By Doug Crozier
We live in a world where everything revolves around success, and success is often defined as a number.
I am quickly approaching retirement age and people sometimes ask me, “What is your number?” And I sometimes ask myself, How much money do I need to retire? When will I retire? Whether it be my age, checkbook balance, waistline, or financial needs to ensure a comfortable retirement, numbers are always involved. So many of us struggle with our various numbers, and in almost every case it creates stress.
Numbers are also very important in the church, but they are often misinterpreted. And this period of COVID-19 has created more levels of confusion and stress. How should we count attendance during the pandemic? Beyond in-person attendance, there’s online attendance, social media streams, and perhaps others. What factor do we use to count online attendance, since more than one person may be viewing each screen?
At The Solomon Foundation, we saw these issues arise for the leaders with whom we partner. We added a clinical psychologist on retainer to minister to our pastors who were struggling through COVID-19. The number of pastors who took advantage of this service was both staggering and encouraging. We need to find ways to alleviate stress rather than adding stress to our pastors’ lives.
HOW NUMBERS CAN HELP US EVALUATE THE CHURCH
Numbers can create tension or conflict between church leaders based on who is higher on a list. It can even start gossip (“Did you see that church’s numbers are down?”). Our concentration needs to be on the positive impact of the numbers rather than if my numbers are better than others! We can evaluate numbers and use them to protect and expand the kingdom for at least two reasons.
1. Analyzing numbers protects provisions brought to God’s storehouse, the local church. Analyzing tithes and offerings has great value for the church so that leadership can make prudent decisions on how to spend and invest. Using key ratios such as per capita giving and debt per attendee are just two ways leaders can determine the church’s financial health. The national average for giving is $20 per person weekly. So, a family of four would give $80 each week. Churches that experience giving that exceeds $20 per person weekly are able to expand their ministry. The national average for debt per attendee is $6,000, meaning a family of four would represent $24,000 of church debt.
2. Tracking numbers improves ministry impact. Tracking trends will help your church discover ways to improve ministry impact! Here are four ways to accomplish this:
Track the number of small groups and small group attendance. Set a goal for expanding your small groups. During COVID-19, small group ministry was a way for churches to evangelize and disciple people for Christ, and it has been one of the key ways to keep people involved in your church. Many small groups continued to meet via Zoom and other virtual platforms. Online watch parties in people’s homes and neighborhoods restored the church to its Acts roots.
Track the number of baptisms. With baptisms, it’s important to track more than just the total number. How are people coming to this decision? Is it through small groups or other connections? What is your most effective means of ministry that leads to baptism?
Track attendance per service. The ability to watch these trends over time provides a wealth of information on church health, as well as how people are responding to leaders’ decisions. Most leadership choices should be based on the biblical outline, but a church must also make many choices based on what works best for that community. For example, doctrinal issues should not be changed because attendance numbers rise and fall; however, service times, style of worship, children’s programming, sermon series topics, etc., can all be tailored to your local community needs. Closely watching attendance numbers will provide you the feedback needed to make and defend those choices.
Celebrate every win! I must admit that when I read the annual Christian Standard edition on church attendance and growth, I always make comparisons. First and foremost, however, I should be celebrating all the great ministry happening in our movement. Every person is counted by God—the trumpets ring out and the angels sing when people accept Jesus as Lord. Here on earth, let’s celebrate, let’s ring cowbells, let’s tell the stories, let’s see every new relationship with Jesus and meet it with joy. Let’s remind our church leaders to bask in the moment of every life-changing choice for Jesus, let’s cheer one another on, let’s celebrate it all.
HOW NUMBERS CAN HELP US IMPROVE OUR CHURCHES
This year when you look at the list of churches who responded to the survey, I encourage you to ask four simple questions:
- How can we improve our attendance and baptism numbers? Investigate which churches are growing and find out what they are doing. Call them and ask questions; network with them and resource one another. Together you will lift each other up.
- How can we expand our reach using social media? Watch, follow, and like other churches. Learn, share, and grow together.
- How can we help other churches learn from numbers? Get reacquainted with old friends and make new friends among those who are leading churches. Find places you can connect with Christian church leaders around the world. ICOM, Spire, Renew, church-planting groups like Nexus, and church extension funds like ours host calls and conferences to gather leaders. Dive into opportunities like these . . . and bring your spouse!
- Who can I reach out to with a joyful word of praise for their wins this year? Build one another up. Randy Wheeler led the way in doing this last year. He went through the list of churches and sent an email saying “well done, faithful servant!” to any that reported baptisms. Reach out to other churches and tell them they’re doing a great job reaching people for Christ. Encourage them, as we are all one family reaching people for Christ.
Use this issue of Christian Standard as a tool for reflection. After you have done this, celebrate all the other churches on the list.
WHAT NUMBERS SHOW US ABOUT OUR MINISTRY PRIORITIES
I have been blessed to have a front-row seat to witness the phenomenal growth of the churches in our movement over the last 26 years.
At The Solomon Foundation, we track key numbers daily . . . from financial ratios to bank balances to loan funding (and many others). They all are essential to us in analyzing our ministry. When it comes to ministry partnership and impact, we track attendance numbers. We look at attendance when we provide a church with a loan. In our 10-year history, the 300 churches we have worked with were averaging about 90,000 people in weekly attendance when we started with them. We took a snapshot of their attendance on December 31, 2020 (prior to COVID-19’s arrival), and these 300 churches were averaging more than 190,000 in attendance. That’s more than 100 percent growth! But here’s the more important number: These 300 churches have baptized around 35,000 people! And in our ministry, 35,000 is the most important number. Why? Because it tracks our ministry impact and ministry expansion!
Find the key numbers in your church and your ministry. Tracking numbers can be a good thing! Be creative, be innovative, and use information that is at your fingertips to advance the kingdom!
Doug Crozier serves as CEO of The Solomon Foundation.