Playing with Google: Using Data to Drive Sermon Prep

Today, I would like to introduce you to a Google tool, I think might be helpful when you’re trying to draft that next sermon, when considering how to pitch a project, or when contemplating some of the broader mysteries of our world.

Enter: Google Correlate.

For the moment, Google makes a wide variety of free data available to people, assuming you take the time to look for it. The trouble with data is that without any context it’s really hard to find any meaning in the numbers. And, now, we turn to Google Correlate.

I don’t claim to really understand how Google Correlate works, but I do know how to use it to learn more about this world of ours. Now, before we go further, remember the immortal words of my Psych 101 teacher, “correlation does not mean causation.” The fact that things are correlated to a high degree does not mean that one causes the other. It means they have, I would say, some connection. It is left to you to figure out what that connection might be. If you’re a pastor, then you do this all the time when you write your sermons. Google now has given us a new tool for making connections between people in the world and the word before us. Here’s an example:

I’ve entered the word: church. I then excluded any results with the word church in them, leaving the following top ten list.

1. Trinity Lutheran
2. Prince of Peace
3. Star of the Sea
4. Corpus Christi Catholic
5. Blessed Sacrament
6. Sacred Heart Catholic
7. Risen Savior
8. Holy Trinity
9. The Evangelist
10. John the Evangelist
To me, each of these seem like place names. I figure the average web user was using Google to find the church closest to them. If we had included the word church in the results a very similar list would be generated. This leads me to suspect that for many people church is connected, most strongly, to a sense of place. I think the Gospel says something a little different, but I will leave you to consider that when you look at the texts before you.

Let’s try another one; God.
This generates a much more revealing list.
1. Causes
2. People do
3. During
4. Unhealthy
5. Have to do
6. Name for
7. They do
8. The benefits of
9. People who
10. Why have
Can you feel the need in that little collection of words? I certainly can. I can see people looking for reasons that people do things for God, wondering about if God is an unhealthy thing, and even wondering why we might have God. There’s a lot there to really puzzle over and pray about.
I think this list shows pretty clearly that the days of God as assumed good in the world are really over. The idea of God, and if God is good, is really on the table for a lot of people. There’s a sermon series, or a congregational discussion, or even a public meeting or debate.

One final list; prayer.
1. In Islam
2. About
3. Uses
4. Towards
5. Prayer for
6. Respecting
7. In Greek
8. Different types
9. Different types of
10. Meaning of the
This final list shows the world connecting power of something like Google. When we consider prayer, the list asks us to consider not just Christian prayer, but Islam. It suggests that people are interested in learning about different types of prayer. The list opens doors, which seems very appropriate given what prayer is.
So: use the tool. Enter your text, or topic, idea for Sunday worship or the next Christian Education workshop into the tool to see what comes up. I suspect you’ll be surprised and people be better served for it.

Jeremiah RoodRev. Jeremiah Rood lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Amanda, and two small black cats. He has experience working in local congregations but most recently has turned his attention to building an active online ministry at www.revjeremiahrood.com and www.localchurchrevival.com. Rev. Jeremiah’s ministry also includes spending a year in a detox working with struggling addicts and alcoholics. His time is now split between writing a book exploring these issues and working with folks struggling with a variety of different developmental and life challenges.

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