Last week we looked at lessons we've learned for helping connect people to groups. Once people are in groups, though, how do you pray for and shepherd them. We learned that an effective data capturing system can be used for attendance and much more.
Before we start, it's helpful to realize that there are different perspectives on taking attendance. Here are a few.
- Take attendance. This is the most common and widely accepted approach for churches that have building space to facilitate groups. It is also an expectation of many denominations.
- Track enrollment only. This approach tracks who is in what group and sometimes just who has expressed interest in a group. The value for these churches is that they don't have to worry about building an attendance system. They trust that their leaders know the people and are shepherding them.
- Track number of groups only. This approach is often used in very large and mega-churches that are overwhelmed with the task of connecting people. The focus here is often on reaching and developing leaders and then empowering them to build their group. The leadership development system in these churches can sometimes be really amazing.
Next week, I'm going to share some things we've learned about interpreting data to see the relative health of individuals as disciples, and groups as disciple-making environments. This is much more granular than how we historically viewed attendance which was often more about bragging rights and comparisons than shepherding specific groups and people.
Before that discussion, though, we need to talk about how to collect data. In decentralized and even centralized ministry these days, this isn't easy. There's an expectation that this should be done digitally. It can, but there's still essential work to do to get the system set up to consistently get good data. This is important, because, as we all know, the output of a system is only as good as the input. Here are some ideas to help you collect some really helpful data.
- Decide that knowing who shows up is important. Back in the day, this was assumed. But the entrepreneural drive of the small group movement of the last few decades put everything on the table. At one point I was convinced that attendance was a relic of the past too. Be sure to read next week's blog post to hear my argument for the importance of attendance as discipleship data.
- Make it easy for leaders. Many established churches have a records room that group leaders visit to get their paperwork before going to their classroom. This takes extra staff work for data entry the next day and is really not practical for groups meeting off-campus throughout the week. In today's world, this process has to be digital. However, we learned that if we require leaders or those in a group responsible for taking attendance or communicating with group members to download anything or create an account, we lost a healthy portion of them. So, we decided instead of having them come to us, we should go to them by simply emailing meeting report reminders. Everyone does email. One click from the custom link in the email on their phone or computer and they are in the software ready to take attendance and more. In the last decade everyone also does text, so we designed Text-to-Church so that by texting "Me" to the church office they get a link that takes them to their page in the database which has a link to their group and attendance / communication page.
- Make it useful for leaders. If leaders see attendance as a burden they have to do for church staff, adoption will be more difficult To help with this, train leaders that communication is the key to building group relationships and they should email everyone after every meeting. Show them how the meeting report reminders are designed to make it easy for them to communicate group details, socials, service opportunities, and prayer requests to everyone in the group - even those who aren't there. When they see that report reminder in their inbox, you want them to think, "oh yeah, I need to stay in touch with our group," not "oh no, I have to take attendance for the church."
- Make it important by adding accountability. That old saying is true that "people don't do what you expect, they do what you inspect." If a leader misses doing their meeting report one week and no one calls or checks in on them, it becomes easier for them to do the same thing the next week. In fact, if it happens a couple of weeks in a row, they will become convinced that no one really cares about it anyway. But, if a volunteer or staff person contacts them with questions and then completes the report for them; they quickly understand that this is important. We added 2nd and 3rd reminders for leaders to our system before notifying a coach or staff person that a report has not been received. This automates the whole accountability process elevating the perceived level of importance this data is to pastors and staff.
- Use the meeting reports to focus coaches and staff on prayer. Train coaches and staff to see the weekly meeting reports that come into their inbox each week as specific reminders to pray. It will change their prayer life for their groups and have an unbelievable impact on coaching or staff relationships with leaders. My favorite part of this exercise is listening to the Holy Spirit and being able to easily reply to an email to build into the life of a leader. I also forwarded emails to the leader's coach with mentoring tips for investing in this leader or their group.
A common push back to relying on data to determine group health is that it can sometimes be skewed and not represent reality. This is why consistency is critical, and the notes and prayer parts of the meeting reports are so important. These disciplines build relationships and invite the Holy Spirit into the group shepherding process.