Monday, February 14, 2011

Monitoring Key Indicators of Congregational Health

Our Conference has pioneered the use of metrics in ministry in our Dashboard. Part of the impetus for this effort has been my observation that in every one of our thriving congregations, there was a noted attentiveness to fruitfulness and accountability based upon measurement of ministry. The converse is true in declining congregations. One of our slogans is “you only count what is important and whatever you count becomes important.” This article, which appeared in Wesley Seminary’s “Leading Ideas,” (Jan. 5, 2011) takes measurement of ministry to the congregation. I thought you would find it both interesting and confirming of our work.

Will Willimon

Too many church leaders are "leading in the dark." Congregational leaders need to develop a "dashboard" to monitor the basic metrics of their church. And monitoring must be done "along the way," not just at the end of the year. If you only looked at your car dashboard at the end of each trip, you would miss the most important signals the indicators are sending.

There are several guidelines when developing a congregational dashboard:

  • Keep it simple, up-to-date, and understandable…. it needs to be something that people can keep up with and understand.
  • Share the dashboard…. Even if some of the trends are negative, the sooner church leaders know the problems, the better chance they have of reversing them.
  • Compare trends over time…. Take the time to look at the larger, multi-year trends.

Monitoring People and Their Engagement

Worship attendance should be prominent on any church's dashboard. Congregations with more than one service should record the attendance for each service separately, as well as the overall total, so that changes in each service can be noted. A key metric of worship attendance is maintaining a 52-week running average of attendance that can be compared to the same average a year ago.

Tracking visitors is another important task related to worship attendance. Be sure you are greeting, engaging, and monitoring new and returning visitors. If there is more than one service, be sure to record visitors for each service. A key metric for gauging the success of your visitor follow up is tracking the percent of first-time guests who return for a second time and how that percentage compares to last year.

Membership is another important element of your dashboard — not just whether the church is growing, declining, or staying the same, but how it is gaining and losing members. Are membership gains coming from professions of faith, transfers from your denomination, or transfers from other denominations? If there are multiple services, how do they compare in terms of generating membership gains? Are membership losses coming from people moving out of the area, changing churches, dying, or drifting away? Once your congregation knows these trends, you can develop appropriate strategies to deal with them. A key metric is how many new members have been received so far this year compared to the same time last year.

Professions of faith and deaths. Comparing the number of professions of faith to deaths is a way of monitoring those entering the faith and those leaving the church through death. A key metric is the ratio of professions of faith to deaths.

Monitoring Giving

Keeping abreast of the key indicators of financial health is vital to sustaining ministry. Avoid the common practice of dividing the budget by 52 weeks as the standard to know whether the church is "ahead" or "behind" on the budget. Rather than coming in 52 equal units, each congregation's giving will follow its own pattern. Therefore, the most effective way to monitor offerings is to calculate the three-year running average of money received through each Sunday of the year and then use those figures to determine how much you "need so far" to be up to date on the budget. A key metric is where your year-to-date income stands in comparison to the portion of income that normally comes in by that same time of year.

Joseph E. Arnold is Research Manager for the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.

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