By Kent E. Fillinger
I want to share three statistical thoughts that challenged me, plus a final word of encouragement, as we conclude 2017 and prepare for another year of ministry. I hope these insights cause you to stop, reflect, and dig a little deeper as you continue to lead your church.
The Golfer’s Delusion
Imagine the recreational golfer eyeing the green. He may have laser-guided binoculars that tell him the exact distance to the flagstick. Or he may have a GPS that indicates the precise distance to the front, middle, and back of the green.
Armed with all this information, which club does he pick to make the shot? Studies show he usually picks the wrong club. Why? Because like every other golfer, he’s plagued by a persistent psychological flaw: He thinks he will hit the ball farther than he actually does.
Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on a study of more than 6 million golf shots recorded by Arccos, a shot-tracking system based on sensors attached to clubs. The study showed 40 percent of approach shots land short of the green. And only 5 percent of shots end up long or on the back side of the green.
Most people choose a club based on their best shots. That’s not smart, because most players aren’t able to consistently hit their best shots. As a result, they end up short of the green because they overestimate their ability.
This phenomenon isn’t isolated to the golf course. The same WSJ story (“The Golfer’s Delusion” by Brian Costa, May 13-14) told how David Dunning, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan, studied engineers at two Silicone Valley software firms. He asked them how they ranked relative to their coworkers. “Forty-two percent of engineers at one firm and 31% of engineers at the other firm rated themselves in the top 5% of performers. Similar mathematical impossibilities have been found in informal surveys of students at business schools.”
So, what does this have to do with church leadership? Consider this:
The guy who overestimates his golfing ability and picks the wrong club is the same guy who’s making church decisions on how to lead his ministry staff and the same one projecting next year’s total offerings and the same one evaluating his effectiveness as a preacher or leader. That guy is you!
Rich Mullins hit the mark with his song, “We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are.” Once you can truly admit and internalize that you like to overestimate your abilities, then you’re more likely to make better decisions. This principle also demonstrates the need for regular self-evaluation.
And because only about half of lead ministers in the Restoration Movement receive a performance evaluation, it’s also a good reminder to seek honest feedback from your elders or your staff. I encourage you to consider hiring an outside consultant or executive coach to help you better assess your leadership strengths and weaknesses. Taking these steps will position you for greater ministry success in the new year.
Double Your Ministry Impact (The Rule of 72)
It’s quite popular today for churches and church leaders to set their sights on doubling their ministry impact. But this can be more a pithy sales pitch than a practical plan based on facts. What does it take for a church or a ministry to double in size?
The Rule of 72 is a shortcut to estimate how long it will take something to double in size or value. The Rule of 72 has its foundation in finances and investing, but it also applies to churches and ministries.
Here’s how the Rule of 72 works: Divide 72 by a church’s growth rate (use the annual growth percentage). The result is approximately how many years it will take for the church’s attendance to double given a compounded, fixed annual growth rate.
For example, if your church’s growth rate is 8 percent annually, divide it into 72, and you get 9. That means it’ll take your church 9 years to double in size if it continues to average 8 percent attendance growth each year.
Here’s another example: Last year the average megachurch grew 3.4 percent. Applying the Rule of 72 means it will take 21 years for the average megachurch to double in size if it’s growth rate remains steady.
But consider New City Church in Phoenix. Last year, New City grew 23.2 percent, the best growth rate in our survey. If New City can sustain that same annual rate of growth, it will double in size in just over 3 years.
The Rule of 72 also applies to your church’s small group numbers, children’s ministry, students’ ministry, and financial giving.
So, the next time you start envisioning how to double the size of your ministry impact, calculate using the Rule of 72, and then plan accordingly.
What Will You Measure in 2018?
Zig Ziglar said, “You can’t hit a target you cannot see, and you cannot see a target you do not have.” Many churches and leaders talk about setting goals, but few follow through and actually do it!
In August, I worked with the Center for Church Leadership at Cincinnati Christian University to conduct a church leadership and development survey. A total of 561 ministers and church staff from all church sizes in 35 states completed the survey. Among other things, leaders were asked whether they set written, annual goals for their ministries.
Only 11 percent of church leaders said they set annual worship attendance goals. Financial giving goals were the most common, but only about 25 percent of leaders said they wrote such goals. How many new members does your church want in 2018? Just 7 percent of the leaders had a formal written goal for new members.
Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, conducted a goal-setting study with 267 participants. She found that one is 42 percent more likely to achieve one’s goals just by writing them down (source: “Five Reasons Why You Should Commit Your Goals to Writing” by Michael Hyatt, www.michaelhyatt.com). Church leaders serving in churches from 750 to 2,000 in attendance were the most likely to have written, annual goals.
As you prepare for 2018, sit down with your leadership team to discuss tracking and measuring your ministries. Write down some goals for next year. Evaluate your ministry strategies, celebrate your wins, and adjust your course as needed.
One Final Encouragement
More than 70 times in the Bible, God tells his people to “measure” all kinds of things. Our annual Christian Standard Church Survey is designed to help us measure our ministries so we can learn from one another and celebrate how God is at work in our churches.
Please take a few minutes in January to respond to our online survey regardless of your church size or situation. Your participation is important and needed. It’s a team effort. Your church is an important part of our tribe and our story is incomplete when you “sit on the sidelines” or “hide in the stands.”
If you’ve opted out in the past, jump back in again this year and complete the survey. If you’ve never participated, we’d really love to have you. If you’ve always participated, thanks so much for your faithfulness and contribution to this team effort.
Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting and director of partnerships with CMF International, Indianapolis, Indiana.