Have you ever heard the saying “Junk In, Junk Out”? If this saying applies to anything, it applies to data and databases.
Output from congregational databases can include membership numbers, small group members, contacts and mailing lists, financial reports, and people outside your church whom you have touched in some way. How you collect and store your data will have a direct impact on the information you draw from your database.
Whether your database type is a flat file (column/row based), relational database (table based), or hierarchical database (tree-model), it is imperative that your database has the following qualities:
Data Issues—The Actual Information You Store
Make certain all of the information is in your database. Don’t skip over anything. Check all of the boxes. Search out the information if you don’t have it available at the moment.
Keep your database updated. Update new and/or changed information as expeditiously as possible.
Double check your entries—triple check, if needed. Perform audits of your data, and look for errors and omissions.
Be consistent in how data is entered. This includes use of abbreviations, capitalization, punctuation, and definitions of fields.
Usage Issues—How You Use the Information You Store
Your database has to be usable to be of any value. If it does not work for you, it is of no value. If it’s not accessible, it is of no value. If you don’t understand how to use it, it is of no value to you! Provide the church staff and volunteers responsible for using it with training to help insure your database—and the information in it—is utilized to its fullest potential.
Your database can only be a great tool if it provides what you need when you need it. The information in your database needs to be available whenever and wherever you are when you will want to access it. Also, modifications to your database should be simple to implement so that you can easily respond to any new needs, programs, or groups within the congregation in a timely manner. (Product plug: A web-based program like Church360° Members from CTS gives you access to your information any where, any time.)
Those who use the information in your database rely on it for decision-making purposes as well as for communication with your members and others. Be able to speak to the information you are providing in a clear and understandable manner. Don’t make it a black box issue.
More to Think About
- One central database versus a departmentalized system of databases is definitely the way to go. Trying to keep information updated and consistent across several systems can be a nightmare.
- I recommend having one person responsible for the input. The same can be said for pulling information or mailing lists. Having one person responsible helps with the consistency and validity of the information being provided. If you cannot have one person responsible, develop standards for the data entry and output.
- “Junk In, Junk Out” cannot be more true than when speaking of a database. Poor data entry can actually take away from what you are trying to accomplish, whether it is reporting or communicating. Incorrect numbers or misspelt names can negatively impact your mission.
Perhaps the most important aspect of keeping and storing information in a database is determining what that information should be. The key to the determining this is asking the question, “Does this information support my congregation’s mission?”
Keeping that question in mind, don’t just look internally at your membership’s and your church workers’ statistics, but also look externally at those outside your church so that you can carry your mission outward into the community! The completeness of your database does not lie within your church’s walls, just as Jesus’s message of salvation is not solely for those within your church’s walls.
Considering moving your data into church management software? Make sure the software you choose is the right solution for your church by asking the right questions! Click below to download our free ebook, “106 Questions to Ask When Buying Church Management Software.”