Data is one of the most powerful tools the Church can use today. It can reveal insights, uncover trends, and help make better decisions. But how do you turn numbers into stories?
Joe Bedenbaugh, the Ministry Intelligence Director at Valley Creek Church, has been helping transform data points into opportunities for powerful connections, celebrating growth, and catching people before they slip through the cracks. In this episode of Moving Mountains, Joe joins Pushpay’s Pam Flannery to share his insights on how these strategies have worked for Valley Creek and provide practical advice that other churches can use in their own ministry efforts.
Numbers Are People
Before his time at Valley Creek Church, Joe worked at PWC, spending his days reviewing data and running test cases until God put it on his heart to leave. Before Valley Creek, ”numbers were numbers. [At PWC] if it was off by a dollar, it didn’t really matter because it was a dollar. When you look at test cases, one doesn’t make a difference in 10,000.”
But in October 2019, he joined the Valley Creek Church staff and now you’ll consistently hear Joe say: “Every number is a person, and numbers are people.” He reflects, “It’s been an awesome journey. I started as the data administrator” but now he serves as the Ministry Intelligence Director, where he “manages the data, but in a way that helps us to see our people.”
For Joe, seeing people looks like having names and photos for almost everyone who visits. “Just about every number that we produce, we have a name to go with it. We have a name for every person who attends a circle, a name for every person who serves, and who has gone through a class. All of that [data] goes together to create the narrative of the next steps that people are taking.”
Joe collects and combines data points to weave together a person’s story. He says
By finding the story behind the data at Valley Creek Church, Joe is supporting the ministry and “helping people take their next step on their journey with Jesus.” That’s why, for Joe, stories matter. “If we can’t see and understand and celebrate our people on their journey from lost to leader, then we kind of miss the point… If you don’t know your people, the stories, and the lives that are being changed, and you don’t have that sense of community, then you miss the point.”
Circles and Rows
Andy Stanley once said, “We don’t grow in rows, we grow in circles.” That saying rings true at Valley Creek. Joe describes the church’s intentionality towards their circles in a way that mirrors Jesus’ own ministry. “When we sat down and thought about it, we said ‘small groups isn’t the right name for us.’ When we thought about how Jesus operated, he had twelve, but then he had his three. He would pull his three off to the side and basically debrief them on what he just shared…They got deeper into the message. And that’s really what we wanted when we thought about our small group equivalent.”
At Valley Creek, Circles are a space to “talk about in the weekend message, and do a deep dive into that. We want to hear the heart behind that. We want to be able to digest and chew on that a little bit. That’s what our circles are. We engage in scriptures, we discuss the weekend message, and we pray together.” Their Circles have been instrumental in their movement of hope, and Joe shares that for their August-December Circle season in 2022, they “had 336 unique circles that met across north Texas and internationally and 2600 unique people.” Each person in a Circle likely had dozens or hundreds of data points in the Valley Creek system, and Valley Creek was able to use those insights to know who to encourage and celebrate along the way.
Creating A Movement
For Joe, people’s stories work together to make up a movement. He asks, “What is a movement? You can move in a bunch of different directions, but you’re not actually going to get anywhere. A movement requires unity. It requires sacrifice. It requires forgiveness. It requires love. It requires us all to come together to be able to actually walk forward together.”
Their movement pours out beyond the Valley Creek Church’s physical walls and into their local community. Their outreach project, called Serve The City, empowers 500-700 people to serve in the community. By drawing from one of the nine areas of life—business, healthcare, family, church, technology, sport, arts and media, and government—Valley Creek Church finds new needs to meet in their local community. Joe describes the projects, saying, “We don’t come up with it ourselves, it’s through conversation with our community, and we meet the need as we see it.”
One need they met included doing work to make a local school’s teachers’ lounge more welcoming. He recalls principals who filmed the reactions of teachers seeing the lounge for the first time end up visiting a campus. And he notes, “We have teachers who already attend Valley Creek Church and get to receive what we’re doing in the community and can share with their fellow teachers who Valley Creek Church is.”
Even though Joe says the Serve The City projects are” great for outreach,” that isn’t the why behind the service. Joe says, “We do it with no expectation of anything in return. We do it because that’s what we’re called to do. Jesus called us to serve others with no expectations in return. That’s the heartbeat behind it.”
Focusing On What Matters
Joe says, “We don’t want to be a church that has thousands and thousands of people. That’s not our focus. It’s about seeing people develop and seeing how they grow and being able to have that personal conversation and that personal touchpoint.”
The key to making a real impact in people’s lives is focusing on what truly matters: relationships. Whether you’re using data points like attendance, or talking over a cup of coffee after a weekend service, there are opportunities all around to be a part of your congregation’s story.
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