A vital question for church leaders

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A vital question for church leaders willing to ask:

Have you ever heard a conversation like this?:
“So, how is your church doing?”
“Well, we are growing. We just added another service?”
“well, you know, that’s great, but I don’t think necessarily increasing numbers at church is the best way to measure how a church is doing”
” maybe not, but what do you think a good measurement would be?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be the size of the church”

Maybe you’ve even actually participated in a conversation like this. If not numerical growth, what other measurement can be used? Like in the conversation, I don’t know what a perfect measurement stat would be for your church, however, just because finding an appropriate relevant standard can be hard to identify, it is still worth the effort to finding one.

The practical thing about measurements is that they give us a rough idea on how we are doing. Whether its a church wanting to measure their worship attendance, or a store like Walgreens or CVS counting their comps (how their sales compare to last week, month, year, or store to store), or in sports, such as baseball as batting averages, home runs, rbi’s or earned run averages, having measurements to compare movement and trends, whether an increase or decrease is helpful.

In looking at any statistic, there are always numerous considerations needed to get an accurate understanding of how one measurement compares to another. For example, Were people healthy both times that stats were considered? Were there any outside factors that influenced one stat more than at another time?

So, although measurements need to be considered among many potential factors that could skew one number over another, measurements are important. They give some kind of perspective to compare and give us some kind of guidance as to how we are doing in a particular area.

So, when it comes to the church, I want to suggest a measurement that I believe would bring many benefits. This key measurement stat is “how many people have you asked to church this past week?”
Why that question? Well, first of all to answer the skeptics that are out there, I want to pass along a few answers to objections that will surely come.

1) the church is not a business– so why should we have measurements? Does your church practice accepted accounting standards like a business would? Does your church staff treat their employees and volunteers in generally accepted ways that a Human Resource Dept. in a business would support? Does your church try to let your community know what time their service(s) is and do other forms of marketing that a business would also implement?

A measurement statistic gives a benchmark of current performance and it provides an opportunity to give a vision of improvement. For example, in this next year, how about increasing the number of our volunteers by 25%? Then, a year in the future, you have a very specific measurement that you can come back to and monitor the results. Did we hit that 25% goal? If not, why not? What could we have done differently to have hit that goal? If we did hit our goal, what did we do right in hitting that goal and is there anything we still could have done better.

In fact, this process of setting areas to monitor and looking to establish a culture of continuous improvement would be a worthy goal for any organization, including a church.

2) another person might take objection with the soundness of the question, “how many people have you asked to church in this past week?” They could say that question is not a totally accurate statistic to track. Why? Well, if I ask my neighbor to church one week, is it a good expectation for church leadership to want to encourage their attendees to ask their neighbor again, week after week to keep their numbers high?

Of course not. But, as we will see, it does measure how enthusiastic the congregation is to want to talk about their church and what is going on there. Surely, there are more people a church attendee can ask beside their one neighbor. Are there other neighbors, or family, or others who they associate with at their kids sports activities, or someone they talk to at the grocery store?

So what benefits are there to using the question, “how many people have you asked to church this past week?” as a metric to keep track of and measure the performance of the church over time? Here are some :

1) making this question as a key church priority can help increase boldness in the congregation to want to reach out and not be inward focused. It encourages the truth that we, as a church have something of value that people would benefit from—talk about it!
2) if we want people in our church to share their faith with others ( a difficult thing for alot of people), then encouraging people to just invite
someone to church is a great first step in getting people just to talk about spiritual things with others. And as “success” stories come in, whether its seeing increased attendance at the church, or hearing about a specific person’s testimony as they have started to attend the church and participated in its activities, those positive stories can raise the bar of excitement at a church.

3) it encourages practical actions to our faith. Too often, Christians can build up their knowledge and limit putting their faith into practice. Remember, we are supposed to be doers of the Word, not just hearers. Inviting someone is a practical activity that goes beyond having a good intention to do it at sometime.

4) for some people this question will be a great litmus test to helping them decide when its time to leave the church. If a person has been frustrated at their church and has tried to work things out with others, but with little success, what value does it bring to the health of the church if they refuse to invite people to the church going forward? If people are not excited about inviting others to their church, that should be an indication that something is wrong and maybe its time to move on.

5) this question of monitoring the congregation’s inviting people to church is a great one for moving people to unity–intent on one purpose. It is church-wide project that people can gather around, pray about, and see God work.

6) this question can lead to needed improvements at the church. Why? If I am holding on to a frustration over some issue at the church, or with some specific ministry, which prevents me from inviting people to our church (for example, we don’t have that great a Men’s Ministry, or Children’s Ministry, or whatever), then with a culture that is looking to make things positive, I can be moved to get involved and do something about my frustration and make it better. When people are active in the church looking to improve it, look for exciting things to happen.

7) thinking in terms of reaching out to others can also lead us to being sensitive to those in our church who have begun to “check out” and are on the fringes in their attendance. If the question of inviting people to church benefits the size of the church and gets more people involved, then we will be increasingly sensitive to those that we perceive might consider leaving and reducing the size of the church. Lay people, as well as staff will be encouraged to ask if there is anything wrong or if they can help in any way. (Please note that if this idea is implemented, emphasis needs to be frequently conveyed that numbers represent people.) A church’s activities should be ultimately meant to touch people’s lives.

8) being focused on inviting people to church will likely result in increased church attendance. As people consider who to invite to church, it should also lead to contacting people who have left the church, which can lead to some healthy reconciliation.

How to track?

Probably the best way to track a congregation’s participation in an initiative like this is to use a “Friendship Register”. Typically these books are passed down a row during the service. Attendees at a service are asked to sign their name and write down any specific prayer request they might have. The forms are pre-printed, so to have an extra column on it that someone can write down if they invited someone to church would not be much trouble. Whoever collects these sheets of paper can be asked to tabulate how many names were asked .

I have been to churches that are stagnant. Attendance has maintained a horizontal line (or even declining) for some time. Being in a service seems
automatic and cookie cutter-ish. When I’m walking down the halls, I’ll hear a lot of conversation, but I tend to rarely overhear anything church related. Outside the church, rarely do I hear of anyone talking about it, although it didn’t even exist.

I have also been exposed to other churches that just by walking through its doors, you can almost immediately sense energy. People seem to be excited to be a part of what’s happening there. Even outside the building, out in the community, if that church’s name get’s mentioned, people have thoughts about it.

I don’t know about you, but it is that second kind of church that I want to be a part of —and also invite others to be.

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One thought on “A vital question for church leaders

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