Too often, church leaders only pay attention to weekend attendance and revenue patterns at their churches. Sometimes these numbers are referred to as “nickels and noses” or maybe the slightly more vulgar “butts and bucks.” However, there are many other factors to consider if we’re trying to understand what’s really happening inside our churches.
Attendance and revenue numbers are limited indicators; they are simply the result of other things taking place. To have a true understanding of how our churches are growing, we need to dive into leading indicators.
Leading indicators are numbers that demonstrate what’s happening under the hood of your church and reveal the direction it’s heading.
We measure and study those numbers because we believe that if we focus on measuring, we will see a greater difference in the lives of the people in our church and in the community that we serve. It’s been said that what we measure is what really matters to us. If we consistently only report on attendance and revenue numbers, then we send a subtle message to our leadership team that at the end of the day the only things we care about are bigger numbers and more money.
We also need to move beyond how we feel about what’s happening at our church and look at the truth of the situation. Part of being a leader is defining reality, and numbers have a way of both doing that and sobering leaders in the process. Too many times I’ve heard church leaders talk about how they feel about what’s happening in their churches, but those feelings aren’t connected to reality in any way. Instead, we should be looking at numbers that reflect the truth about what’s actually happening at church.
An executive pastor or key team member should undertake the important practice of examining these numbers on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. Keeping these metrics in front of your people can help the church develop strategies and approaches that drive your church to be more effective. Prevailing churches often have dashboards that they generate internally and distribute (via email or through other reporting mechanisms) that present these numbers graphically in order to keep people who aren’t interested in spreadsheets keyed in on what’s happening at the church.
The question for us is what numbers should we be looking at outside of attendance and revenue? Here are seven other areas that you can regularly study to help you understand what’s taking place in your ministry.
When a church leader talks to me about growth, I frequently find myself asking them about their new guest numbers. Understanding the ratio of new-here guests to your total average attendance can provide a clearer picture of what’s happening from an evangelistic perspective. This important indicator demonstrates whether or not the church is drawing in new people on a regular basis.
A good rule of thumb to follow is this: The yearly average number of new-here guests should be equal to the average number of regular attendees on a single Sunday at your church.
Example 1: If your church averages 200 people on a Sunday, then every weekend you should be averaging about four guests per weekend.
Example 2: If your church has 500 people in attendance on a regular basis, then every weekend it would be reasonable for you to see 10 new guests.
If your church typically averages less than that ratio, it could be that your new-here process isn’t robust enough or you’re not effectively gathering information from your new-here guests to get them connected. Likewise, it could be that your front door simply isn’t wide enough and that you need to spend more time reaching out to your community.
I’m constantly surprised that many church leadership teams fail to reflect on what their regular attendance was a year ago in comparison to today. This is a relatively simple way to see what’s happening in the life of your church. By comparing numbers from year to year, you can quickly get a sense of the momentum that has been gained or lost in your church over the last year.
I suspect many churches don’t report their year-to-year attendance numbers because they’re concerned that it will show that their church has flat-lined or is in decline. However, keeping that number in front of leaders will force people to ask, what are we doing to reach more people this year than we did last year? If, in a worst case scenario, your church is in decline, ask yourself, “Why aren’t we growing, and why aren’t we impacting more people than we did at this point last year?”
Percentage of Volunteers
This is an important health metric for the church. In fact, I see this number as a core reflection of growth and potential for the future of a church. Oftentimes, churches that have plateaued or are in decline see somewhere around 20 percent of their people serving on a regular basis. You’ve heard the old adage that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. Well, that’s not a good percentage ratio for your church.
Engagement is critically important to a growing church and ensuring that your community has a high percentage of people serving regularly is an important factor that ensures engagement is possible. Tony Morgan states that 45 percent of your adults need to be serving in one way or another. This percentage is relatively consistent with numbers I’ve seen in growing churches; on any given weekend, 30 percent of the adults are volunteering in one way or another.
Let’s do the math: If your church had 300 people in attendance last weekend, it would be reasonable and appropriate to see 100 people serving next weekend.
What that number of volunteers does is provide a high level of service for your guests by aiding and driving growth. Volunteer percentage is a critically important piece of the puzzle that is necessary for us to understand what’s happening in the lives of our churches.