How Healthy is Your Church? These 11 Numbers Will Tell You.
Whether you’ve thought it or not, your church has an evaluation system.
Every service is evaluated weekly. It’s evaluated by every attendee. They talk about it afterwards in the lobby. They share their impressions between friends and family. Your first time visitors are evaluating their experience at your church, comparing it against the other churches they have or are visiting.
If it’s really good, others hear about it. If it’s really bad, even more “others” hear about it. Here is the reality: If people don’t invite their friends to your church, it is not because they are embarrassed about God. It’s because they are embarrassed about their church! We can’t help ourselves; we are made in the image of a God who has evaluated everything He’s ever made.
In Genesis 1, we find God giving himself a grade every day.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
“Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:17-20
We’re not supposed to judge the people around us, but we are supposed to evaluate the fruit we are producing. During Jesus’ talk with his disciples in the Upper Room, Jesus said:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”. John 15:1-2
A good farmer inspects his vines for fruit, then he takes action to enable them to bear more fruit.
Two Ways to Measure
There are two ways to measure the health of an organization. One is by quality; the other, by quantity.
Quality measures tend to be subjective. They rely on taste, perception, anecdote and intuition. Quantity measures tend to be more objective. They rely on numbers. Numbers need to be interpreted, but they tell a story, and that story is usually very accurate.
Healthy churches measure both ways.
My mentor, Dr. Fulton Buntain, always said, “If God didn’t care about numbers, why did he write a whole book called Numbers?” He went on to say, “We count because people because people count!”
Healthy churches evaluate by both quality and quantity. Every church should have “describables” and “measurables.” A describable is what we desire to see happen in the life of an individual and the church. A measurable is how we are going to evaluate if what we are describing as a desire is being fulfilled and happening.
The Importance of Numbers
When I go to my doctor, he measures things in numbers: my weight, blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, etc. These numbers tell him a lot about me. I can argue with the numbers, but they don’t lie. If my blood pressure is too high, that’s a sign of bad health. Likewise, we now know enough about what a healthy church looks like to be able to tell a lot about a church from its numbers. Here are eleven indicators you may want to pay attention to:
1. Your Number of First Time Guests.
To maintain your current size, you’ll need three first-time guests each week for every hundred regular attenders. To grow, you’ll need to average five first-time guests per week. What’s your number?
2. Your Percentage of Return Guests.
The average church sees 6-10% of their first-time guests return for a second visit, 25% of their second-time guests return for a third visit, and 35% of their third-time guests become regular attenders. What are your numbers?
3. Percentage of Guests who Stick.
Average churches see 6-10% of their first timers become regular attenders. Outstanding churches see as many as 30% become regulars. What’s your number?
Note: these three numbers are indicators of the health of your Assimilation System.
4. Number of First Time Decisions for Christ.
Only the Holy Spirit knows for sure whether a person who indicates a first time decision for Christ represents fruit that will remain. But charting this statistic is your most important measure of fruitfulness.
Jesus said to go and make disciples, and a disciple starts with a decision to follow. How many adults, teens and children made that decision in your church last year? How many did your church help lead to Christ outside your church (on missions trips and evangelistic ventures) last year? Compare this year’s number to the prior year’s numbers and you’ll be able to see if you are becoming a more fruitful church.
5. Number of Baptisms.
Baptism is a step of obedience as well as a public declaration of faith. A healthy ratio for your church is to baptize about one for every three who make a public profession.
6. Total Giving.
This is a measure of the maturity and generosity of your church and the key indicator of how much ministry you will be able to do.
7. Total Number of Givers.
It’s useful to compare this number to your total attendance. Tracking your ratio of givers to attenders year by year will objectify your church’s financial maturity.
Your city and county websites will tell you the average per household income for your area. Or, you can use the baseline poverty level income if you like. The important thing is to make a baseline guess at what a tithe looks like for a member of your church. Is it $6,000 per year? $4,000 per year? $2,500 per year?
Once you set that number (and it can be somewhat arbitrary), then you can measure your number of and percentage of tithing units and monitor them year by year. If the number or percentage is increasing, your church is maturing in generosity. If your percentage of tithers is decreasing, your either attracting a growing number of newcomers, or diminishing in generosity. Note if your per capita giving is too high, it could point to the fact you are not effectively reaching new people.
8. Number of People Taking Spiritual Steps.
True North Church’s system for spiritual growth is called, “Grow Track.” Habits such as a daily quiet time and weekly worship attendance help people grow in Christ. Relationships such as a mentor or disciple and fellow Small Group members are critical for growth. We believe that, “The more steps you take, the more progress you make.”
9. Number of Volunteers/Serve Team.
Part of God’s will is that every believer serves according to their spiritual gifts (1 Peter 4:10). There’s a rule of thumb in church growth circles that says churches with 57% or more of their attenders actively volunteering in the church usually means that the church is growing.
10. Weekly Worship Attendance.
Evaluating your weekly worship services is mostly a subjective (qualitative) evaluation. Monitoring your weekly attendance tells you a lot about how often your members are coming, how many guests are joining, and how many regulars are exiting.
Because attendance varies by season, it’s prudent to compare this week’s attendance to this week last year’s attendance. We find it helpful at True North to track our attendance using a seven week moving average. We graph it on a year-by-year basis to compare peaks and valleys. What does your graph look like?
11. Percentage of Adults in Small Groups.
Healthy churches have at least 40-50% of their adult attendance in some form of Small Group. Great churches have upwards of 80% of their adults in Small Groups. If your church has adult Sunday School classes with fewer than 25 members, or your classes break into Small Groups during Sunday School, those count as well.
At True North we attempt to have 100% of our Sunday morning adult attendance in life groups. We look at two numbers. We have a “big number” and a “small number.” Our “big number” is the number of adults who attend True North over a 6-week period. Our “small number” is what we average on any given Sunday. Our goal is to market our Life Groups to the “big number” believing for the “small number” to sign up! We average over 80% of our Sunday adult auditorium attendance in life groups.
At True North we are constantly developing and creating our systems that enable us to collect, monitor, and evaluate all of these bits of objective data. If you can’t get to them all this year, start with the ones that seem most important to you. A good (and free) tool to help you track all of these is churchmetrics.com.
Dr. Mark Zweifel is the Lead Pastor at True North Church in Fairbanks, Alaska