The New Metrics: 9 Church Statistics That Pastors Should Start Tracking

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As you know, in the last few years, all the metrics for church growth and health church leaders used to track got blown to bits.

And even now that churches are open again, what pastors used to measure just doesn’t seem to work anymore.

That’s not bad because the old metrics—which mainly consisted of Sunday attendance, giving, and sometimes the number of people in groups—were due for an overhaul anyway.

Two things have made the need for new metrics urgent.

First, most church leaders now do hybrid ministry—a combination of online and in-person ministry that’s harder to measure.

Second, most re-opened churches run between 40-60% of pre-pandemic attendance, which makes looking at numbers discouraging, deflating, and ultimately demotivating.

Why Metrics (Still) Matter

Some church leaders have told me they don’t even look at the numbers anymore.

In my view, that’s a mistake for at least two reasons.

First, I’m relatively confident that those same leaders would follow them closely if the numbers were positive. Only looking at numbers you like is bad leadership.

Second—and more importantly—it’s very difficult to lead something you don’t understand.

Even if you’re not growing, numbers matter because they are the clue as to why your church isn’t growing.

While numbers aren’t the be-all and end-all of ministry, they can tell you significant things about what’s working and what’s not. About what’s resonating and effective and what isn’t.

It's very difficult to lead something you don't understand. Even if you're not growing, numbers matter because in them is the clue as to why your church isn't growing. Click To Tweet

Sure, numbers can become idols. I get that.

But anything can become an idol, including your unwillingness to look at metrics while your church slowly declines into irrelevance.

What’s valuable to every church leader is that the metrics will tell you where you have momentum and where you don’t have it.

And here’s my guess: while your overall numbers might be down, you actually have momentum in certain areas of your ministry. You just don’t know how to measure it yet.

And once you measure it, you can accelerate it.

Pouring fuel on what’s working is a much better way to lead than expressing constant frustration than what’s not. And I get it—right now, a lot feels like it’s not working.

One more note, and then we’ll get into nine new metrics to watch for church growth and health in a hybrid world.

Sure, numbers can become idols. But anything can become an idol, including your unwillingness to look at metrics while your church slowly declines into irrelevance. Click To Tweet

Set A New Benchmark (Suggestion: Pick Year-Over-Year)

As uncertain as measuring things today feels, one of the best practices is to embrace a benchmark as the standard against which you’ll measure progress.

Usually, organizations look at a two-year or twenty-year trend line to measure progress. That works just fine unless you have a massive disruption, which we all just experienced.

As a result, 2019 is the wrong benchmark. The world that existed in 2019 is dead, and to try to get back to where you were is a mistake. People resigned, moved, bailed, changed habits, and disappeared. It’s a new world now.

Please don’t delete your historical data (including your 2019 data), but don’t get stuck on it either.

Instead, perhaps pick 2021 as your new starting point. Or as time goes on, 2022. Set that as the benchmark because that year reflects the new era and reality.

Measure year-over-year changes, and ideally, progress over that.

Every field has resets. A few years ago, my podcast service changed how it measured downloads.

Until 2017, every episode that showed up on a phone was counted as a download, whether it was played or not. In late 2017, the provider changed the measurement metric to only track actual listens.

Under the old system, having 50 episodes of my podcast on a person’s phone counted as 50 downloads. If the podcast subscriber only listened to one of those fifty episodes in the new metrics, it counted as one download.

Much more accurate. But deeply deflating.

My download numbers were cut in half overnight—from 250K a month to just over 100K a month.

I was discouraged but decided that this was beyond my control and focused on producing episodes.

And guess what? We started growing against our new benchmark. And, within a few years, we soared past our old markers even with the much tighter measurement system.

Rather than lamenting what was, focus on what is and what could be, and you’ll start making progress.

So, onto the metrics.

I assume you’re still going to track attendance and giving as well as the number of volunteers and people in groups, etc.

I also outline nine new ones to track. The first metric actually has five markers, hence nine in total.

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1. Five Qualitative Metrics (Are The People You’re Leading Flourishing?)

Usually, metrics measure the quantity of things (how many…how much). But better metrics will also measure the quality.

But you know the criticism of growing churches: how do we know people are healthy? How do we know people are growing spiritually?

It’s a great question, and to be fair, it should be asked of every church, not just growing churches.

That’s why I’m grateful that the Barna Group is advancing give dimensions of human flourishing that they suggest church leaders should measure.

Barna has discovered that healthy leadership teams produce thriving churches that create flourishing people.

The five categories Barna can help churches measure are:

  1. Spiritual health
  2. Relational health
  3. Vocational health
  4. Physical and mental health
  5. Financial health

In many ways, these five categories are consistent with God’s design for life, and the church can help people flourish in these areas. I get Tim Keller’s take on what he thinks of the five categories in this video.

The good news is Barna and Gloo have put together a free assessment to help church leaders measure how people are doing in all five areas.

