How to Really Measure Success In Your Church


GraphI was intrigued by a recent post I read by Seth Godin. He writes…

Avoiding the false proxy trap

Sometimes, we can’t measure what we need, so we invent a proxy, something that’s much easier to measure and stands in as an approximation.
TV advertisers, for example, could never tell which viewers would be impacted by an ad, so instead, they measured how many people saw it. Or a model might not be able to measure beauty, but a bathroom scale was a handy stand in.
A business person might choose cash in the bank as a measure of his success at his craft, and a book publisher, unable to easily figure out if the right people are engaging with a book, might rely instead on a rank on a single bestseller list. One last example: the non-profit that uses money raised as a proxy for difference made.
You’ve already guessed the problem. Once you find the simple proxy and decide to make it go up, there are lots of available tactics that have nothing at all to do with improving the very thing you set out to achieve in the first place. When we fall in love with a proxy, we spend our time improving the proxy instead of focusing on our original (more important) goal instead. [Read more]

I wonder if churches today have chosen a false proxy.

What do most churches measure?

- Offerings
- Attendance

In fact, every week success is often gauged by how many people show up and how much they give.

I know many pastors who feel better on Monday because of these two numbers. When I was a pastor, I often counted how many people showed up at every event I attended. I was addicted to increasing numbers. Counting for me became an obsession. I loved to count heads and often was irritated when the total attendance of our Sunday services wasn’t tallied because someone forgot to count. I falsely linked my worth as a pastor to attendance as if I was responsible for everyone who showed up. That was totally ridiculous.

What if the amount of offerings and attendance are actually false proxies?

What if working to see these numbers increase has resulted in spending time “improving the proxy instead of focusing on our original (more important) goal instead”?

As I’ve read the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the rest of the New Testament, I’ve noted a lot of verses that address how we manage money. Both Jesus and Paul had important things to say about the use of money. Yet I’ve never found anywhere that either of them indicated offerings are the measure of a church’s effectiveness.

Certainly offerings are both easy and important to count. The amount received will facilitate the mission of a local church. Counting is essential. But I think it’s a proxy.

Offerings are an approximation for difference made. As is attendance. Yet there is no way to truly know how every person who attends a worship service on a given weekend has actually been impacted. It’s often assumed that attendance = impact. But this is not necessarily so.

How can churches truly measure impact?

While offerings and attendance are approximations of impact, they should still be counted. Tracking the increase or decrease of both can be helpful in evaluating trends as well as how people are engaging with the worship service.

But the major problem with attendance and offerings as the primary indicators of success is the false assumption that the gathering of believers for worship is what matters most. It clearly is not.

Jesus only mentions the church in two verses (Matthew 16:18 & 18:17). In both of these verses it would be difficult to determine He was at all focused on church attendance.

Yet as I read the Gospels I am overwhelmed by Jesus emphasis on loving obedience. In Matthew 28, He sends His followers under His authority to make disciples which includes baptizing and teaching to obey all that He commanded.

Certainly a place to start in terms of measuring impact would be to pay attention to the number of people in a local church that area actively engaged in disciplemaking.

This isn’t easy. Maybe that’s why churches focus on attendance and offerings.

George Patterson notes that… (link)

In the Book of Acts, the apostles apparently gathered data on their work, for they were able to report on how the messianic movement was growing, both by adding and by multiplying:

  •  Numbers Baptisms and believers, by gender, added to churches (2:41; 2:47; 5:14; 11:24).
  • Numbers of disciples by region, city and social class (Acts 6:1; 6:7).
  • Churches by region (9:31; 16:5).
  • Regions penetrated by the Word of God (12:24; 13:48-49; 19:20).

What if churches actually focused on disciplemaking and determined that their focus would be to make disciplemakers?

And what if churches were intentional about training every believer to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples?

What if churches actually started tracking disciplemaking relationships?

What if impact was measured by…

  • New disciples (indicated by baptisms)
  • Disciplemaking relationships
  • Disciplemaking groups
  • Church plants
Ed Stetzer notes – I think that discipleship is harder to measure, but the time we spend discipling, and the number engaged in such processes, can be. (link)

Yet just because it is more difficult doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth measuring.

Abandon false proxies as the measure of impact. Focus on increasing the number of obedient disciplemakers!

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Dave DeVries About Dave DeVries

Dave DeVries is a missionary to the US with OC International. He is focused on accelerating missional movements by equipping and empowering pastors and church planters to embrace missional practices, and partnering with denominational and church leaders to strategically multiply churches across America. You can read his blog at Misisonal Challenge. Dave trains church planters with the CMTC and trains coaches with Creative Results Management. He also is the North America coordinator for the Global Church Planting Network (GCPN).

  • John Brown

    I don’t see how numbers of any kind are an indication of the success of a ministry, especially in light of what Jesus said about the church being filled with true believers (wheat) and false believers (tares). There’s no way any pastor could omnisciently look into the hearts of people making professions of faith or being baptized and declare them to be soundly saved followers of Christ. Especially if they have yet to bear any fruit consistent with salvation.
    So why count at all? Just be faithful in carefully dividing the Word and let the Holy Spirit do the counting.

  • Darren Hultgren

    Great article…but it’s idealistic (I mean that nicely…not nasty). I agree with you that to measure one’s worth or value by mere attendance & offerings, you’re simply setting yourself up for hollow victories at best…or much worse at worst.

    I have found however that measuring discipleship is nearly impossible! Like measuring whether someone is filled with the Holy Spirit or not (now there’s an argument). :-)

    Yes we count attendance – Sunday services, kids church, youth ministry, etc.
    Plus we do count offerings – Sunday services, plus building fund & mission projects.
    We also measure the number of small groups we have, how healthy they are and how many new groups we start from them. (Small groups are the most difficult…and require CONSTANT tinkering from the senior minister)
    We also count the number of people serving in the church – this fluctuates – but it’s still a very good measure.
    Plus we count people attending New Members Lunches – those joining the church & catching the overall vision.
    Lastly, we count water baptisms – these are always far below those making decisions in the church.

    Overall, we add all these numbers on one sheet over 3 & 6 month periods…so one doesn’t “slit their wrists” because of one low Sunday (or three).

    Final Note: As Pastors we need to look after ourselves psychologically, as well as spiritually. For me, I have a clear calling from the Lord to pastor the church I’m pastoring – NOT ministry in general. This is VERY important – otherwise pastors will simply shift & change “jobs” when things get too tough or the results aren’t positive as per their unrealistic perception. For all the MANY times I’ve gone to walk out the ministry door for good, I have a mental image of Christ leaning on that doorpost questioning me piercingly, “So I’ve released you from this House of Mine have I?”

    This question ALWAYS turns me…and I am so very thankful for this…THIS is my measure and my motivation!

    • Wayne Ammons

      If you can’t express something with numbers, it’s a good indication that you don’t enough about that something. Certain topics are, however, more difficult than others to express in such a way. Virtually anyone would agree that 2 + 2 = 4 (easy). Some would argue with a highway patrol officer as to being stopped for “speeding” – until the officers produces radar pictures showing the driver’s speed was 78 in a 65 zone (the same person may argue with the judge in court, but the numbers don’t argue, they don’t change their mind, they say the same thing to everyone, and they stay the same even though you may have gotten an addition contempt charge in court. The more difficult things to explain with numbers include “I love you”, “It’s too hot in here”, and “Do you smell something?” One could measure causes of these effects rather than just ignore the feelings expressed. I’m concerned that most churches (and Christians) are too apathetic and comfortable. Being challenged with keeping records is perhaps offensive to them. It makes me wonder what kind of records are being kept by God.

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