More than a number: How Shepherd uses data to identify needs and shape ministry

Good stewardship is an obligation in ministry, and a key part of stewardship is understanding when and where to invest resources effectively and efficiently.

That’s where collecting and analyzing data comes in.

Data in ministry? Isn’t data analysis something that business and governments do? Aren’t decisions in ministry driven by spiritual discernment rather than hard numbers?

Well, remember that the fourth book of the Bible – which happens to be called “Numbers” – begins with God telling Moses to take a census of the people.

 In other words, God said: Collect the data.

“Being a good steward isn’t just about sticking to a budget,” Bekah Kidd, chief program officer at Shepherd Community Center, said. “It is about taking the talent of our staff and applying it in the best way.  Data helps ensure we focus on the right areas and make changes when needed.”

Kidd said ministry leaders at Shepherd use data to measure how they’re progressing toward goals during a program cycle. Adjustments are made based on what the data indicates.

“One such time, we identified that our middle school and high school students were experiencing low grades,” Kidd said. “The team met and identified six main contributing factors, and then identified the causes behind those factors. A plan was put in place to help overcome the challenges and better serve the students.”

Kidd noted that Shepherd’s leaders also use data to identify neighbors’ most pressing needs and to determine whether those needs are best met through the ministry’s core programs or by partnering with other organizations.

“We use partners who have the resources and focus to meet needs better than we can,” Kidd said. “In this way, we are being both data driven and good stewards.”

Along with the need to collect data comes the obligation to safeguard information to protect the privacy of neighbors, donors and staff.  Certain information must be kept confidential by law.  Other personal information such as photographs or testimonies isn’t shared without permission. 

“We work hard to ensure we have high quality cyber-security and resolve any problems we encounter as quickly as we can,” Kidd said. “Privacy is extremely important to all staff and is a consistent part of data sharing discussions.”

Kidd said she understands that data collection and reporting – another day, another spreadsheet – can be frustrating.  Few people would list counting noses as one of their spiritual gifts.

But she said the importance of being a data-informed ministry shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Data is used in a variety of ways and is a tangible path to communicate the amazing work staff does,” Kidd said. “So, while it may not be glamorous at times, we value data because it demonstrates the value of the work this team does. It also does help us be good stewards by identifying what is working and what is not. As we move to improve our collection and tracking of data, we are going to be a better organization.”