The New Church Metrics: 6 Things Pastors Should Start (And Stop) Measuring

With hybrid church (physical + digital ministry) as the new standard, how do you measure what happened at church last week?

Measurements matter only insofar as they help you assess the extent to which you’re accomplishing your mission.

If the goal is to turn online views into real relationships and actual discipleship, do you have any idea what to look for to know if that’s actually happening?

The initial numbers in your online channels on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or TikTok can lead you into a false sense of success.

You can think you’re growing when you in fact might be losing people as your own people or local people click off. Or you can think you’re not making any progress when perhaps you are.

But, if you figure out fresh benchmarking, you can both measure progress more accurately and start to convert some of that online traffic into real relationships and real discipleship.

As you now know thanks to the last year of life online, and as we’ll talk about at the end of this post, sometimes the algorithm can spike your numbers and at other times, including 3 second views on services like Facebook or Instagram will. But spiking your church’s numbers by hijacking the algorithm or using vanity metrics is like living on energy drinks. The boost lasts for a few hours and then you crash.

You can’t build your future off 3 second views.

Four Things To Start Measuring

So what might you track? There are a million things you could measure, and your dashboard for tracking will (hopefully) be more detailed than what I outline below.

However, every church needs benchmarks.

So here are four benchmark statistics to track (along with the other things you’re measuring).

1. Number of First Time Connections

It’s easy to get lost in the number of YouTube views, website traffic and social followers and in person attendance numbers. All of that matters, but not nearly as much as genuine connection.

Connection is what happens when someone watching online doesn’t just like what you do or follow you, but when they give you their information (usually an email address or phone number) to start a conversation.

It’s really the right you’ve earned to do what Seth Godin calls permission marketing—the ability to talk to people with their consent. You’re not spamming them. You’re not broadcasting hoping they hear.

No, instead, you’ve earned the right to a conversation. You’ve connected, and they want to hear from you.

In the long run, the important metric isn’t how many people watched your message or your service, or how many people were in the room, or how many visitors you had to your website. Sure, track all that.

No, the real metric is how many people raised their hand, gave you their email address or phone number, and essentially said “Talk to me…I want to know more.”

Churches have been doing this for years with welcome cards.

Throw digital into the mix and it becomes even more complex—and essential.

One of the best ways to earn permission to email or text online attenders (or in-person attenders) is to offer something of value in exchange for their contact information: an e-book (that’s actually good), a guide, a published book or Bible that you’ll ship to them, a short online video series, or a PDF that helps them solve a problem they’re facing.

I outline a detailed strategy on how to connect with people and develop lead magnets that work here.

The goal of digital outreach, after all, is connection, not consumption.

2. The Number of People Who Take a First Step

This is where it really gets good, and where it also gets hard.

You’ve made the first step of connecting with people via email or text, which is awesome.

But the real next step is when the people you connect with decide to take a step.

When we recently surveyed over 5000 church leaders, 70% of church leaders said they do not an effective process for assimilating first time guests.  About 36% said they don’t have any process, while 34% said they have a process but it’s not really effective.

Obviously, this is a challenge for church leaders.

Attracting people is one thing. Connecting with them and helping them become followers of Jesus is quite another.

It appears the first step is to create a discipleship pathway that works, and then getting people to take that meaningful first step on it.

Whether that’s to take a virtual membership class or join something like Starting Point or Alpha or some first step designed for new people, that’s what you want to encourage people to do.

Start tracking that.

The point is simple: define what first step(s) you want an online attender to take, and then start measuring how many people take it.

Bonus tip: don’t neglect email. You’ve earned a new person’s permission to speak to them. So speak to them. Email is still a very powerful and effective way to help people take real-life steps.

3. Average Duration of Views

Another key metric to benchmark is average view duration. This is different than one minute or ten minute views, because it tells you how long, on average, people watched or listened to your service or video (even beyond the 10 minute mark).

Tracking average duration can help you determine so much.

For example, there’s a lot of debate about length of service. How long is too long? How short is too short?

You could argue that five minutes of boring is five minutes too long, and 60 minutes of fascinating is not nearly enough.

Here’s an example from my leadership podcast. I aired a 50 minute episode and a two and a half hour episode in the same month.

You would think people listened to more of the 50 minute episode than the marathon episode.

Nope. There was a 2% difference in average duration.

The 50 minute episode was listened to for 66% of its entirety. The two and a half hour episode? 64%. Insight: episode length does not determine listening duration on that show. Fascinating.

I don’t really know what that means, but it filters out debates like “more people would watch if the sermon was shorter/longer”.

Planning for the future with data creates a better plan than planning for the future with emotions and opinions.

4. The Engagement With Online Viewers and Subscribers (Social, Channels and Email)

The real goal is to help online viewers become online engagers. And the best form of engagement is to get them to take a step as I outlined above.

While it’s easy to imagine that someone who is watching for the first time online responds to the message by wanting to get baptized, that’s not the usual path. When it happens, celebrate it. But don’t hold your breath.

It usually starts more subtly than that.

Some viewers will start participating in the chat, and that’s great. You should have a robust, healthy chat.

