Statistician sees ParishOS as future of church’s data collection

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A vestry book entry in ParishOS web app at codigo.ca/work/parishos. Photo: Codigo.ca

The Anglican Church of Canada’s statistician says he hopes a new electronic tool for gathering parish data will allow the church to see itself with greater clarity.

ParishOS is an application developed for the church by Luke Johnson, a Canadian Anglican web developer, on the basis of work by the Rev. Brian Ford of St. John’s Cathedral in Winnipeg and with suggestions from the Rev. Neil Elliot. Essentially, it’s an electronic vestry book. Since 2016, ParishOS has been adopted by three dioceses, and interest in it is growing, Elliot says.

One advantage of ParishOS, Elliot says, is that putting data into electronic form allows users to easily see trends, which the software can represent graphically.

“If your parish data is stuck in a book, you can’t do anything with it,” he says. “You need it to be in electronic format first of all, so that you can then start to look at it and it can start to tell you things about what’s going on in your parish that you may or may not have noticed.”

The software can identify all sorts of patterns, he says—for example, whether a congregation is growing or declining and at what rate, and how that rate compares to other parishes in the diocese; how levels of participation in Messy Church or other types of service have been doing compared to others; and whether there are seasonal fluctuations in attendance. It can also function as a ministry scheduler, helping church leaders organize volunteer participation and other aspects of church life.

ParishOS could also greatly help dioceses, Elliot says, because the data will be fed directly to them, so that they don’t have to manually process information from the forms that come to them from parishes.

Elliot says he understands that a working group of bishops, which formed this fall to look into data collection, may propose gathering new kinds of data. But ParishOS, he says, already holds the potential for understanding church data in new ways, by identifying trends that have so far gone unnoticed.

“We might…find new ways of looking at existing data, because existing data might be able to tell us things that we’re not asking it to tell us at the moment,” he says.

ParishOS is being offered to the dioceses for free by the national church. Parishes interested in accessing it should contact the executive officers of their dioceses, Elliot says.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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