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If you have an aversion to numbers, you may want to skip this post. I understand. There have been too many church leaders who see numerical realities as a goal. Numbers thus can become the end instead of the means.

But let’s not lose sight of the ways numerical tracking can help us. To use the parabolic illustration of Jesus, we can never know where the missing sheep are if we are not keeping track of them (see Luke 15:3-7).

The list of potential records to keep is long, but I am focusing on those eight records I have seen be most helpful to churches. They do not have to be arduous to track.

  1. Membership. In many churches, this number has become almost meaningless. If a church has 900 members and an average attendance of 150, the gap is too large. Church leaders need to start taking membership seriously and, thus, the way they track it. While speaking at the annual assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church recently, I met a lady who told me she was a member of her Presbyterian church, but still on the membership rolls of two Southern Baptist churches.
  2. Worship attendance. This metric is the most common among churches today. It is at least a general indicator of involvement. I do not encourage church leaders to try to account for individual attendance in worship services; it is too cumbersome and often invasive. An aggregate number is sufficient, and should include everyone on campus during worship services, including children who may not be in the worship center.
  3. Small group attendance. Assimilation rates are very high in small groups. Connections are best made here, whatever the group name may be: small groups, Sunday school classes, life groups, home groups, and others. It is vital to keep track of this number, especially relative to average worship attendance. If I see a church with average small group attendance equal to at least 80 percent of worship attendance, I know that assimilation is likely very effective.
  4. Individual attendance in small groups. It is at this point where I recommend churches keep track of the individual attendees of those in small groups. It can be a relatively easy process with a person responsible for keeping records in each small group, and a good, yet inexpensive, tracking software. I know of a number of churches that do an excellent job of following up on those who are not present in a given week.
  5. Total undesignated giving. These are the funds that can be used for church budget needs. These totals are often lead indicators about the future growth or decline of the church.
  6. Total designated giving. These funds include anything not given to undesignated giving. I strongly discourage reporting total undesignated and designated giving as a single number. It can give an impression that church stewardship is better than it really is.
  7. Individual giving. This metric is required for tax purposes. I will have an article in the future on whether the pastor and staff (outside the one person keeping records) should have access to these records. I never did in the four churches I served as pastor.
  8. Ministry involvement. This metric is kept in only about 10 percent of churches in America, but I think it is vital. I would attempt to account for the number of people involved in some type of ministry or volunteer activity in the church. This record could be an exception to weekly reporting. Most churches of which I am aware keep track of a single number quarterly. For example, if the number of different persons involved in a ministry increased by 50 from one year to the next, you can assume it is a trend toward greater assimilation and greater church health.

One of the best ways I learn from churches is to hear from leaders and members in those churches. Let me know what your perspectives are on these eight metrics, and let me know what you track in your church.

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources and the co-author of Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations.
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Mike Fogerson

commented on Aug 7, 2015

Dr. Rainer, great insight as always. I get the numbers and reason behind them on all but one of your statistics, number (7) seven. As a pastor of nearly 30 years and a graduate from SBTS (I'm the guy who told you that your "Bridger Generation" book was your "White Album" in our D.Min seminar), the issue of the pastor knowing individual giving still eludes me. John Maxwell taught that the pastor should be aware of individual giving for the simple reason that change in giving can be a marker of trouble or discontentment with that member. Which to me makes sense because often times the tithe/offering is the last area of surrender but it is the first area to leave when there is a problem (typically with the pastor, staff, church decision, feelings hurt, pride, power, sin, etc.). So my question, "Is it appropriate for a pastor to ask the recording secretary to let him know when a member's giving pattern, not precise amount, dramatically changes? " I currently think that the answer is "yes." I say "yes" for two reasons. First, if a member's giving decreases perhaps there is a financial need the body can help him/her/them with. Secondly, I can try to reach out to that person (or family) in a greater measure as a peacemaker if there is a problem. I would love to hear your opinion, Dr. Rainer. -Mike Fogerson (Chester, IL.)

Lawrence Webb

commented on Aug 7, 2015

"We count numbers because numbers count." There's truth in that slogan, but sometimes we fail to get behind the numbers to see the people the numbers represent. Two of your thoughts are new to me, but they may be the best indicators of involvement in the fellowship of the church: tracking individuals in small groups and tracking individuals in direct ministries/outreach. Membership lists may be virtually meaningless, as in your example of the Presbyterian woman who still had her name on two SBC rolls. I recall a dear lady in one church where I ministered. She was more faithful in attendance and giving than some members, but her name was on the rolls of another church up the road. She held on there so she could be buried in the cemetery where loved ones were also buried.

Mike Fogerson

commented on Aug 7, 2015

Spot on, Pastor. At CFBC we added what is called "Membership Forfeiture" to our membership policy. If a member fails to attend and give (one or the other) for a year, the person forfeits their membership. If they want to rejoin at a later time then they must attend a membership class as one of the prerequisites to rejoining the church. Our retention ratio is presently about 80. Prior to the new policy, our membership roll was over 700 and we ran 150. Today our roll is about 250 and we average around 200 in worship. It was a long and hard battle but I believe this church is stronger for making the membership requirement higher than just walking an aisle or getting baptized. As far as people coming from other churches, helping in the ministry of the church, giving to the church . . . they are some of my best folks, too. I don't force the issue of membership. If they want to join, great. If not, I'm glad they are serving here. However, they do not get to vote on church matters when I would really like their support at a business meeting. That works the other way as well. If the folks are troublemakers instead of peacemakers, they do not get to vote on matters that, in my opinion, are decisions that do not best benefit the church or my ministry.

David Henderson

commented on Aug 7, 2015

Agree completely. One question. We have several people who attend more than one small group weekly. Do I count them once or for each group they attend?

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