The idea of measuring success might seem somewhat antithetical to the culture and ethos of a church. We are not producing a product, or responsible for sales, nor do we fit easily into business cases for success. That being said, there are few numbers that we regularly count, and we can't help but measure ourselves by them. The old phrase "nickels and noses" still seems to encompass the main metrics of churches: How much money came in over a given period, and how many people were in pews on a given Sunday. It makes sense that those numbers would get measured, they are easy to count and they do tell us something about ourselves.
But honestly, it's getting pretty depressing to measure ourselves that way. In North America, the numbers of people attending mainline protestant, evangelical and Roman Catholic churches are way down and continuing to shrink. Though there are small geographic pockets that continue to defy this trend, there's no debating that there are fewer "bums in seats" on Sunday mornings. Many sermons, books, blog posts, and podcasts have discussed this and have suggested why, and how we need to change to fix this issue.
But are we even counting the right thing?
Many years ago in the heyday of church attendance, the number of people who attended church on Sunday morning was also representative of the number of people who were being reached by that church. If they were there on Sunday, then they would be there for Women's Group, for Men's Group, for Sunday School, for for sports nights, for card parties, for dances, for fund raisers and community events. Churches were the centres of communities then: socially, physically, and spiritually. Sunday morning was just one piece of the connection between the church and the community.
This is no longer true for the bulk of churches, and communities have changed a lot in the intervening decades. We all know very well that churches have changed very much over the years, so why are we still using the same tools to measure it and decide if it's being successful or not?
Church attendance statistics suggest that "regular" attenders today do not show up every Sunday like their grandparents might have, they are more likely to make it to a worship service two or three times a month. Another difference is that many of these people maintain high commitments to the volunteer hours they offer to the outreach and missions of the church. These may or may not be in the church building at all, and might not be visible to the rest of the members of the community, but are very engaged with the mission of the church.
This is where we need to diverge from our dated thinking and metrics.
If we were to write a business case, we would be certain that all of our metrics connected in some way to the mission and vision of the company. Measuring and counting things that don't address productivity issues or test the impact of sales cycles lead to unnecessary infrastructure and wasted time.
So does the number of people in the pews on Sunday morning address all of the vision and mission of your church?
By the same token, does the money that flows in from the plate give you enough information to know the health of the church?
My encouragement is to get creative and look at other things that you can measure in your church life that also describe the mission and vision of your church. Perhaps you need to keep track of the number of people who are served by your community luncheons which provide free food. Maybe you need to count the children who are fed by your school breakfast program. Maybe you need to consider all the people who use your church building during the week, but aren't part of the Sunday morning crowd. Maybe you need to consider the lives positively impacted by your advocacy group. Maybe you need to consider the money and resources that your members donate to organizations that are not the church, and look at how the church's teaching has encouraged that generosity.
These are just a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing. There are many more things that you can count and consider which are part of the health of your church.
What new ways can your find to count what counts?