These are hard but important questions for church leaders to ask.
I’m assuming that you agree with me that the church’s #1 “job,” its mission, is to make devoted followers of Jesus out of the raw material of lost children, teens and adults (Matthew 28:18-20).
In charting our mission effectiveness, we don’t want to make the mistakes of: (1) Ignoring the numbers altogether, or (2) Zeroing in on one or two metrics (means of measurement) which fail to give us an accurate reading of our progress.
The following are several ways of measuring our effectiveness, and how they are helpful, starting with the ones we’ve boasted about – or wrung our hands over – for far too long.
BTW: Discussing several or all of these makes for great board or staff meeting discussions.
(1) Worship service attendance. Of course this matters. We have a book in the Bible called “Numbers” because our loving God is concerned with numbers of It’s not about “numbers” of sheep or cattle; it’s about people and people matter to God. If numbers didn’t matter, Dr. Luke wouldn’t have made all those references in the Acts Of The Apostles to the growing attendance at the first local church in Jerusalem.
The problem with our use of this metric is not that we’ve used it, but that we’ve used in in isolation, as if it was the only number that counted. Which it isn’t.
(2) Giving. It does matter! People who are not born again are not usually generous. They are not thankful (Romans 1:21) and they certainly don’t have the gift of giving (Romans 12:8).
At some point – hopefully – believers in Jesus “give themselves” (as in II Corinthians 8:5), they present their bodies to God – and their bodies are clothed with garments which contain wallets which contain money. If you give Jesus your life, you’re giving Him your possessions and your income. Giving is a discipleship metric, so it’s also a legitimate local church metric.
Again, the problem with this important measure is with our propensity to consider it in isolation, as if the church existed to collect money. We need a few more metrics to balance out these two traditional ones.
(3) Worship service attendance frequency. This might be the one you didn’t want me to include. Almost all churches have seen declines in worship service attendance frequency over the past few years, with this trend significantly accelerated by the COVID shutdown. This metric should always be factored in when measuring #1: “raw” worship service attendance. Low numbers in either of these categories are disconcerting while high numbers are encouraging. But to see what’s really going on, we need to know both numbers.
(4) Professions of faith in Christ. It’s pretty hard to argue with the importance of brand-new professions of faith. But we know from hard experience that even this metric – as great as it is – without some of those which follow (below) is inadequate.
Why? Because Jesus spoke of three kinds of “soil” (hearts) which don’t actually produce fruit (Matthew 13:1-23). John six tells us of the departure from Christ of many who had called themselves disciples. I John 2:19 speaks of professing believers who “went out from us because they were not of us.” Many of us know of churches which have made the mistake of celebrating this metric, in isolation, ending up with many professions and few actual disciples.
(5) Believer’s baptism. This one isn’t a helpful metric, for you, if your church doesn’t baptize people (by whatever method) “upon their profession of faith in Christ.” If it doesn’t, move on to #6. If it does, this is an important measure because it takes one’s profession of faith one step further: from verbally confessing Christ to confessing Christ in a more active, humbling way. By all means, let’s celebrate the baptism of believers, but let’s do so in the context of all ten of these methods for measuring our effectiveness.
(6) Small group attendance. Some experts put expected small group attendance at 60%. Some churches are working hard to see 100% participation. Small group participation isn’t actually a Biblical category; no chapter and verse tells us we have to gather in homes with about eleven other people, coffee and snacks.
But the New Testament does enjoin the assembling of ourselves together for our mutual benefit, and it commands us to use our spiritual gifts and practice the twelve or so “one-another” commands. So we need to do this somewhere.
If small groups are the means by which believers in your church can participate as loving members of the body of Christ, then small group attendance is a true measure of discipleship, so let’s count small group noses and discuss them.
(7) Service. Christians who are growing in grace are usually glad to serve. Christians who serve are usually helped in their growth by their ministries, so service matters. Do we know how many of our people are serving in our congregation? Do we know how many ways each person is serving? Do we know the ways in which Christians are advancing the cause of Christ by serving outside our official church structure? All of these answers matter.
(8) Evangelism. Here’s a simple, revealing question I ask while doing church assessments: “Can you tell me the names of any non-Christians who live in this community whose salvation you are praying for?” I don’t need their names; I need to know how many people are trying to win unbelievers to Jesus. If we’re praying for non-Christians to become Christians, we are probably seeking opportunities to share the Good News with them. Healthy believers care about lost people and those who put feet to their concern are blessed by their obedience (Philemon 6).
(9) Other steps of obedience. These can be hard to measure, admittedly, but I think it’s worth our effort to try to capture, to record and discuss, as many of these as possible. When church leaders hear that believers in their fellowship: (1) Are set free from bad habits (2) Turn down career advancement for the sake of their families (3) Make amends for past wrongs (4) Move to new homes to be closer to the church building (5) Move from metric to metric as found in this list, these great steps are worth recording and celebrating as a church leadership team.
(10) Leadership. A truly healthy church is winning lost people to Christ, building them up in the faith, equipping them to serve and installing (or sending out) some of them as leaders. Not everyone can be a leader, nor should every believer try to be a leader. But God has called and equipped some in every congregation for leadership (Romans 12:8), so a healthy congregation is regularly seeing at least some individuals “step up” and lead.
Are there other metrics which are worthy of our attention? I bet there are, so tell me about them.