But even more helpful is when someone starts following your church on social (or its leaders) and subscribing to your channel.

One metric you’ll want to track is the average growth on your social media and channels monthly or weekly.

Before you leave this though, also encourage people to subscribe to your email list. I know that sounds boring, but please underline and bold this next line: your email list is not controlled by an algorithm. Almost everything else is.

As a result, it’s a fantastic way to connect with people.

Via email, you have a direct connection with people. And it gives you a vital way to really build a personal relationship that could lead to a phone call, scheduling a coffee or an invite into a virtual or in-person meeting.

Start tracking social media growth, channel subscriptions and email list growth. Most providers give you ready made stats that are easy to import in a spreadsheet.

A little harder to track is the number of comments, likes, DMs etc. Again, depending on the channel, some platforms will give you that kind of metric. Regardless, you and your team should keep your finger on the pulse of how engaged your audience is, commenting, starting conversations, messaging you and replying to each other.

If you sense the volume and tone of conversation going down or becoming trivial or angry, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

Two Things To Stop Measuring

Of all the things to stop measuring, or to measure differently, here are two to consider.

1. Any Attendance Figure Involving A Multiplier

My take on this subject: when it comes to online attendance or views, don’t use a multiplier.

Many churches use a multiplier to account for the fact that people watch together off a single device. And yes, that actually happens. I’ve seen leaders who use 1.4x, 1.7x and 2x. I’ve even heard a leader justify 4x because people have big families.

But you have no way of knowing what number is accurate (unless you make them register, which can repel new people), and as already stated, the online numbers are probably inflated to begin with.

Please hear me: I get it. I’ve been in leadership long enough to know the ego boost that happens from big numbers and I am not immune to the pressure, but to quit my day job to become an Instagram ‘influencer’ based on my video track record would be a really stupid move. Don’t let the numbers go to your head or the lack of numbers go to your heart (thanks Tim Keller for that insight).

You would never inflate financial giving by a multiplier to account for what people ‘intended’ to give or ‘hope to give’. Why would online attendance be different? Similarly, no podcast I know (including me) uses a multiplier just in case someone is listening in the car with a friend or family or in the kitchen with others present.

Nix the multiplier.

Taking a conservative benchmark in attendance gives you a chance to build on something real into the future.

So, pick a conservative view count and don’t add a multiplier. I know your senior pastor will hate it. Blame me.

2. 3 Second Views

Not all views are created equal. And as every pastor knows, these days the major social media companies count even 3 second views as ‘views’.

Take a look at some sample Facebook analytics on this video I posted to my Facebook page.

Question: how many people watched the video?

a) 15281

b) 4343

c) 450

You could argue that all three answers are correct. And this is exactly the challenge.

Publicly, Facebook (like almost any other social media platform) displays the video count as 15K. But is that fair?

If you drop the 3-second views, the video watch count drops from 15K to 4K. Still not bad, but a bit of a blow to the ego.

If you consider only 450 people watched for a full minute and the average watch time was 7 seconds, well, that’s just depressing.

It’s also the truth.

So what about 3-second views? Do they count? Facebook counted it. Can’t we count it?

Let me throw something out there.

Counting 3-second views as ‘attenders’ is a little like counting people who drive by your building as attenders. Probably not a wise strategy because it’s hard to build the future of your church on it.

Not trying to be a killjoy…just trying to help us all actually reach people, which is kind of the goal.

So back to the original question…how many people watched the video?

My answer, as amazing as the 15K figure makes me feel, is that 450 is the best metric.

This kind of analysis gets rid of the scrollers who stumbled on you for a second and left. Those who watched a minute or longer did it on purpose.

They meant to watch you, and perhaps that really does count for something.

Honest, uninflated metrics motivate you to figure out what really does connect with the people you’re trying to serve.

This post is part 4 of a series of blog posts focused on The Art Of Better Reaching. If you missed the first 3, here they are:

3 Ways Attractional Church Needs to Change To Reach the Next Generation

The Data Is In: 5 Things That Will Sabotage Your Church’s Future Growth

5 Cultural Shifts We Need To Understand To Reach The West

What Are You Measuring And….?

So what are you measuring, and where are you finding traction online?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

The New Church Metrics: 6 Things Pastors Should Start (And Stop) Measuring

15 Comments

  1. Nate on June 8, 2021 at 7:59 pm

    Great insights on online viewer counts. At our church, we remind people that the person who edits and posts the video usually counts for 5-10 views, especially considering the 3-second count.

    I’ve been looking for ways to see how we’re doing online, and this gives me some insight, but also some ideas, especially for “permission marketing”.

    Thanks, Carey!

  2. Lando on June 5, 2021 at 5:44 am

    many thank for teaching me again today,let God bless you.

  3. Steve Klein on June 4, 2021 at 11:02 pm

    Solid gold. Thank you Carey!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 5, 2021 at 4:45 pm

      Grateful for you, Steve!

