebook knows about you by looking at less than 30 of your “likes.”)

What is this data worth? Google and Facebook expect to sell this information for $116 billion this year.

Predictive Analytics
Big data is valueless without insights. When analytics are applied, we can predict the likelihood of future behaviors. Analytics makes predictions about what people will do in the future, based on what others have done in the past. Think of it like this: If we know that a group of people are currently engaged in an activity we call “A,” and the data tells us they have also done “B”, “C”, “D” and “E” in the past, then based on that information, we can predict that a person who is currently doing “B”, “C”, “D” and “E” now, will do “A” in the future. The accuracy of predictive analytics gets stronger and better based on data that learns over time.

Just using Facebook targeting you are only getting half the picture.

Precision Targeting

Profiles are now developed with churches in mind and who will respond favorably. It is now possible to send the right message to the right person, at the exact right time. Imagine the potential for growth if your church had the names and addresses of all the people in your community who had recently searched for churches online.

A relationships message series and could find the people in the neighborhoods surrounding your church based on the current climate of their marriage. You can create different ad messages for the same series with targeted messages to each person.

Some get a digital ad that stresses making marriage stronger. Others on how to save their relationship from being a bust. The church can alter the focus of the outreach to each person based on their needs.

Precision targeting is sending the right message to the right person at the right time. The benefit of data for your church is great, but requires bold steps.

Big Data Collaborative

In January 2017, 40 pastors and leaders from 16 churches met to preview this thinking.A collaborative resulted in the launch of the “Engagement Accelerator: Big Data, Predictive Analytics & Precision Targeting”—an 18-month discovery group, where the 11 participating churches started to mine data and pull out information specific to the heart and mission of each church to see how they can use it.

This includes the church’s internal data and maps against community data. It can be used for outreach, discipleship, volunteer and leader development and many other facets of a church’s work.

The potential is great. “For the last year I have felt like we needed to be doing something with our data and not just sitting on it,” explained Lauren Wright from Northview Church in Carmel, Indiana. “Churches spend a lot of money mass producing mailers. If you could pick your demographic and break it down and do five versions of a mailer to promote the same series, it would be much more effective.”

That becomes very relevant with digital outreach.

Preliminary Results

One church in Phoenix used these techniques for a six-week series on healthy marriage. Their attendance grew from a weekly average of 544 to 703, and has remained there since the series ended. Another used the targeting to launch a new multi-site campus. They expected between 200 to 300 to attend their opening but had 1,200 people. In Ohio, a church promoted its series on relationships and had 80 families visit the church for the first time and 50 families who had been absent for at least two months to reengage with the church.

That’s Crazy

Innovation is often met with the response, “That’s crazy!” Any innovative idea will be met with opposition.

But if your marketing could be four times more effective, would you want to try? We are planning for a new group of churches to engage with the data and ideas:

Engagement Accelerator—An Opportunity for the Few

In April 2018 Leadership Network will be launching our first Engagement Accelerator. The Accelerator will be led by Eric Swanson and Matt Engel. Eric has led several Leadership Network missional cohorts over the past 15 years, and Matt is considered the stand-alone expert in using data to advance God’s kingdom. His team’s data work at Arizona State resulted in a 30% positive swing in reducing dropouts and increasing enrollment over a five-year period.

The Accelerator experience will include:

Three 3-day gatherings over a one-year period
Online “sprint” sessions every six weeks where we will report out on what we got done and what we will do
Monthly access to “office hours” where you can schedule time with Eric, Matt and various data / marketing experts

The results you can expect will be a product of the team you bring and the effort you put into this.

If you long for a greater missional and kingdom impact the Engagement Accelerator may be something you may want to invest in.

Learn More

To learn more about big data, predictive analytics, precision targeting, and what all of this means for churches like yours, join us for our free webinar entitled Big Data and the Future of Your Church.  Matt Engel and Eric Swanson will be sharing about what churches are doing to leverage data to attract, get, keep, grow, and multiply disciples more effectively. This webinar takes place Wednesday, December 13th at 12 PM Central.

To register, click on the banner below.

Jenni Keller is a writer and seminary student with a passion for God’s Word and helping others connect with their passion for His Word, too. She has authored three Bible studies and writes church small group curriculum. Learn more at jennikeller.me.

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