This is part seven in a continuing series, Is Church Growth the Highway to Hell?
Numbers are important because they are a sign of effectiveness (notice I said a sign, not the sign). If you don’t know what your numbers are, how do you judge if anything is improving? How do you know where you’re at? I don’t know a single youth pastor who could get away with not counting heads on a trip because ‘numbers aren’t important.’
Numbers can prove the effectiveness or failure of outreach methods. They can show you that your worship services are filling up and you better start thinking about a solution. Numbers can tell you if people are only showing up on Sunday or if they’re also digging deeper in small groups or other opportunities. Try telling the trustees that you’re not going to keep track of receipts because numbers aren’t important. Keeping track of numbers helps us keep on track.
Numbers Not the Only Thing
Of course numbers aren’t the only thing. If we based decisions strictly on numbers we’d be just like the businesses that focuses only on the bottom-line and don’t care about the souring public opinion, which will eventually hit the bottom-line—but then it will be too late.
Other factors are important. Mark Waltz, author of First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences for Churches, looks at both hard measurements (visible, identifiable, trackable numbers) and soft-side measurements (feedback, stories that offer insight and changed lives):
“They both matter. Numbers are people—always people. And people matter. They matter to God and they matter to us. Period. A great story from a person is just that—it’s great! But, when charged with the responsibility to create environments for people to connect to each other and Christ, who and how many of our people are stepping toward Christ in those environments will determine whether or not we even hear stories of life change.”
Sometimes numbers can be deceiving. We need to know about changed lives—a church that isn’t increasing numerically but is still seeing changed hearts is still growing. And a church that is growing numerically but isn’t seeing lives changed has a problem.
Beyond numbers, it’s important to track our results in general. This includes numbers, but it also means the soft-side numbers Waltz talks about.
It’s a basic marketing principle that you can’t improve anything if you don’t keep track of what you’re doing and what the results are. And churches have a bad track record here. Our 2005 Communications Report showed that 76% of churches aren’t tracking the results of their marketing. Ouch.
What tracking ultimately leads us to is whether or not we’re meeting our goal. Churches have different goals, but one general goal of the Church (capital C) is to tell others about Jesus. Are we effective or are we failing?
We can’t stick our head in the sand and hope it’s working. We need to be proactive and fix what’s broken. It’s not about perfection, it’s about effectiveness. What good is an ineffective church?