At the beginning of every year, many people take time to evaluate their lives and determine new priorities and directions. The same should be true for churches. You need to evaluate honestly your church’s progress during the previous year to define the right direction.
Measure Your Church’s Vital Signs
You probably have heard discussion about metrics within the church. Metrics serve as indicators much like height, weight, blood pressure, temperature, and cholesterol levels do for individuals. They indicate health or illness and guide further diagnoses. Look at each of the “church vital signs” across the long term to identify potential trends.
- Church membership. Membership shows the historical trends of the church and may help show how committed congregants are.
- Worship attendance. Worship attendance shows the “heartbeat” of the church. Review attendance relative to previous years, and look to understand rises and falls over the year and over multiple years. Also, compare attendance as a percentage of overall membership.
- Age distribution of the church versus the community. Obtain census data to identify the age distribution of your community, and compare it to the same distribution for your membership, worship attendance and discipleship attendance. Examining the differences for each area will show potential issues and opportunities for your church.
- Giving patterns. Understanding the finances of your church and giving patterns provides an indication of spiritual health and obedience. It also helps you gauge the church’s capacity for making changes to improve effectiveness.
- Discipleship activity attendance. This provides an indicator of spiritual formation, as measured by small groups, Sunday school classes and Bible studies. Look at discipleship activity attendance as a percentage of membership and of attendance. Ask if your congregation is committed to spiritual growth through discipleship.
- Missions. Measure the number of people in the congregation engaged in local, national and international outreach.
- Transfers in versus out. Compare transfers into and out of the church. This will show your ability to retain and attract members. Look at significant shifts up and down.
- Baptisms, confirmations and professions of faith. Look at these numbers in the context of your congregation. Are you making the appropriate number of disciples relative to your congregation’s size?
- Removals. Look at the number of removals per year, and seek to understand the reason for the removals. If they are deaths, compare to baptisms, confirmations and professions of faith to determine if you can sustain the life of the church.
Diagnose the Symptoms
Look for changes and trends in the data and ask what happened. Was there a change in pastors? Was there a plant closing or new manufacturer that moved to town? Avoid blaming others or external factors, but look at your church’s actions or inactions and how they influenced the trends. Seek out opinions of a broad spectrum of people inside and outside your church, and seek the truth courageously. Clarity on the current situation is the only way to create a path forward.
Like going to the doctor, the annual church health checkup may not be enjoyable. However, it can help prevent major problems by diagnosing changes necessary to create or maintain a healthy church.
This material is adapted from an article on umcom.org and is used by permission.
- Monitoring Key Indicators of Congregational Health by Joe Arnold
- Measuring What Matters: A Conversation About Metrics and Mission by Ken Carter
- (CGP) Congregational Giving Profile
- (CAP) Congregational Attendance Profile