Churches sometimes shy away from discussing or even examining numbers other than membership and budget. As someone who frequently talks with churches that are either thriving or shrinking, I find that most only look at these key indicators when they are great, or when it’s too late.
Numbers and reports should never take away from your mission, but monitoring certain metrics beyond what may be typical can help you understand what’s going on in your church. People sometimes believe that numbers make the mission impersonal. I would suggest that few things are more personal than rolling up your sleeves and really looking at how your members contribute their time and gifts to the church. The sooner the better, as it gives you the chance to make changes early on. Waiting to act until after an issue becomes critical might be too little, too late.
As Christian author and business development strategist Ben Stroup said in the Voices on Stewardship blog, "You have to know what you know and what you don’t know. Analytics must have a seat at the executive table. You can’t trust your gut. In fact, you can assume that most of the time it’s wrong."
So where do you start? In addition to your overall church budget and spending, here are three other areas that can show you where your church is headed — and one overall tip about the best way to analyze and apply metrics.
1. Track individual giving per person.
The number to use? Giving divided by attendance, measured each week (called weekly per capita giving, or WPCG). Individual giving amounts to a heart monitor on the church, so it’s best to check it often and provide resources for members when numbers start to shift. If you’re gaining new members, but your WPCG is sliding, add budget information to the new member class, start a sermon series on giving or consider adding e-Giving to your arsenal.
You also might want to look at what’s happening in the lives of your givers. Ron Edmondson, senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, said in The Church Executive,* “As church leaders, we need real information, immediately. If somebody stops attending two or three weeks in a row — or stops giving for two or three months in a row — there’s a problem, somewhere. It’s an indication. At that point, it becomes a discipleship issue for me.”
2. Monitor ministry involvement and volunteers.
Americans in their late 30s to mid-50s are the most likely to volunteer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But of all Americans, only about 25 percent volunteered in 2015. How does that compare to your church?
The number of volunteers you have is a sign that your members are active and engaged. They’re applying what’s been taught at church. When that starts to change, it’s time to investigate to see what’s going on and how you can rejuvenate your volunteer efforts. You can keep track of volunteers through spreadsheets and databases or via church management software.
3. Involve the rest of the congregation.
The key here is to focus on attendance. Many churches will tell visitors how many members they have, but that's not an accurate representation of how many you'll see on a Sunday morning. It's also not very helpful when you need to manage facility capacity and usage.
Monitoring attendance is also important because it shows the surface-level health of a service, event or program. If numbers are consistently declining, making a change>— whether it's to the start time or the content — can revitalize the program. If you don’t track attendance, you won’t notice it’s dropping until it’s significant enough to make empty seats obvious.
Finally, take the next step and look for trends
Joel Mikell, senior vice president and partner at Horizons Stewardship Company, said in the same Church Executive article* quoted above, “Unfortunately, most churches only look at what came in over the previous weekend. They are not looking at trending, movement up and down, lost givers or new givers. Many church leaders just want to know if their church is in the black or in the red.”
Consider WPCG, for example. Though you do want to track this week by week, it’s more important to look at trends over the months, since weekly giving will fluctuate due to member pay periods, life stages, vacation time and general busyness. And the same holds true no matter what metric you’re looking at. Seasonal dips in attendance and volunteers are always possible, but the time to worry is when the trend line heads down and stays down.
Knowing the numbers is about knowing the condition and health of your flock. Only time tells that story. So start today if you aren’t tracking your chosen numbers over months and years. Your future church will thank you.
* “Demystifying Data: A conversation on turning information into actionable insights to achieve your God-given vision,” May-June 2016.