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The Church Health Trends You Need to Be Looking At

Church trends

Today’s blog post is by Tony Morgan. Tony is the founder and lead strategist of The Unstuck Group, a company that helps leaders grow healthy churches by guiding them through experiences that focus vision, strategy and action.

By Tony Morgan

If you’re familiar with any of my work, you probably can guess I really like numbers. 

While numbers aren’t everything, without a baseline perspective, it’s hard to make decisions about ministry strategy. If you’re trying to discern whether or not a church is healthy, the numbers give you something consistent to review—an indication if all of the activity is producing the right results.

Many churches try to make changes and have no way to measure if those hard-fought changes are really having an impact—in a positive or a negative way, which is why I think it’s so important to be looking at what the numbers are telling us.  

Exactly two years ago, my team released the very first version of The Unstuck Church Report. It was designed to give church leaders an objective view of church health by highlighting the trends we’re seeing in 5 key areas of ministry across a wide variety and number of churches (Ministry Reach, Staffing and Leadership, Connection, Finances and Ministry Health)

What indicators can we look at to see if a church is healthy?

It’s easy in ministry for there to be a lot of anecdotal stories that illustrate how people feel about church or a specific ministry, but what about data to show where the Church is headed?

A few quarters ago, I even dissected the difference in growing and declining churches in each of the key areas. It was fascinating.

Each quarter, I like to share the data that stands out to me.  

This quarter, there were three areas in particular that I want to dig into. These are the trends that jumped out at me.

While numbers aren’t everything, without a baseline perspective, it’s hard to make decisions about ministry strategy. Click To Tweet

1. The Front-Door Challenge

I wasn’t surprised to see this show up. When my team and I work with churches, this is something that we see often, and this is also a theme we’ve seen consistently in our quarterly reports.

For churches to maintain health and growth over time, the number of first-time guests over a 12-month period needs to be equal to or greater than their average weekly attendance. But, on average, we’re seeing churches of 1,000, as an example, average 490 first-time guests in one year.

If you dig into the report, you’ll see that ministry connection numbers are getting stronger, but also that churches are seeing fewer first-time guests. These numbers combined suggest churches really are dealing with more of a “front-door” than a “back-door” challenge.

I suggest reading what I wrote on Carey’s site last month. With an outside perspective, Connexus embraced this “front-door” challenge by pursuing an inviting culture and went all-in on becoming a church that’s passionate about seeing their friends, neighbors, and colleagues experience Jesus.

(A few years later, they’ve seen their number of new guests sky-rocket.)

The number of first-time guests over a 12-month period needs to be equal to or greater than their average weekly attendance. -@tonymorganlive Click To Tweet

2. An Increase in Group Engagement Isn’t Necessarily a Win

This quarter, we saw churches report that 64% of adults and students are in small groups, but only 44% of adults and students are engaged in volunteering.

On the surface, this may look like a win. Yes, it’s encouraging that so many people are connecting into small groups for community and Bible study. And that is a great way to connect with people and build relationships. My wife Emily and I have been involved in, or led, many small groups over the years.

However, our experience at The Unstuck Group has shown that people who volunteer are actually far more “engaged” in the mission of the church. Having people involved at that volunteer level impacts many aspects of church health, including frequency of worship attendance, invitations to new guests and giving, as examples.

If you’re trying to find ways to engage people and keep them engaged, it’s critical to build up the volunteer teams and leaders of those teams.

Serving together creates a deep, rich community environment worth pursuing. It gives people the option to “own” part of the mission of the church and put their gifts and talents to use. This is how God designed the Body of Christ to engage the mission…together.

If you’re trying to find ways to engage people and keep them engaged, it’s critical to build up the volunteer teams and leaders of those teams. -@tonymorganlive Click To Tweet

3. Governance Complexity and Declining Churches

Back when I wrote the article series on the differences in growing and declining churches, the same data stuck out to me.

Declining churches have twice as many committees.

Declining churches have twice as many committees. -@tonymorganlive Click To Tweet

Churches that have large decision-making boards and multiple additional committees generally struggle, but it should be no surprise.

The more people you have making decisions about what can or can’t happen in ministry, the fewer people you have actually doing ministry. 

Growing churches have streamlined their governance structure to eliminate unnecessary committees and the meetings that go with them.

This allows these churches to be more nimble when it comes to decision-making. Tough decisions that impact the overall health of the church don’t get bogged down in various layers of bureaucracy.

It’s counterintuitive, but it can often be smaller churches that struggle with having more committees and boards than larger churches. If you lead at a small church, it might be time to reevaluate how your church governance is structured to make sure it is efficient and actually serving the church’s broader vision and mission.

The more people you have making decisions about what can or can’t happen in ministry, the fewer people you have actually doing ministry. -@tonymorganlive Click To Tweet

This data is just the beginning.

The Q4 2019 report holds some really compelling data on 15+ other metrics.

I really believe this tool can help you take some valuable steps towards health in your ministry. It’s invaluable to have data and benchmarks to measure your church’s health and see where other churches are today.

If you’re interested in reading the other metrics and learning about the trends we’re seeing, you can download the report here.

It’s invaluable to have data and benchmarks to measure your church’s health and see where other churches are today. -@tonymorganlive Click To Tweet

What Changes Do You Need To Make?

 

Getting a church growing or helping a church that’s reaching new people grow even further can seem daunting.

It doesn’t have to be.

Whether you’re a church that isn’t growing, has plateaued, or whether you wish your church was growing faster than it is, I’d love to help you breakthrough. That’s why I created the Church Growth Masterclass.

The Church Growth Masterclass is everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

The Masterclass includes a complete set of videos that you can play with your team, board or staff, PDF workbooks that will help you tackle the issues you’re facing, and bonus materials that will help you navigate the most pressing issues facing churches that want to reach their cities today.

You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.

Which of these metrics could you be doing better on?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below:

The Church Health Trends You Need to Be Looking At

4 Comments

  1. Michael J. Metz on December 24, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    I am blessed to have two Christian men whom I work with in which we have conversations about Church leadership (both pastoral and congregational). I was in the military 20 years and the two men with whom I converse have traveled as well. Generally speaking the Church is hurting for leadership and discipleship.

  2. Thayne on December 16, 2019 at 10:20 pm

    This is a great post! We definitely need to work on the “front-door.” How is everyone tracking their metrics? Excel or another program? How is everyone creating a dashboard to visualize their data?

  3. Holland Webb on December 16, 2019 at 9:24 am

    The small group engagement vs. volunteer engagement numbers seem particularly striking. I don’t feel comfortable with small groups, but I love to volunteer. If I’m busy doing something, then I can engage with people around me more readily. But “creating community” through socialization for its own sake just doesn’t appeal to me. I know it does to others, but not to me. I thought I was alone in this, but apparently, other people feel the same way.

  4. Greg Jensen on December 16, 2019 at 7:26 am

    Recently saw where the numbers could be taken wrong. A young person who enjoyed a youth group brought his whole family of 5 to the church. This caused other parts of the church to grow faster then the youth group making the youth leader look bad for having family wholeness as a focus. Also, if a youth group was charged with the wrong kind of charisma and popularity would it even be part of the church community it was associated with? Hard for me to believe that the individuals of the fast growing churches are actually growing at the same pace as the numbers point out.

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