By Bill Easum

I just finished a book by Bill Hoyt titled Effectiveness by the Number (Abingdon) in which he makes one of the most important statements I’ve read to date –“churches are notorious for not being results oriented.” Bingo. There you have it.  Churches tend to just float along not measuring anything other than “Is there enough money in the bank to pay the bills?”  Such an approach to ministry is downright immoral.

If Christianity is important, we ought to be results oriented.  I’m frankly tired of those who say numbers aren’t important.  People who say that obviously haven’t digested The Acts of the Apostles.  The author is constantly counting the number of new converts throughout the book, starting in the second chapter and going to end.[i] Neither has these number naysayers given much thought to the end results of the Great Commandment. You can’t believe passionately in the Great Commission without realizing you are dealing with numbers.

Numbers are important because every number represents a person. I think one of the reason so many leaders, especially in mainline traditions, don’t want to measure numbers is because they’re either lazy or they aren’t committed to the Great Commission.  I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but what other reason could there be? Jesus is very plain spoken at his last moments – “Go make disciples of all people groups.” If that isn’t about numbers I don’t know what is.  How will we know how well we are doing without measuring the number of converts? We can’t. So what numbers should we measure?

What Numbers Should We Measure?

When I was a pastor, I measured the following numbers.  Remember, numbers become people sooner or later.

  • How many baptisms do we have each month?  Baptisms are one of the bottom line reasons the church exists.  If you do infant baptism, then you need to tie confirmation in with the measurement. Even if you do infant baptism, the best measurement is still adult baptism.
  • Did our worship attendance grow this month? Worship is at the heart of what all Christians do.  And yes, one doesn’t have to be at church to worship. This may make measuring attendance a bit harder. But learning how to do so will become more and more important as we move farther into the 21st century and watch the proliferation of marketplace ministries.
  • Is the penetration rate of the city getting better- by that I mean the ratio of worship attendance to the population within an agreed upon radius from the church? Changing the community around the church is always more important to the Great Commission than merely growing a church.
  • Is the number of small groups growing each month? I have seldom seen a church reach a sizeable portion of the community around it without small groups to do the on-going discipling.
  • How many of our leaders have apprentices? All ministry boils down to how many spiritual leaders a church has. I’ve found that ministry can grow only in proportion to the number of apprentices being raised up.

Each of the above is based on two things: a commitment to the Great Commission; and an understanding that changing the city is more important than just growing a church.

So the next time you feel compelled to discount numbers or hear someone else do so, remember that the author of The Acts of the Apostles felt just the opposite – numbers are important because numbers are people.

[i] For a detailed explanation of how the author of the Acts of the Apostles counted numbers see my book Go Big: How to Lead Your Church to Explosive Growth (Abingdon, 2006)