We hear quite a bit these days about the importance of metrics in the local church. Statements like, “What get’s measured, matters” and “What gets measured gets done” are pretty common. I agree with both of those statements. That’s the factual side of metrics. There’s also an emotional side. The emotional side is usually tied to whatever the factual side reveals. Growing metrics produce emotional elation. Declining metrics depress us.
Because metrics are emotional, it’s easy to ignore them, justify them, or flat out stop measuring anything. We often spiritualize our response by saying things like, “I’m more concerned with quality than quantity,” or “Spiritual growth is more important than numerical growth.”
I’m guessing that numbers matter to God. If they didn’t, why are there so many of them in the Bible (even an entire book called, “Numbers”)? It’s the transformation behind those numbers that matters most. The problem with metrics is when we lose perspective of the bigger story.
Metrics can precipitate pride or drive feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and insecurity. One day you’re up; the next you’re down. As emotional as metrics can be, I believe Bill Hybels’ axiom is true: “Facts are our friends.” Good or bad, facts help us understand reality and effectively lead through it.
Metrics! What do you measure? Is what you’re measuring the right thing? I’d like to offer six metrics that can help us get a better handle on church health. While these metrics may be incomplete, I believe they’re a good starting point.
1. Audience: Who Are We Reaching?
It is crucial to understand who you are reaching? Don’t let your assumptions mislead you. Last year we did a survey of our congregation to better understand who 7 City Church is reaching, and the behaviors of our congregation. Some of the questions we asked (with multiple choice answers) included:
- Age Group
- Age Group of Kids
- Zip Code
- Industry You Work In
- Level of Education
- How Long You’ve Been Attending 7 City
- How Often You Invite Someone to 7 City
- Church Involvement Prior to 7 City
- State of Current Spiritual Life
- Scripture Engagement
- How Often You Volunteer in the Community
- Greatest Spiritual Need or Challenge
- Preferred communication methods
How did these questions help us measure church health? First, they gave us a clearer picture of exactly who 7 City is attracting, thus helping us focus and refine our ministry strategy. Second, they helped us see how well we are reaching young adults (52% of our adults are 18-34 years old). Third, we were able to define what percentage of our congregation was unchurched prior to attending 7 City (32%). This gave us specific data on our effectiveness in reaching people. Fourth, we gained a clearer picture of the spiritual condition and needs of our congregation. Metrics often begin with demographics.
2. Stories: Are Lives Being Changed?
This metric is often overlooked, yet it’s what the local church is all about. It should be front and center to what we do and what we measure. We talk numbers, but the stories behind the numbers are the real heart of the issue. Are lives being changed?
Stories of life change can include salvations, baptisms, restored marriages, addicts set free, community transformation, missional impact, and much more. To make stories a metric:
- Ask your leaders what they see and hear happening in peoples lives
- Ask people what God is doing in their life right now
- Ask people what difference the church has made in their life or family
- Determine how the church is impacting the community
- Provide a system (website, link, tool) where people can share stories and testimonies
- Track answers to prayer
Once you hear stories of life change, share them with others. Celebrate them in your services. Give God glory during staff gatherings. We begin each of our staff prayer meetings by reflecting on “answers” to prayers. It’s a good reminder of God’s faithfulness, what He has already done, and what He is able to do.
3. People: Are We Developing Disciples and Leaders?
Jesus called us to make disciples. It’s easy to count a “hand raised” or a “box checked,” but measuring people development isn’t so easy. Again, this is at the heart of what the church is about.
In his book, Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal observes our confusion of program development with people development. McNeal writes:
I maintain that the rise of the program-driven church correlates directly with the rise of the service economy in post-World War II America. The manufacturing engine powering the economy yielded to the service sector as Americans could afford to pay other people to do things they no longer wanted to do themselves or couldn’t do themselves. People began to outsource food preparation, lawn maintenance, laundry, oil changes, and child care. And Americans outsourced spiritual formation to the church. It was during this period that the concept of church as a vendor of religious goods and services became entrenched in the ethos of the North American church culture. (p. 92)
The church’s assumption that these programs are actually producing disciples is usually based on attendance rather than actual transformation. Therein lies a danger in church work: Our growth equation is often nothing more than Activity + Attendance = Personal Growth. As a result, people fail to “own” their growth.
