What’s the score? Who’s winning? Both are common questions during a sporting event. Fans of the winning team often point out the scoreboard to the opposing team’s fans at the end of a game. “Keeping score” can be a positive or a negative depending on the situation and the underlying intent.
Churches have traditionally used metrics like the ABCs (Attendance, Baptisms or Buildings, and Cash) or the three Cs (Church attendance, Conversions, and Cash) to “keep score” and to measure their growth and effectiveness in accomplishing the mission.
The new norm for many church leaders seems to be the sharing of their “BC” (Before COVID-19) and “AC” (After COVID-19) attendance figures when asked. The counting process changed when coronavirus-related church closures started. But while ministry methods have changed, the mission of the church remains the same. So now is a great time for churches to change their scorecard!
In Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church, Reggie McNeal wrote, “A shift in what counts and is counted does not happen automatically. It involves intentional and persistent effort and significant reeducation and modeling in your own life and ministry behaviors. But it all begins in knowing what that new scorecard should include.”
Move Beyond Collecting Numbers to Tracking Metrics
We tend to love numbers because we love comparisons. But tracking numbers to create usable metrics is about more than comparing our church to the one down the street. It’s important for church leaders to strike a healthy balance between a “numbers fixation” (placing too much focus on numbers) and “numbers forgetfulness” (never taking time to count or measure anything in ministry). Numbers matter because they represent people and help your church to measure ministry progress.
Metrics are a simple way to define, measure, and track key performance indicators. A metric is a singular type of data that helps a church measure a certain aspect of their ministry programming to achieve success, grow, and optimize ministry strategies. A church that collects data can organize it to create metrics to assess progress toward goals.
Metrics work best when we compare ourselves against ourselves and not against other churches. Measure your church’s current effectiveness against your past effectiveness and note which direction you are headed.
Here are some questions to help you and your leadership team create a new scorecard for the key metrics your church wants to track:
- What does your church value? (Whatever you resource well is what you value.)
- What does your church regularly celebrate?
- What areas of ministry do you wish to measure? What areas of ministry do your leaders ask questions about?
- How useful would it be to track that information?
- What are some alternative ministry metrics you could track?
- Why did you select to track the metrics you did?
- What costs are involved in tracking the data for these metrics?
- Who will be responsible to track each metric?
Practical Principles and Action Steps
Once you determine the key metrics to track for your church, then it’s important to stay consistent with your tracking. Measure the same areas each week, month, quarter, or year. As you do this, eventually you will be able to identify critical trends and see the direction your church is headed. You will also be able to assess areas of growth to celebrate and find gaps that still need to be closed.
As you create your new ministry scorecard and as you track your new metrics, here are two practical principles for your post-COVID-19 church to consider:
Deal in reality. We can’t change yesterday, and tomorrow is in God’s hands. Therefore, we need to stop dwelling on past numbers or on how things were in ministry pre-COVID-19. Instead, you can develop ministry strategies for tomorrow when you measure where you stand today.
Move from where you are to where you want to be. What you choose to measure from this point forward should focus on growth of discipleship and not on recapturing raw numbers of the past. A new scorecard will reinforce your new focus.
Here are three “moves” I’d encourage you and your church to make as you go forward:
1. Shift from being “church-centric” to “kingdom-focused.” After decades of measuring our success by how many people we could get to come to our campus and attend a service in our church building, the pandemic upended that model. We had made the church building a destination that skewed the scoreboard.
The pandemic forced us to remember that the church building is not the center of or the only place to make and mature disciples. The church isn’t a building; rather, it’s what the people of God are intended to be.
2. Transition from a “member culture” to a “missionary culture.” Instead of focusing on creating church members and counting how many activities and programs they are involved in to determine effectiveness, focus on deploying and releasing Christ followers to live incarnational lives that connect with and bless those around them with the love of Christ. The win should not be how many people show up to an event, but rather how many people take a next step.
This requires developing a missionary culture that is not dependent on being able to gather in a building, but rather is driven by a mind-set that embraces kingdom living wherever you are.
3. Pivot from “numbers” to “names.” Focusing on names is one way to move beyond a numbers fixation. Instead of only seeing faces in a crowd on Sunday mornings, take a few minutes to note the names of people who are “missing in action” and follow-up with them personally this week.
Several pastors have told me they’re seeing new people who watched services online during the pandemic attend their church in person. When you see a new face on Sundays, be sure you learn their names as you welcome them.
No matter how many people are coming to your church this week, you can always learn the name of someone new from your church or community and take a few minutes to hear their story.