My friend Ed Stetzer often says, “Facts are our friends,” when encouraging leaders to learn from important research. He is right. Wise leaders don’t ignore facts. They understand reality and offer hope and mission in the midst of that reality. Data should be a friend of ministry leaders. As examples: Data about the number of people attending a worship service helps leaders know if and when to launch a new one. Data about what areas in a city or region are growing in population can give insight on where to launch a new church. Data about giving trends can help ministry leaders budget wisely. Data about facility usage and growth can help leaders plan their facilities. (An example is this helpful calculator from Visioneering Studios, which I shared about yesterday.). Facts are indeed our friends if we will let them be.
Data is a great friend, but a horrible god. Facts should be our friend but never our King. When we make data our King, we are enslaved to something that will never satisfy us and to something that is never satisfied. There will always be more data. We know this because we preach it, but data can be a drug that promises leaders life but fails to deliver. Jesus is the King above all kings, and only Jesus brings real life. But how do you know if data has moved from being your friend to being your King? Here are three indicators:
1. Identity is misplaced.
When data becomes the god of a ministry leader, the leader finds worth and identity in the data. The leader lives for the number. If the data is good, then the leader feels great and believes the Lord is pleased. If the data does not meet expectations, then the leader feels as if the Lord is not happy. But this is so off. The Lord is pleased with us because Christ lives in us. The Lord is pleased when we walk with Him, not when we find our worth in how good a spreadsheet looks in a meeting.
2. Decisions are made only by sight.
Data should inform our decisions as ministry leaders but data should not be the ultimate authority in our decisions. The Spirit of the Lord must be. We walk by faith not by sight. We are wise to let data inform us but we must be careful to not walk by data instead of walking by faith. The Spirit must prompt the decisions we make.
3. The overarching story is the number.
A good indication that data has moved from friend to King is when all of the stories leaders share are grounded in numbers. Yes, leaders must point to the goodness and grandness of what the Lord is doing and numbers can help capture that, but the overarching story must be deeper than a number. Data must not be our leading story.