So how do you measure people development? If disciple-making and leader development is so essential to the mission of the church, how do we turn it into a metric so we can understand whether or not we’re being effective? Here are three suggestions:
- Ask your staff who they are discipling and developing on a regular basis. It must be modeled at the highest levels of leadership.
- Create and track life-on-life mentoring, coaching, and high growth environments. These types of relationships are where the greatest people development occurs.
- Administer the Reveal survey developed by Willow Creek (a tool designed to discover spiritual movement in people’s lives)
Last year 7 City did a survey of our congregation
4. Numbers: Are We Growing?
This is the most common metric in the church. While some naysayers are critical of counting, I believe it’s both necessary and helpful. Some of the numbers we track at 7 City Church include:
- Attendance (in all environments)
- Missions Giving
Counting helps us in three ways. First, we’re able to define a benchmark for monitoring trends. When organizations only publish their growth for a single calendar year, it’s easy to hide the fact that they have declined from the previous year. Counting helps you identify patterns and trends.
Second, hard data informs critical decision-making. If one area is growing faster than another, it may reveal a weak spot that needs more attention, or it may uncover a potential growth engine that can be leveraged to reach more people. Both are important.
Third, counting helps you monitor your capacity and potential lids. Unless you know your numbers, you can’t effectively evaluate how close you are to running out of space in certain ministry environments.
5. Movement: Are We Trending Forward?
Counting is the easy part, but many leaders don’t maximize this information. It’s good to know your numbers, but it’s also important to know your percentages. Percentages reveal health and forward movement. For example, what percentage of your weekend attendance:
- …has been baptized in the last 12 months?
- …is serving in the church?
- …is serving in the community?
- …is in a small group environment where they can experience community?
- …is an infant, toddler, preschool, elementary, teenager?
- …is leading?
- …is giving (per capita giving)?
Measuring percentages helps in three ways. First, you get a glimpse at the level of health among your congregation. I realize this isn’t a complete picture, and I know that just because a person attends doesn’t mean they’re healthy (Reggie McNeal’s quote above reiterates this point). However, if the percentages are tied to spiritual practices (baptism, community, serving, generosity, etc.) they give a glimpse of how the church is developing.
Second, you’re able to compare your congregation with who actually lives in your community. If the percentage of kids or teens attending doesn’t match your community, you can evaluate what needs to change about your ministry to reach the people God has placed around you.
Third, percentages help you track movement from year to year. In other words, are the percentages increasing or decreasing in each area of measurement? Positive growth reveals where you’re gaining forward traction.
6. Culture: Is Our Environment Healthy?
The final metric helps you understand the health of your culture. A couple of times per year we ask our staff specific questions to measure employee engagement and the health of our environment. On a scale from 1 to 5, we ask several questions to find out if our team feels:
- Energized (vision buy-in, shared values, giving feedback)
- Encouraged (affirmed, cared for, appreciated)
- Equipped (clear objectives, coaching/training, resources/tools)
- Empowered (freedom/authority, maximizing strengths, learning)
If we fail to measure the health of our culture, we can slowly drift toward toxicity. Healthy cultures foster greater employee engagement, reduces burnout and tension, and improves longevity. To improve your church’s culture, you might check out my book, Creating Your Church’s Culture.
Metrics are important. Equally important is the motive and spirit behind your metrics. How are you doing? Who are you reaching? What stories of life change are you hearing? Are you truly developing disciples and leaders? Is the church growing, and are you seeing forward movement? How’s your culture? Measuring these areas will provide you with a pulse for the church, and equip you with insights to continue improving.