The church is changing. We hear that a lot these days, and usually the story is one of decline: fewer participants in worship services, fewer dollars in the offering plate.
But the story of decline is incomplete. Even if traditional metrics show overall participation trending downward, the Holy Spirit is still moving in the local church. People are coming to know Jesus and lives are being transformed–because that’s what God does, and God doesn’t stop doing it just because there are fewer butts in seats.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the metrics we use to define success were made for another time and context–when church participation was a cultural given, and the question was just which slice of a baked-in market share a particular congregation could capture.
We’re in a new context now, one in which billions of stories and truth claims compete for viability on a daily basis. Christianity is no longer the “default setting.” In some ways, this is a time of tremendous opportunity: for deep, authentic faith, where people participate in church because they’re converted and called, not living into cultural expectations; a time of rejuvenation and renewal, if we have the imagination to see it.
An old adage says, “That which is measured tends to improve.” It’s time for new and different metrics to help us identify if and how our church communities are living into God’s mission, deepening faith, and reaching our neighbors.
Here are ten suggestions of metrics to track instead of butts and bucks:
#1 Stories of God’s presence.
Where has God shown up for your community members? Ask them to share daily encounters with God at work, at school, at home. Share the stories on social media, in worship services, in your monthly newsletter. Make storytelling and story-sharing an integral part of your culture, and keep tabs on how many people are sharing and what they’re experiencing.
#2 First time taking on a volunteer or leadership role.
Are the same five or ten people running the show in your congregation? Begin tracking how many people are deepening their faith and engagement with the community by accepting volunteer and leadership roles for the first time.
#3 Length of time in a particular volunteer or leadership role.
As corollary to the previous metric, keep track of how long a particular volunteer spends doing the same thing. One person fulfilling a single role month after month and year after year can lead to stagnation and burn-out. Imagine ways to help congregation members live into their gifts, find variety in ministry opportunities, and stretch themselves.
#4 Meals shared in homes.
How much are your members connecting with one another outside the church building? Encourage them to invite one another into their homes to share meals together. Ask them to report back on their experiences.
#5 Adult baptisms.
Is the gospel being proclaimed? Are you welcoming new Christians into your community? Pray for opportunities to bring adults to the font. Record and celebrate each one.
How many visitors have you greeted in a month? Of those, how many have returned? This eye-opening metric can give you a clear sense of how accessible and welcoming your congregation really is.
#7 Conversations about faith.
Do members feel comfortable and equipped to talk about their faith on a day-to-day basis–especially with those who aren’t involved in a Christian community? Ask them to share stories and experiences of meaningful faith conversations.
#8 Pints of blood.
Track service in the community: meals served, blood donated, blankets distributed, neighbors helped–specifically among those who are not involved in the congregation.
#9 Rides shared.
Are you taking care that those who want to be in worship can be? Keep track of people who would participate in worship if they had a ride, and people who are willing to bring them along.
#10 The demographics in the congregation vs. the surrounding community.
Use a tool like MissionInsite to measure the demographics of your congregation against the neighborhood in which it resides. How well are you reaching and engaging with the people right in your own backyard? Use what you find as a catalyst for creativity to become more deeply connected to your immediate context.
As you shift the ways you measure success in ministry, keep in mind that numbers are tools to help us recognize and describe God’s activity and to keep our ministry efforts focused on what’s most important. Metrics, no matter how creative or innovative, are best utilized as part of a Spirit-led discernment process–not ends in themselves.
What new metrics have you used or are you considering using to help you get a better sense of the Holy Spirit’s work in your congregation? Share your ideas and suggestions in the comments below!