A little point of order that’s always a good exhortation:
Many college ministers have to (and get to!) deal with data in some form. This may be information overseers require – basics like number of spiritual conversations, head counts at events, new participants, etc. It’s clear those measures are useful, so they’re also used for supporters as well as internally, when college ministry staffs want to evaluate their efforts.
But when we’re dealing with ministry data, I’d offer a couple of pushes. (And maybe I can write on this at greater length soon.):
- Data can show you a lot, if you’re willing to dig. I’d encourage you to consider going beyond the measures above, looking more deeply at the numbers that make up your ministry. Some things are easier to count – small group sizes, for instance – and other things are harder but possible – like “regulars” last year who have stuck around this year. But if you’re willing to dive in – both in what you collect and how you examine it – you could find spots of weakness, spots of strength, and also valuable points of emphasis… it’s much easier to argue a need for greater outreach if you can say, “Only 12% of our students shared with someone about Jesus last semester.”
- Good data comes from careful examination. All sorts of errors can creep in even when we’re motive-free – and often a minister hopes the data will confirm what he already suspects. So getting this right requires all sorts of controls (double-checking, going at questions in a variety of ways, etc.), understanding about stats (like knowing that correlation doesn’t imply causation), and so on. Some information is more straightforward than others, but it’s vital we’re always asking ourselves, “Is this really as straightforward as I think it is?”
I know this is headier (nerdier) stuff. But it’s important, and it could provide a lot of value for your ministry.
And here’s some good news about gaining a lot of insight AND getting it right: You likely have students who could do this really well, serving alongside you in mining your ministry’s data. They’re being trained to do it right now in the classroom – better than you probably ever have been. Accounting majors, Psychology/Sociology majors, Econ majors, Statistics majors (of course), Marketing majors, and others likely have a lot to offer here. And a team of such people could build something awesome… and accurate!