Counting buildings, budgets and butts gives an incomplete picture of church health. Here are ways to measure a church’s reach.
“Measurement is fabulous. Unless you’re busy measuring what’s easy to measure, as opposed to what’s important.” —Seth Godin
When it comes to “keeping score,” churches in North America have typically focused on three metrics: buildings, budgets and butts. While there is nothing inherently wrong with counting each of these things, we do need to ask if keeping score of how big our buildings are, how much money people give and how many people show up when we meet is the best indicator of how a church is doing.
The fact is, these three metrics really give us no real sense of the influence a church is having on its community. Does the number of people who attend a Sunday morning gathering give you any indication of the impact the church is having on individual neighborhoods or the city? The answer has to be a resounding “No!” There is no correlation between the number of people who show up for an event and the difference those people are having where they live. The same is true with how much money people give to the church, and how large a church’s buildings are. The reason we “count” those three things is because they are easy to count. But we must be challenged not to count what is easy, but instead measure what is important.
Counting (Quantitative) and Measuring (Qualitative)
While we often use the language of “counting” and “measuring” interchangeably, there is actually a difference between the two. It is important to make the distinction, because the church has largely been in the counting business, which has negatively influenced the way we think about the nature of the church and limited our impact in the world. We need to move to measuring more and counting less. Let’s make the distinction this way:
Counting is giving attention to numbers. When counting, the question to be answered is “How many?” It is quantitative. Conversations about “How many?” are most frequently conversations about resources, but can also be about activities. Conversations about resources, in a time of limited resources, are commonly conversations about sufficiency: “Do we have enough?” or “How can we get more?” Examples could include finances or people. We ask questions like “Do we have enough money for that mission?” or “Do we have enough volunteers for that ministry?” A quantitative question about activities might be “How many Bible studies were conducted?”
Measuring is giving attention to change. When measuring, the question is not about “How many?” but rather “How far?” Conversations about “How far?” are frequently about the change that can be measured over a particular time, as in “How far have we come over the past year?” Measuring is about qualitative change. Has the quality of something changed over time? In other words, has something gotten better, or worse, since the last time we measured?
There is, of course, a need for both counting and measuring. In all complex organizations, multiple tools are needed. However, like all tools, the right tool must be chosen for the job at hand. So, when it comes to mission and ministry what sorts of things should we count? And what should we measure?
We hesitate to be too prescriptive in giving suggestions for what your church could count and measure, because contexts are different. But let us suggest some possibilities that will hopefully crack open your imagination for metrics that fit your community more specifically.
In light of the fact that the church is a missionary entity—we are the sent, missionary people of God—one of the things we should count are missionary behaviors. You should be asking and counting things like: How many neighbors have I gotten to know by name in the past month? How many coworkers have I gotten to know on a deeper level? How many significant conversations have I had in my favorite Third Place? How many people have I had in my home this past month? How many meals have I shared with people outside my church family this week? How many times this week have I intentionally been a blessing to someone?
Not only does counting the right things give us a better indication of a church’s engagement in the community, and ultimately its impact, but it also illustrates to the congregation what is important. The reality is what gets measured gets done and what gets measured gets repeated.
While all of the suggestions listed above can certainly help a church begin to move in the right direction, these questions are still activities. They are more about “inputs,” rather than “outcomes.” Unfortunately, most often in the nonprofit church world, we stop with inputs.
What do we mean by a “measurable” that is outcome-based? First, they are primarily about change. If we can describe the change we desire to see or make, then we also can have conversations about whether we are moving toward that change over time. Measuring relates not so much to what is, but rather what could be. It is more about possibilities. Second, the best questions associated with measuring ask both about change and about time. For example, we might ask, “How have the test scores changed over the past six months in the elementary school where the church provides tutors?”[i]
In the context of the church, measuring is about determining transformational change (discipleship) in both people and in the neighborhoods where we live. Ask yourself, “What changes would you like to see in the lives of the people, but also in the life of your community?” That is an outcome. But then ask the follow-up question, “What will it take to get to that place?” Then begin to ask measurement questions toward that change. “How will we know if we are making progress in the right direction?” “What will we measure to determine transformational change?”
Measuring is definitely more difficult than counting, but in almost every single case, measuring is essential if we are serious about making a difference.
Action / Reflection
1. Create your own scorecard that reflects the need to both count and measure. Either build your own list or choose some from this lesson that would fit your context.
2. What are your thoughts on the suggestion that the typical counting of buildings, budgets, and butts is a poor indicator of the effectiveness of a church? Is that a fair assessment?
[i] Gil Rendle. Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness and Metrics (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004).
Brad Brisco is the director of bivocational church planting for the North American Mission Board and the coauthor of The Missional Quest, Becoming a Church of the Long Run and Next Door As It Is in Heaven. This article originally appeared on NAMB.net.