Some churches and church leaders avoid measuring ministries in the church out of fear or from a desire not to be held accountable. Are you afraid of discovering something you don’t want to know?
By Kent E. Fillinger
“The church is in a difficult time. But the church doesn’t understand it’s in a difficult time because it doesn’t know the truth about itself,”* said Dave Peterson, senior pastor of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas.
Some church leaders avoid measurement because it seems unspiritual. It is true that numbers don’t tell the whole story, which is why you can’t focus solely on numbers. Stories of how God is at work in transforming lives must always be told, “but the best leadership is informed by facts, not practiced in a vacuum.”*
Numbers can also be misleading. I recall when Christian Standard first reported attendance figures for churches averaging more than 1,000 in attendance. I was amazed and inspired in my own ministry when I saw churches with such significant attendance and baptism numbers.
Then when I started crunching the numbers, I realized many of these churches declined in attendance from one year to the next, which piqued my curiosity to identify trends and look beyond the average worship attendance figure to better diagnose the health or life stage of a church.
Greg Surratt of Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, says, “If you stay around long enough, you’ll have several seasons you go through as a church. You’ll go through growing seasons, and that’s what everyone wants to stay in. You’ll go through harvesting seasons; you’ll go through pruning seasons. We do look at metrics. But you also have to put that up against ‘What season are we in right now?’ You don’t worry about harvest numbers when you’re in a pruning season.”*
Even when the numbers don’t meet your expectations, God can still be at work in your church in powerful ways. Positive growth numbers aren’t always an indicator of church health or ministry effectiveness. For example, Barry Cameron, senior pastor of Crossroads Christian Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, notes in a related story that Crossroads was good at getting people to come to church, but the church leaders realized they weren’t as effective at making disciples. This situation is not solely a megachurch phenomenon; small churches struggle with discipleship as well.
Metrics are a way to assess a church’s fruitfulness and identify opportunities for growth, but numbers alone aren’t enough. Healthy churches should produce tangible fruit over time. Effective measurement tools must be in place or unhealthy areas of ministry can go unnoticed for years.
The challenge for churches is this: the things that matter most are the hardest to measure. It’s easy and important to track attendance, baptisms, offerings, etc., but it’s virtually impossible to measure transformed lives or spiritual growth, which are primary church goals. This issue hopefully will spark the leaders in your church to talk about how you can measure what matters for your ministry.
Articles posted here this month provide insights based on the metrics churches are willing to report. This is only part of the story, but it recognizes and celebrates how God continues to grow his church through the work of so many faithful servants.
One church leader said, “We are all about the numbers. Because every number, every statistic, represents a life that was changed, a life filled with hope and purpose, a story of redemption and grace—people far from God filled with life in Christ.”*
*These quotes are from “Measuring What Matters” by Mike Bonem, Leadership Journal, Spring 2012; available at www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/spring/measuringmatters.html.
Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and director or partnerships with CMF International.