Someone asked me recently what role I think metrics (or numbers or data as I will use interchangeably in this post) play in healthy church growth. I love the question more than I love the answer I’m about to give. I generally love the questions more than the answers, though.
Data matters in our church. And in life in general, but I’ll stick to the original scope of the question.
Here at Renovatus our leaders set goals for the church. And because goals must be measurable in order to be actual goals, we use metrics and we collect data.
Setting a goal to “grow the church” is not a goal. Setting out to increase Sunday morning attendance by 25% by the end of the year is a goal. At the end of the year I can measure our attendance and see if accomplished what we set out to do.
Setting a goal to “support world missions” is not a goal. Committing to raise the funds for a $25,000 church building in India in 2013 is a goal.
That being said, I have done this just long enough to know that growing a church isn’t just about setting goals and measuring things. Not everything that is good and healthy and beautiful and Spirit driven can fit in a nifty acronym or in tidy boxes. Trust me. I’ve tried really hard to make it so.
Data and metrics tell us a lot. They help us plan and forecast and steward our resources wisely. They tell us when we may need more children’s ministry workers and community life group leaders. They raise good questions like “do we need to re-evaluate the parking lot between services?” and “can we afford that gear right now?”
But data isn’t everything. More precisely, it isn’t the end. It’s simply the means.
Researcher-Storyteller Brene Brown aptly proposes that “maybe stories are just data with a soul.” I love that idea for so many reasons.
Any time we’ve tried conventional church growth models on at Renovatus they simply don’t fit. Much like David attempting to wear Saul’s armor we eventually learned to be comfortable with our own slingshot. One of our rocks is a deep conviction and commitment to building altars. So much so that we put it in our manifesto.
It says this:
We will build altars in the world. We will collect and tell stories. We will celebrate and honor the people, places and things that God chooses to use.
So we collect the data and we measure the things as a means to build altars, as a tool to help tell stories.
I read annual church survey results to my staff so they know what they are doing is working and that it matters.
I compare this year’s offerings to the last 3 years so that I can tell our congregation what they’ve accomplished and how their generosity has enabled some pretty incredible Kingdom work.
I keep up with the number of people we baptize and I want to see monthly ministry budget reports. Sure, I am nerdy enough to find some satisfaction in simply counting things and making line graphs and spreadsheets out of numbers. But the numbers aren’t the headliners- the people they represent are.
If the data can help us honor and celebrate what the Lord is doing, we’d be remiss not to collect it!
Building altars in the world is the objective. Data is simply one of the tools in our toolbelt.
So, measure away. Set goals. Draw up plans. Have at it. Just use it all to help tell a good story.