Data is pretty useless unless you have some way to collect, store and keep track of it. You can take attendance every week, have detailed student profiles, but it is worthless if you have no way to easily view it or analyze it.
The first part of this process is collecting the data.
Attendance – Do you take attendance? It is vitally important to take note of who is there. This isn’t about numbers, its about individuals. Don’t just count and say, “We had 25 last night!” Who are those 25? Just as important, who wasn’t apart of that 25, who was missing? In a smaller setting, it is easy to see who was there. Just be sure to record that so you can remember it. Obviously, as you scale up in size, its harder to keep track. At that point, use some sort of sign in software to make things easier.
Personal – Hopefully your church or your ministry has this hard data. If you don’t, you need to collect it NOW! Every year I pass out a student profile form that asks for the basic info, plus info on their interests, hobbies, school activities, etc. Also, I have new visitors fill out an info card that gets me the basic stuff so I can contact them. Without this important data it is hard to keep track and contact your students.
Interests – It is not always easy to learn a student’s interests. If you walk up to a student and ask, “What are you interested in?” they will give you a 30 second blank stare, then stammer, “Uhhhh…stuff?” This requires you and your team to be observant. You can get some of this info from them, like sports or activities they participate in. You can also listen to what they talk about and what they post on Facebook. Maybe you notice they check-in on foursquare to the gym 3 times a week – now you know they work out. Or they talk about going to the skate park – they just might be a skater. When you see or hear these things, be sure to record them somewhere.
Family – Again, this is data that you develop over time. You can get the basic info up front, but seeing their family dynamic takes time, involvement, and observation. Sometimes, its even just a small comment that a parent or sibling will make that is a piece of the larger puzzle. But you need to be listening and observing.
Life – This type of data only comes as you really invest in a student. You’re not going to have a deep understanding of the kid who comes once a month and sits in the back. Any attempts to probe deeper (without a relationship first) will probably chase them away. But as you do life with students, you begin to get a feel for who they are, and that’s this life info. Once a student trusts you, they will begin to open up to you about these life issues. Don’t just let it pass in one ear and out the other.
Ok, you’ve collected the info. Now what? You can write all this stuff down on note cards or post it notes but if its not organized its less than worthless. You need a system.
For those on tight budgets, you can set up your own system that will work great. For many years, here is how I did it –
For starters, I put all the personal data in an excel sheet. It was easily viewable. I put all the info provided from the student profiles into a word document, and then linked that document to the excel sheet. That way, I could just click a link in Excel and be taken to the info. For attendance, I recorded it in the same excel file, just different sheets for each program. I’d have a list of students and would mark an x under the appropriate date. All of the deeper data (interests, family, life) would be recorded in the student’s word document. If you like to have the student profiles for you on the go, you can either sync it with google docs or use Evernote. I put all the profiles on evernote, so if I get an insight with a student on the go I can record it right there instead of hoping I don’t forget (which I usually would). You can even do computerized sign in for free using google docs. This system works, even thought it might be a little kludgy. Free is free, though, and if you don’t have a budget this would work.
After years of using that system, though, I am convinced that its worth the extra money to purchase a software solution. There are probably dozens of different church and youth group tracking options for you to chose from. You need to chose one that works for you. For my ministry, I’ve chosen Youthtracker.net. For $20 a month, I get a top notch database and tracking solution. Its all “on the cloud” so I can access it anywhere, my team can access it, and its highly customizable. This isn’t an ad for them (although If you want to send me some stuff guys I’d appreciate it!) its just what works for me. The biggest reason I chose youthtracker was the texting option. I can text my students from within the software and send out mass texts. It just works. I love it.
The important thing is to find a recording system that you can use and that you will use daily to record the data your students are giving you. In part 3, we’re going to talk about analyzing the data and using it for ministry.
DISCUSSION: What system do you use to track your data?