Assumptions Lead You Down The Wrong Path

Blind AssumptionsThis weekend I was listening to a book on economics because I’m a complete dork and that type of stuff interests me.  One of the lines that stuck out to me was a truism of statistics that the author quoted, “Correlation does not equal Causality.”  In other words, just because two things seem connected doesn’t mean that one caused the other.  Don’t worry, that’s the last of the economics talk.

Today, I was catching up on some church marketing reading and came across Todd Henry’s article at Church Marketing Sucks, “Eliminating False Assumptions“.  He was writing about the same type of thing.  In his article he writes about how we need to be careful not let assumptions control what we do, but rather examine what is really happening and challenge those assumptions.

Todd tells a great story that is a perfect example of a false assumption.  In the story, his son was afraid of fireworks because of a past experience he had with fireworks which led to a false assumption of a “supposed” effect of fireworks.  I’d love to recount the story here, but I don’t want to steal Todd’s thunder.  You can read the whole story here.

False assumptions in the church:
Church marketing is very susceptible to false assumptions.  The church has an event and the next week attendance is up; so, the assumption is made that the event led to the increase in attendance and therefore the church should have more events.  However, without having more details, the church doesn’t really know whether the event led to higher attendance or if the following Sunday just happened to have higher attendance.  Or perhaps the church sent out a mailing and did a bunch of promotion for the event which raised awareness of the church in general and let to higher attendance.  In that case it may not have been the actual event, but rather the mailing and other promotion that was done.

One of the churches big weaknesses:
Most churches have lots of ideas and lots of programs, but very few collect data about the effects of those ideas and programs, or if they do, they don’t really analyze the data to learn what’s working and what isn’t.  In other words, most churches blindly make decisions and then don’t follow up after the decision is implemented to see if it really worked.

An interesting exception to this weakness was Willow Creek and their Reveal survey.  If you aren’t familiar with Willow Creek’s Reveal survey, they did a comprehensive survey a few years ago and discovered that many of the ministry efforts and strategies they were using were not working the way they thought they were.  You can read more about the Reveal survey here.  Regardless of your opinion of Willow Creek or what they found in the Reveal survey, the fact remains that they took the bold step to question their assumptions and find out what was really going on with the programs in their church, something I think more churches should emulate.

In just about everything in life, if you want to succeed at it, you have to set clear goals, develop a plan to reach those goals, and then track certain information to see if the plan is working to help you reach the goal.  This is true of weight loss, business sales, financial planning, and even things as mundane maintaining your lawn.  It is also true in church programs and church marketing.

The solution:
The solution isn’t a secret.  We, in the church, need to make a point of setting clear goals for what we do (including our marketing efforts) and then track whether our plans work to succeed in those goals.  One of the problems is that the work that needs to be done in order to do that is neither exciting or glamorous.  The reason we don’t do it is that no one really wants to.  So, we have to either get over that or find a member of the church who really likes tracking statistics (they do exist).  The other problem may be that we are unsure what/how to do it.  Maybe that’s a subject for another article ;).

Photo by: left-hand

What do you think?

Do you think churches often just make assumptions and guesses about their church marketing and other programs?

Do you have any examples of a church challenging assumptions and actually researching to find out what is really going on?

How do you think the church can do a better job of learning what works and what does not?

About the author

Kurt Steinbrueck

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