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Did You Know: Data-Driven?

Posted: February 2 2017 at 12:00 AM
Author: Arlene Christopherson, Assistant to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries

Driving to a meeting one morning through storms and rush hour traffic, I realized how dependent I have become on my google maps app. I was going through an area on the south side of Chicago where I grew up. I know the streets, the traffic flow and short-cuts. Couldn’t I make better decisions about the right route than my app? What my app and I didn’t know was that there was a detour that would take me down a couple miles of surface roads where a freeway ramp was under construction. I tried, I failed and was 15 minutes late to my meeting.

It turns out that the data the Google Maps app provides is better than my years of experience and exposure to Chicago traffic and roads. Yet, that information alone wasn’t enough. I also needed the narrative that would help me know current conditions for the road ahead. So now I’ve learned. Trust the data but also be aware of the story, nothing can beat the real-time knowledge of GPS and on-the-ground information.

When the Northern Illinois Conference Cabinet was at a general church gathering for denominational leaders in early November one focus was on data and how we can use our information to make well informed decisions. Our cabinet covenanted to do just that. Mine the resources at our fingertips to educate ourselves on our communities and the history of our congregations as we are working within each of our areas.

Data comes from a variety of sources within and outside the church. We tap into census data when we want to learn about a community’s demographics. Our Director of Congregational Development and Redevelopment – Rev. Martin Lee has some amazing tools for this work that he is eager to share with clergy and local congregations. When making appointments, the cabinet often looks to the District Superintendents experience of the local church and the narrative of the congregation submitted by the Staff Parish Relations Committee each fall.

But there is another source that gives us a data-driven picture as we also review a local church’s membership growth and financial life through 10 year statistical reports. If you want to see this data for your congregation you can go to Select the church button and enter the name and location of your congregation. You will be able to see membership, worship attendance, budget, finances, apportionment payments, clergy history and more all for the past 10 years.

Where does all this information at come from? It comes from the annual statistical reports every church is expected to submit to the annual conference by the end of February.

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During a recent meeting of lay and clergy leaders from across the Northern Illinois Conference, a comment was made about the dreaded annual United Methodist “statistical reports”. It was hard for those in the room to understand their purpose and they wondered aloud if anyone ever looks at their work.

Much like an annual tax return, each year in January, pastors are responsible for filling out statistical tables. The tables come to us from the general church. All 35,000 congregations in the UM connection fill out the same table. These statistics are used in a myriad of ways within our conference, the general church and outside the denomination to tell, in part, the story of our work.

Check out the tools that help us to be data driven and support your pastor and church leaders as they tackle the task of statistical reporting so we can continue to work with facts, as well as stories, as we seek to serve the church.

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