In August, I wrote a blog entry on why so many church consultations fail to net positive, long-term results. As I wrote that article, in the back of my mind was the ongoing question that I often get about how to measure a church’s transformation. There’s always a lot of pushback from church leaders when the subject comes up, because they are afraid it will all boil down to a numbers game. Many churches … in fact, a huge majority … have seen a plateau in their worship attendance (and virtually every other number), or else a perpetual decline.
Of course, no one wants to “look bad” in the face of failure, so many church leaders want to define church transformation outside of simple worship attendance and their budget. And I have to agree that just because a church is growing in worship attendance or in giving doesn’t mean it’s either a transforming or a transformational church. Besides, there are other important measurements that must be taken into consideration.
So, if you’re wondering whether or not your congregation is engaging transformation, here are six measurements of church transformation. To get a measurement of your congregation’s progress, you will need to take measurements at least annually so you have a comparison to the baseline.
Although spiritual growth in an individual is difficult to measure objectively, it is possible to get a fairly accurate measurement of a congregation’s spiritual growth. A congregation that is growing spiritually will see an increase in participation, beginning with the church leaders, in weekly worship, spiritually focused and/or discipleship development small groups, and spiritual formation classes. You could also add participation in spiritual retreats, Bible reading, prayer practices, etc. if you want to expand the study. Again, you’re measuring congregational spiritual growth, so the matrix is based on the number of participants engaged in the practices.
In general, you can simply gather the stats for average attendance in two broad categories: worship and discipleship groups (this would generally include Sunday School, Bible studies, prayer groups, accountability groups, etc.). However, I recommend charting church leadership and general attendance separately in order to get an accurate picture of the growth of your congregation. If the leaders do not participate in spiritual growth activities, it will be difficult (a nice way to say impossible) to expect spiritual growth in the congregation as a whole.
Once you have the raw numbers, determine the ratio against your “participating” membership. Many denominations have a specific formula for figuring the makeup of your participating membership. Essentially, your participating members are those you consider “active” in the congregation. If your participating membership is 100 and your average worship attendance during the year is 79, you have a 79:100 ratio, or 79 percent. Ultimately, the only reliable measurement of growth is to compare one year’s ratio to another. If you are averaging 79 in worship this year, you might be overjoyed to see an increase to 102 next year. But if your participating membership increased to 150, you’ve lost participation (down to 68 percent).
Let me begin by defining what we don’t mean when we use the word evangelism. Evangelism isn’t inviting or getting new people to church. It’s not getting new members from other denominations or churches. And although bringing a child up in the church and into faith is not a simple task, when measuring church transformation, we define this as discipleship, not evangelism.
For the sake of measuring church transformation, we define evangelism as bringing people who were far from God into an intentional, obedient relationship with Jesus Christ. The only sure way of measuring this is to determine your baptismal ratio of adult baptisms to participating membership.
Now, we know for those denominations that have depended on biological growth (infant baptism and bringing a child into faith culminating in Confirmation), starting to count adult baptisms separate from youth, children, and infants is something new and may even be problematic the first year. However, measuring adult “conversions” or “commitments” to the Christian faith by being obedient to baptism is really the best measurement of how committed and effective a church is in its evangelistic efforts.
There’s an old Church Planter aphorism that goes: “What are the three ways to measure how committed a core member is?”
- How much they give.
- How much they give.
- How much they give.
Now, you don’t have to like the axiom, but there’s a good bit of truth to it. And in most cases, the best way to measure a congregation’s commitment to the ministry, mission, and work of the congregation is by their per capita giving. Once again, this is a ratio of the congregation’s total “plate” giving (all charitable giving, less endowments and special designated gifts, such as giving to a capital campaign) to the participating membership. Again, if you have 100 participating members and your total “plate” giving was $124,386, then your per capital giving was $1243.86.
One note about using the ratio as a sole or primary indicator. Often when a church is in decline, it will see an amazing leap in their per capita giving and think they’re doing well. However, in these cases, what is actually happening is that less-committed participants are leaving the church – and their giving was likely marginal at best. Thus, when the ratio is figured, it is likely to rise. In these cases, a rising ratio likely does not indicate increasing commitment or congregational transformation.
The fourth measurement weighs the commitment and participation of the congregants in hands-on mission beyond the walls of the church. This particular measurement can be more difficult to determine since a number of members may be involved in intentional mission opportunities that the church is not aware of.
In this case, we’re defining mission as an activity that does good deeds in the name of Jesus Christ (officially or unofficially). This definition does not exclude secular mission, so long as the participant is able to share their faith through the mission. In other words, if someone asked the participant why they were engaging in the mission, the church member would be able to reference their faith (such as “It’s just a practical way for me to show the love of God.”).
These mission opportunities can be church related, so long as they are specific in reaching people beyond the church and beyond the faith. Thus, participating in the church’s Angel Food Program or clothes bank could both count. However, cutting an elderly church member’s grass or participating in a youth fund raising car wash would not. (Note: fundraisers are never missional in nature, since the outcome in income, not faith sharing or discipleship.)
One key to measuring a congregation’s transformation is measuring how committed it is to a unified mission and ministry. The primary key to measuring this is found in understanding (and presumably acting on) the congregation’s DNA. It turns out that many churches have done the good work of discerning their mission, values, vision, and so on. But in too many cases, all that work ends up in a file drawer somewhere rather than being embedded in the congregation. It’s only when the congregation as a whole, led by the leadership, has internalized the DNA that achieving mission and ministry becomes effectively possible.
The easiest way to measure whether or not the congregation is moving towards unity in purpose is whether or not the participating membership can articulate the congregation’s mission and verbalize evidence of how the congregation is acting on that mandate. Again, to accurately measure transformational progress, determine the ratio of those who can articulate mission and evidence to the total number of participating members.
As years go by, you may want to raise the bar from “knowledge of” to “knowledge and action.” It’s one thing to be able to recite or explain the mission of the church and point at how the congregation is implementing the mission. It’s quite another to explain the mission and in addition share how the individual is personally involved mission achievement.
Favor in the Community
One of the characteristics of the church expressed in Acts 2 was that they found favor in the community. Discovering a church’s community reputation can be disheartening on a number of levels. Although there are indeed those churches that are known for their discord, the fact is most churches overestimate their reputation. In fact, I worked with a large church recently that had been in the community for well over a hundred years and had a large, prominent building on a main thoroughfare. The congregation believed they were well known in their community for any number of activities they participated in. It was a serious blow to the congregation’s ego when we surveyed the under-thirties in the immediate community and discovered not a single person surveyed had ever heard of the church, let alone being aware of the good work they were doing.
Gathering this information is different than the previous five marks. In this case, a statistically significant number of community members need to be approached and surveyed about their knowledge and impression of the church. Although statistically significance varies as to the size of the community, typically twenty-five to one hundred different individuals should be surveyed each year.
The simple survey comprises a single question: “What can you tell me about [name of the church]?” Listen specifically for whether or not the people know of the congregation and the number of negative descriptors used in ratio to positive ones. Of course, over the years you will should expect to find that more people know about the congregation and offer positive responses.
Be sure to be consistent in the number of people surveyed each year. However, as time passes and the reputation of the congregation expands, you may need to venture farther away from the church building in order to ensure the expanding transformational work of the congregation.
A congregation’s transformation can be accurately measured and tracked on a local level, as well as on a judicatory level. The NE Area of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Mid-America has been encouraging this kind of scrutiny for over two years now. It’s too early to draw conclusions, but it does appear that when a congregation understands the marks of transformation and is aware they are being measured, there is additional motivation to work the transformation process.