It has been said, “Pastors who don’t want to talk about numbers don’t have any numbers to talk about.” I have also heard, “Pastors who live by numbers will die a thousand deaths.” A quick google search will reveal that there is little agreement over which numbers should matter to church leaders.
Numbers do not tell the whole story, but they do tell a story. Numbers matter because numbers represent people, and they may be one indicator of church health. But which numbers matter the most?
Here are three that seem like numbers worth watching:
1. Count your living, breathing, active, accountable church members: No matter how you identify the ones who are actively participating in the life of the church, or at least those who participated up until recently, make sure you count them. Proverbs 27:23 reads, “Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.” You can’t know the condition of your flock if you do not know who is part of the flock.
Church leaders need to know the condition of their flock and they need to know the number of people who make up that congregation. If you have a church membership role that shows an accurate number of active members, then this can also be a measure of whether the church is growing or declining. Most churches have an attrition rate of ten percent per year. That means in a church of 100 active members there will likely be ten people who will die, move away, or stop attending in a twelve-month cycle. If the church hopes to grow, then it must increase new members beyond the ten percent number.
2. Count your groups and the number of people who are involved in groups: Both research and experience show that those church members who participate in Sunday School or small groups are much more connected and committed to the church. Those who only attend worship services find it easier to leave and disconnect from the congregation. Those churches who multiply their groups are also growing churches. Two numbers worth counting are the number of groups or Sunday school classes in your church and the percentage of your Sunday morning crowd that is part of those groups or classes.
3. Count your baptisms: Baptisms represent people who have crossed over from spiritual death to new life in Christ. Baptisms must be counted and celebrated. While a church cannot be responsible for the total number of baptisms, it can – and must – be responsible for its evangelistic activity. Baptisms are one indicator of the evangelistic health of the church. If no one is being saved and baptized, then we must investigate our evangelistic activity. After all, our mission is to go and make disciples of all nations, which includes baptizing them (Matthew 28:18-20). One way to gauge our effectiveness in fulfilling the great commission is to pay attention to the annual baptisms in our congregations.
We should never make numbers a matter of pride. We should also never allow metrics alone to judge the value of our ministry resulting in discouragement. However, we do need to pay attention to numbers and let them tell their story. What numbers matter to you and why do they matter?