You can deploy the People Pulse assessment for your congregation here.

2. The Number of Email or SMS Opt-Ins

It’s one thing to track the number of online views you have, how long people watched for, or which social channels are gaining momentum.

But even if you’re seeing growth in all areas, you can still find you’re not making progress on your mission.

That’s why email and SMS opt-ins are so important.

You might be asking what an opt-in is. Great question.

The technical definition is that an opt-in is a form of consent given by web users, acknowledging interest in a product or service and authorizing your church to contact them with further information.

The practical expression is when organizations develop a lead magnet for their website, often a free gift or offer they send out in exchange for your email address or cell number. It’s the basis of what Seth Godin calls permission marketing—the ability to have a direct conversation (via email or text) about what you offer.

Having someone subscribe to your email lists or SMS list is far more powerful than having someone follow you on social, which can be like building your house on a digital volcano.

It’s mildly ironic that in the world of online marketing, getting someone to opt-in to your email list is called a ‘conversion.’

Here’s what church leaders should know: Digital conversions can lead to real-life conversions because you’re building and deepening a relationship with a person.

And of course, getting to know someone can be a bridge to helping them get to know Jesus.

Offering a free video series, or a PDF on how to pray or read the Bible, or almost anything that would add value to a person’s life can be a great lead magnet for you church.

Surprisingly, 10 email opt-ins on a Sunday can produce more spiritual growth down the road than 10,000 views.

Surprisingly, 10 email opt-ins on a Sunday can produce more spiritual growth down the road than 10,000 views. Click To Tweet

3. The Percentage of Unchurched People You’re Reaching

Contrary to a lot of the chatter these days, the church is about more than discipling disciples—it’s about making disciples. And that means reaching people who have never been reached.

When I was leading a church, we went through waves of significant growth, but I had a hard time telling how much of it was just recycled Christians.

And stories are great, but you can’t plan a future based on anecdotes or gut feelings alone.

Too many church leaders never bother to ask people about their church background. As a result, too many leaders guess they’re reaching the unchurched, or think they’re reaching their community, or they hope they’re reaching their community.

But thinking, hoping or guessing isn’t the same as doing.

Too many church leaders never bother to ask people about their church background. As a result, too many leaders guess they’re reaching the unchurched, or simply hope they’re reaching their community. Click To Tweet

To solve my uncertainty, we redesigned our “welcome card” for new people.

Amidst the information we collect on the connection card, we ask them how often they attend church by selecting one of these four options:

I don’t attend church.

Once or twice a year.

Once a month.

Almost every week.

If they check one of the first two options, we consider them unchurched. If the check either of the last two options, we consider them churched.

That gives us baseline data we can use from year to year and helps us gauge how effective we are in accomplishing our mission, which is to create churches unchurched people love.

Over the years, the data told me and my team that 50% of our new guests self-identify as being unchurched. (By the way, that number is probably a little artificially low simply because a churched person is far more likely to fill out a welcome card than an unchurched person).

You can devise a similar approach to your in-person or online welcome process. It will eliminate the guesswork out of wondering whether you’re actually accomplishing your mission or not.

This is an even more important marker given the fact that in the 2020s people are changing geography because of their ideology (ex. the migration out of blue states to states like Florida and Texas) and changing churches for similar reasons (even when they don’t leave the city).

In some growing churches, pastors are creating ideological echo chambers rather than authentic community. And that’s simply the latest disappointing iteration of transfer growth.

In some growing churches, pastors are creating ideological echo chambers rather than authentic community. Click To Tweet

Churches that reflect a New Testament sense of church will be home to outsiders as much as insiders.  Their politics will be varied too, by the way.

Churches in communities that reach communities will start to looks as diverse as their communities.

Churches in communities that reach communities will start to looks as diverse as their communities. Click To Tweet

4. Baptisms

One causality of the last few years has been baptisms: Many churches have seen an even bigger decline in baptisms than they have in attendance.

Baptisms are a sign of new life not just in an individual, but for a church.

How many baptisms you’ve facilitated is, in part, a gauge of whether your growth is actual growth from unchurched people or simply more churn from discontented Christians.

It also measures how many people you’ve reached are actually taking steps in their faith.

Baptisms are a sign of new life not just in an individual, but for a church. Click To Tweet

5. New People in Groups or Discipleship Track

Rather than simply measuring the number of people in groups or your discipleship track (which is pretty normal) start tracking the number of new people as well.

Again, many churches just keep recycling the same people into new groups or bible studies, rather than helping new people take a step in their faith journey or helping people take a new step in their faith journey.

Even if your overall attendance isn’t growing, you’ve got people who have been with you for years who haven’t done anything to grow their faith. Getting them to take a step will catapult their spiritual growth, and that can help other things (and people) grow.

Many churches just keep recycling the same people into new groups or Bible studies, rather than helping people take a new step in their faith journey. Click To Tweet

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.

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