What separates growing churches from declining churches?
If you’re familiar with any of my work, you probably can guess I really like numbers.
While numbers aren’t everything, without a baseline perspective it’s hard to make decisions about ministry strategy. If you’re trying to discern whether or not a church is healthy, the numbers give you something consistent to review—an indication whether all of the activity is producing the right results.
Many churches try to make changes and have no way to measure if those hard-fought changes are really having an impact—in a positive or a negative way—which is why I think it’s so important to be looking at what the numbers are telling us.
Exactly two years ago, my team released the very first version of The Unstuck Church Report. It was designed to give church leaders an objective view of church health by highlighting the trends we’re seeing in five key areas of ministry across a wide variety and number of churches (Ministry Reach, Staffing and Leadership, Connection, Finances and Ministry Health).
What indicators can we look at to see if a church is healthy?
It’s easy in ministry for there to be a lot of anecdotal stories that illustrate how people feel about church or a specific ministry, but what about data to show where the church is headed?
A few quarters ago, I even dissected the difference in growing and declining churches in each of the key areas. It was fascinating.
Each quarter, I like to share the data that stands out to me.
This quarter, there were three areas in particular that I want to dig into. These are the trends that jumped out at me.
1. The Front-Door Challenge
I wasn’t surprised to see this show up. When my team and I work with churches, this is something that we see often, and this is also a theme we’ve seen consistently in our quarterly reports.
For churches to maintain health and growth over time, the number of first-time guests over a 12-month period needs to be equal to or greater than their average weekly attendance. But, on average, we’re seeing churches of 1,000, as an example, average 490 first-time guests in one year.
If you dig into the report, you’ll see that ministry connection numbers are getting stronger, but also that churches are seeing fewer first-time guests. These numbers combined suggest churches really are dealing with more of a “front-door” than a “back-door” challenge.
I suggest reading this. With an outside perspective, Connexus Church embraced this “front-door” challenge by pursuing an inviting culture and went all-in on becoming a church that’s passionate about seeing their friends, neighbors and colleagues experience Jesus.
(A few years later, they’ve seen their number of new guests skyrocket.)
2. An Increase in Group Engagement Isn’t Necessarily a Win
This quarter, we saw churches report that 64% of adults and students are in small groups, but only 44% of adults and students are engaged in volunteering.
On the surface, this may look like a win. Yes, it’s encouraging that so many people are connecting into small groups for community and Bible study. And that is a great way to connect with people and build relationships. My wife Emily and I have been involved in, or led, many small groups over the years.
However, our experience at The Unstuck Group has shown that people who volunteer are actually far more “engaged” in the mission of the church. Having people involved at that volunteer level impacts many aspects of church health, including frequency of worship attendance, invitations to new guests and giving, as examples.
If you’re trying to find ways to engage people and keep them engaged, it’s critical to build up the volunteer teams and leaders of those teams.
Serving together creates a deep, rich community environment worth pursuing. It gives people the option to “own” part of the mission of the church and put their gifts and talents to use. This is how God designed the body of Christ to engage the mission … together.
3. Governance Complexity and Declining Churches
When I wrote an article series on the differences in growing and declining churches, this data stuck out to me: Declining churches have twice as many committees.
Churches that have large decision-making boards and multiple additional committees generally struggle, but it should be no surprise.
The more people you have making decisions about what can or can’t happen in ministry, the fewer people you have actually doing ministry.
Growing churches have streamlined their governance structure to eliminate unnecessary committees and the meetings that go with them.
This allows these churches to be more nimble when it comes to decision-making. Tough decisions that impact the overall health of the church don’t get bogged down in various layers of bureaucracy.
It’s counterintuitive, but it can often be smaller churches that struggle with having more committees and boards than larger churches. If you lead at a small church, it might be time to reevaluate how your church governance is structured to make sure it is efficient and actually serving the church’s broader vision and mission.
THIS DATA IS JUST THE BEGINNING.
The Q4 2019 report holds some really compelling data on 15+ other metrics.
I really believe this tool can help you take some valuable steps towards health in your ministry. It’s invaluable to have data and benchmarks to measure your church’s health and see where other churches are today.
If you’re interested in reading the other metrics and learning about the trends we’re seeing, you can download the report here.
This article originally appeared on CareyNieuwhof.com and is reposted here by permission.