By Thom S. Rainer
If you have an aversion to numbers, you may want to skip this post. I understand. There have been too many church leaders who see numerical realities as a goal. Numbers thus can become the end instead of the means.
But let’s not lose sight of the ways numerical tracking can help us. To use the parabolic illustration of Jesus, we can never know where the missing sheep are if we are not keeping track of them (see Luke 15:3-7).
The list of potential records to keep is long, but I am focusing on those eight records I have seen be most helpful to churches. They do not have to be arduous to track.
- Membership. In many churches, this number has become almost meaningless. If a church has 900 members and an average attendance of 150, the gap is too large. Church leaders need to start taking membership seriously and, thus, the way they track it. While speaking at the annual assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church recently, I met a lady who told me she was a member of her Presbyterian church, but still on the membership rolls of two Southern Baptist churches.
- Worship attendance. This metric is the most common among churches today. It is at least a general indicator of involvement. I do not encourage church leaders to try to account for individual attendance in worship services; it is too cumbersome and often invasive. An aggregate number is sufficient, and should include everyone on campus during worship services, including children who may not be in the worship center.
- Small group attendance. Assimilation rates are very high in small groups. Connections are best made here, whatever the group name may be: small groups, Sunday school classes, life groups, home groups, and others. It is vital to keep track of this number, especially relative to average worship attendance. If I see a church with average small group attendance equal to at least 80 percent of worship attendance, I know that assimilation is likely very effective.
- Individual attendance in small groups. It is at this point where I recommend churches keep track of the individual attendees of those in small groups. It can be a relatively easy process with a person responsible for keeping records in each small group, and a good, yet inexpensive, tracking software. I know of a number of churches that do an excellent job of following up on those who are not present in a given week.
- Total undesignated giving. These are the funds that can be used for church budget needs. These totals are often lead indicators about the future growth or decline of the church.
- Total designated giving. These funds include anything not given to undesignated giving. I strongly discourage reporting total undesignated and designated giving as a single number. It can give an impression that church stewardship is better than it really is.
- Individual giving. This metric is required for tax purposes. I will have an article in the future on whether the pastor and staff (outside the one person keeping records) should have access to these records. I never did in the four churches I served as pastor.
- Ministry involvement. This metric is kept in only about 10 percent of churches in America, but I think it is vital. I would attempt to account for the number of people involved in some type of ministry or volunteer activity in the church. This record could be an exception to weekly reporting. Most churches of which I am aware keep track of a single number quarterly. For example, if the number of different persons involved in a ministry increased by 50 from one year to the next, you can assume it is a trend toward greater assimilation and greater church health.
One of the best ways I learn from churches is to hear from leaders and members in those churches. Let me know what your perspectives are on these eight metrics, and let me know what you track in your church.
This article was originally posted on ThomRainer.com.
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.