  4. Lannie Abernathy on June 4, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    I’m required to deliver total number x2.7. 3 sec, 10 sec, everything. This article is a game changer in helping me explain why we shouldn’t do this X factor business.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 4, 2021 at 5:18 pm

      So glad it helped! Simplification brings clarity.

  5. Joe on June 4, 2021 at 10:43 am

    Why measure? That sounds very American, very empire centered.

    • Tom Nealley on June 4, 2021 at 11:20 am

      That’s a great question, Joe. In my experience church leaders are open to measuring when they are trying new approaches to ministry. They are operating on a set of assumptions that may or may not be true, and desire to learn to broaden their understanding. They see it as another perspective to their experience and theology – and hope to discover what else God may doing they can’t otherwise see.

      • Brad Brisco on June 4, 2021 at 11:31 am

        Why measure? I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with counting or measuring. It is human nature to do both. We measure our growth in height and weight. We measure/count grades or growth in our education and knowledge. We count points, goals, runs, etc. We measure spend, agility, breaking speed of cars. The bigger question is are we counting and measuring the best and right things? I think we must be challenged to not simply count what is easy, but instead measure what is important. When it comes to “keeping score,” churches in North America have typically focused on three metrics: buildings, budgets and butts. Again, while there is nothing inherently wrong with counting each of these things, we do need to ask if keeping score of how big our buildings are, how much money people give and how many people show up when we meet is the best indicator of how a church is doing?

        The fact is these three metrics really give us no real sense on the influence a church is having on its community. Do the number of people who attend a Sunday morning gathering give you any indication of the impact the church is having on individual neighborhoods or the city? The answer has to be a resounding no! There is absolutely no correlation between the number of people who show up for an event and the difference those people are having where they live. The same is true with how much money people give to the church and how large a church’s buildings are. The reason we “count” those three things is because they are easy to count. But I don’t find counting/measuring empired centered (although I guess it could be) I find it about discovering if real change is taking place.

        • Helen on June 18, 2021 at 9:54 pm

          Yes, Brad! I recently told my Ad Council that I do not want an attendance report every month as I do not think it is necessary. Instead of counting how many people came through the door, or watched online, my question to them was, how many people did you reach out to in the name of Jesus? Whose lives did we touch on Monday, Tuesday, etc….? Hearing every month that attendance is going down, or we don’t have as many views as last week during the one-hour church service Sunday morning, is demoralizing and not the point of being in ministry. For our church, we can only count the one hour Sunday morning, not the views that happen throughout the week, which I don’t understand, but like I said, reaching others and sharing Jesus with them, through engaging, serving, helping, encouraging, and teaching is the important stuff.

  6. Brad Brisco on June 4, 2021 at 6:46 am

    Helpful article, especially in the digital/online arena so many are living in. I like that you are helping people to think well about these issues. However, I think it is helpful for us not to use the language of “measuring” and “counting” interchangeably. There is actually a difference between the two. It is important to make the distinction because the church has largely been in the counting business, which has negatively influenced the way we think about the nature of the church and limited our impact in the world. We need to move to measuring more and counting less.

    Counting is giving attention to numbers. When counting, the question to be answered is: “How many?” It is quantitative. Conversations about “How many?” are most frequently conversations about resources but can also be about activities. Conversations about resources, in a time of limited resources, are commonly conversations about sufficiency, “Do we have enough?” or, “How can we get more?” Examples could include finances or people. We ask questions like, “Do we have enough money for that mission?” or “Do we have enough volunteers for that ministry?” A quantitative question about activities might be, “How many Bible studies were conducted?” (Gil Rindle, “Doing the Math of Mission”)

    Measuring is giving attention to change. When measuring, the question is not about “How many?” but rather about “How far?” Conversations about “How far?” are frequently about the change that can be measured over a particular time, as in, “How far have we come over the past year?” Measuring is about qualitative change. Has the quality of something changed over time? In other words, has something gotten better, or worse, since the last time we measured?

    I wonder when we think of online presence, how can we do both?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 4, 2021 at 6:56 am

      Hadn’t thought about that. Thanks!

  7. Marty Mosher on June 4, 2021 at 6:27 am

    thanks for a great article. respectfully disagree however on multiplier. its not for ego, its to get a closer to accurate measurement of how many folks were actually with us Live Online. We surveyed folks, requested they comment with how many are with them (and “with us” live-we never say “watching us”). 2.5 per device. we aren’t inflating-we try to determine how many devices stayed with us for a good portion of the service-peak live viewers (interestingly it’s always right as sermon starts). anecdotally we can’t go anywhere in town without folks thanking us for Live Online service-some we didnt know. we are confident our typical Live online attendance is at least 275- not 110.

    • Marty Mosher on June 4, 2021 at 6:30 am

      forgot to mention-its peak live viewers -10. and if we dropped only 3 second views and used no multiplier- our number would be higher- and we believe that is inflated.

      • Carey Nieuwhof on June 4, 2021 at 6:55 am

        I will probably never win the multiplier debate, and ultimately you need to determine what’s best. It’s just a unique thing pastors do, and I see more and more are ditching it.

        Great point about live peak viewers. That’s another metric worth looking at. Thanks Marty!

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.