Sunday Attendance Grows by 23% After Churches Use Donor-Provided Data Tool


"How are we doing church to reach the generation today?”

This was the central question posed by Evangelical and Protestant church leaders during a cutting-edge 18-month experiment organized by the Culture of Freedom Initiative through Leadership Network. 

Over the experiment, participating churches produced an average 23 percent boost in weekly membership and 28 percent increase in collections across our Jacksonville, Dayton, and Phoenix test markets.

The discussions centered around helping churches leverage “Big Data” through a groundbreaking data insights tool developed in a partnership with initiative funders and a mission-aligned software firm to boost millennial church membership and expand marriage ministries. 

Utilizing advanced analytics and modeling, the data insights tool allowed pastors and church leadership to uncover previously unknown ministry needs and challenges both within their community and congregation.

For example, those in the community who fit a predictive model of a non-active church member with a proclivity to attend a house of worship received tailored messages to attract their participation. In many cases, churches were able to get a foot in the door by inviting prospective members to participate in ministries around specific topics informed by the data.

They created a series of ministry activities and messages for specific segments such as:

  • Unaffiliated millennials struggling with debt
  • Couples likely to be experiencing marital difficulties
  • Those experiencing the normal challenges of parenting young children
  • Individuals emotionally open to an invitation to church but who currently are inactive


A mainline denomination church in the Lutheran community showed the following progress:

April 2016 Average Weekly Attendance

April 2018 Average Weekly Attendance

Percent Gain

April 2016 Average Weekly Giving

April 2018 Average Weekly Giving

Percent Gain 

9551,154 20.8% $30,584 $37,586 22.9%

Overall, the below table summarizes the gains of the full 18-month experiment, which began in November 2016. Because church attendance and giving are highly susceptible to seasonal changes, we benchmarked the growth from April 2018 with April 2016.

 April 2016 Average Weekend AttendanceApril 2018 Average Weekend AttendanceApril 2016 Average Weekly GivingApril 2018 Average Weekly Giving
33 Churches in 18-month experiment43,99654,0151,365,0691,746,448
% Increase April 2016-April 2018



22.77% 27.94%


Pastor Reactions to Data Insights Platform:

“I have learned so much about Big Data and how to use it to engage people in our community who aren’t connected to a church. We have spent hours piloting new methods of advertising and it worked! I’ve built connections with other church leaders.”
"[It] led us to become a data driven church for the sake of the lost. We are passionate about discipling God's people. We want to meet them where they are at around their felt needs. The Accelerator sent us down this path. Thank you."
“It was wonderful to collaborate with other church leaders who are thinking about the future of the church and innovative ways to connect with the developing culture. Getting to experiment with targeted Facebook advertising was especially valuable and created some new connections with people in our community. Learning from experts who devote their time and lives to understanding data and the next generation was tremendously valuable.”
“It was a chance to approach the challenges of ministry in a new way. The collaboration with other churches and even our team was innovative to me and it definitely helped us grow.”
“The chance to be equipped with tools to reach people who would never come to our church using Big Data and other resources we would also never be able to afford—thank you team, donors, and leaders! What a gift!”

The leadership from 33 pioneering Evangelical and mainline Protestant churches gather for a series of strategy sessions facilitated by the Leadership Network to develop membership growth strategies. Funded by the Culture of Freedom Initiative, these strategy sessions centered on how to leverage a new "Big Data" insights and marketing platform to increase millennial engagement in church activities.





Why it matters

Churches today are facing a dramatic rise of the “nones” – or people who do not belong to any organized faith. According to Pew Research, they represent the fastest growing “religious” group in America, making up roughly 23% of the U.S. adult population – up from 16% a decade ago. Even more startling, a third of millennials say they practice no form of organized religion

Ongoing research from a diverse group of social scientists and scholars show the collapse of religious and marital ties, especially among working-class millennials, is driving the loneliness epidemic and crisis of meaning spreading through our nation. 

These institutions—once held in common by all Americans—strengthened the social fabric of the nation, and when practiced alongside the “success sequence”—graduate high school, hold a job, get married, then have kids — these behaviors cleared the path to achieving the American Dream. They also provide the foundation for a purpose-filled life.

The retreat of familial, religious, and civic support structures has left a growing number of Americans adrift and locked into cycles of poverty. Government “solutions” often fill the void, perpetuating welfare and dependency and exacerbating family breakdown even further.  

By acknowledging this national crisis is not entirely political, we must recognize that neither can the solution be entirely political.

Following its first meeting in 2015, the Culture of Freedom Initiative has been a venue for entrepreneurs and visionary philanthropists to pioneer new approaches, such as the use of big data and micro-targeting, to empower churches, nonprofits, and other civic institutions on the frontlines of our communities to drive healthy family and faith outcomes across our three test markets— Jacksonville, Phoenix, and Dayton.

If you have questions about the donor-led Culture of Freedom Initiative or would like to bring these efforts to your city, please contact JP De Gance at or 202-431-4391.