More than 30,000 churches have signed up for the services of Gloo, a small company that uses people’s personal data and online activities to target individuals who might be more receptive to their message and become new members as they seek to sure up dwindling numbers in their pews that was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gloo brands itself as a personal growth platform that seeks to reshape “the ways that churches, ministries, and people connect with each other.”
The company explained in a recent Wall Street Journal report that it wants churches to be empowered with big data — extremely large data sets that can be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. The goal is to target people in the same way that big brands like Amazon, Google and Netflix use that data to target consumers with goods and services.
“We believe this is the right thing to do. And Gloo is committed to doing it the right way,” the company said in a written statement to WSJ.
Gloo clients include free and premium users. The average premium customer pays $1,500 a year, the company said.
Churches say that people in crisis are most receptive to their outreach efforts. Gloo uses big data to help churches identify people who may, for example, be experiencing marriage trouble, suffering from depression or anxiety, or struggling with drug addiction.
Westside Family Church, a nondenominational Christian church near Kansas City, Kansas, told WSJ that it used Gloo to target people dealing with financial problems and those struggling in the pandemic by using online ads.
“The church is committed to going out at whatever cost to find that one lost sheep that needs help,” Randy Frazee, lead pastor of Westside, said. “There are a lot of people who are in pain and isolated. If you don’t come to church, the church will come to you.”
A report generated by Gloo for Westside in September predicted that 25% of marriages within a 5-mile radius of the church might be on the verge of divorce. Another 26% of people were at risk of opioid addiction, and 3% of households were found to have anxious or depressed persons.
In marketing material from Gloo highlighting how churches can use data, the company explained how data can be “co-serving.”
“Let’s examine the following example to explain this clearly. Analyzing data may reveal that a person is spiritual and has a high propensity for depression. With these insights, they may decide to take part in a small group at church, work with a therapist, and interact weekly with a personal trainer. Each of these Champions play an important role in the growth and development of that individual,” Gloo said.
Staff at Westside were not immediately available when contacted by The Christian Post on Monday with questions about the ethics behind this approach to evangelizing. However, Gloo told WSJ that it follows California and other state privacy laws as well as the privacy policies of companies like Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
“We call ourselves a trusted personal growth platform,” Gloo co-founder Scott Beck said.
Gloo told the WSJ that it was no longer using mental health data in its analysis after the publication began reporting on its work, but also refused to say how it identified who had mental health or addiction struggles. The company further declined to say where it got the data, citing confidentiality agreements with third-party data providers.
Tal Frankfurt, founder and CEO of Cloud for Good, a consulting firm that works with faith-based groups and other nonprofits, told the publication that churches are seeking more details to help them target members more efficiently.
“They want to know who you are, they want to predict your capacity to give, your likelihood of dropping out of a program — it’s the same concepts that apply to a bank,” he said.
Sam Neves, an Adventist pastor and official at the church’s global headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, said they do outreach to vulnerable groups in distress using social media ads. Neves said they have received more responses sending out general ads rather than trying to target specific groups.