Metrics can be tricky

Elsewhere I’ve written about the trouble pastors of plateaued or declining churches can get into if they use the traditional metrics. In this post I want to emphasize the importance of those metrics when they’re used in the right church context.

Picture this scene – one all to common in the life of the average pastor.

The Annual Business meeting is scheduled for the last Sunday in January. The Sunday before the leaders conduct a dry run to finalize what would be included in the report to the congregation. The Executive Pastor, the outgoing chairman of the Board and the incoming chairman did a lot of work to pull numbers somewhat akin to reality out of a morass of reports and data.

After everyone had hashed out the numbers, clarified what they represented and determined the best way to present to the church one of them asked if the pastor had any thoughts.

“These numbers tell us the current and the likely near term financial condition of the church. But what they don’t tell us is whether or not the ministry has been effective. There are three important numbers that are missing.”

“I don’t see any mention of the number of new conversions, the number of baptisms or our visitor retention rate.”

“Why not?”

Metrics that matter

Context plays an important role in settling on the proper metrics.

Plateaued and declining churches have to focus on metrics that are leading indicators of church renewal. Stable and growing churches can add the traditional lagging indicators – attendance, conversions, baptisms and offerings. And, when read carefully, they give significant insight into not only the condition of the church, well written reports will tell you about the direction of the church.

For example, financial reports and membership inflow/outflow reports, when read together, are important signals that the church is growing or headed for a bump in the road. Giving and attendance are leading indicators of member dissatisfaction. Giving also gives indirect peek at spiritual maturity.

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Clearly, these numbers are important. They are measurements of careful stewardship, prudent investment and financial accountability. You dare not ignore them. But they don’t tell the whole story.

On a side note

Growing churches run into cash flow problems when the demands created by a rapid influx of new people isn’t met with increased giving. People typically don’t give significantly or sacrificially to a church until they’ve been assimilated and consider it “theirs.”

Two numbers will tell you if you need to be concerned about cash flow crunch or if it will take care of itself. Compare the number of new people and check to see if the existing members are continuing to give in a normal pattern. If there is a significant increase in the percentage of new people entering the church and the existing members have not dropped their giving, everything will work out. Control discretionary spending for a while and you’ll soon be in good shape.

Ministry metrics

In addition to the nickels and noses – which, I stress are important – a church should measure and track a number of other items. Some of them are hard measurements and others are soft.

  • Number of “first time” converts (I never knew there was another kind, but a lot of people talk about it) – a measure of missional effectiveness
  • Number of baptisms – a measure of missional effectiveness
  • Number of volunteers in regular service – a measure of discipleship
  • Number of hours per week/month members serve outside the church – a measure of discipleship and missional effectiveness
  • Number of new affiliates assimilated – a measurement of effective systems
  • Dollars spent on training missionally minded church leaders
  • How many congregants were trained how to engage unbelievers in the community
  • Number of outreach activities organized, staffed and run by church members
  • What is the “buzz” in the congregation – what do they talk about in unguarded moments?
  • How do you describe the congregation’s willingness to engage in mission activity?


What are the most important metrics that matter in your congregation?