The Tussle over Metrics


Church leaders may think that leading in the business world is so much simpler than in the church since there is “one bottom line” and financial measures give business leaders all they need to know about how they are doing. Not so. A recent survey of global business leaders found that 75 percent say they need better non-financial measures. They admit struggling with inadequate metrics to deal with important components of their work not captured in dollars and cents. Welcome to the club!

Virtually everything is measurable, but extra effort and new systems are essential to capture more qualitative categories.

Churches are struggling mightily these days over measurements. The nationwide decline in religious participation in the past ten years adds impetus to this movement. Some insist metrics are crucial while others resist any objective measures. Both groups make valid points but could also learn from each other.

Of course we need to measure. All of us at times draw on those statistics to measure progress or to push for improvement. Whether it is measuring salaries or diversity, we know that counting has its place. On the other hand, those resisting measurements are right that we never go far enough. We measure only what is easiest to measure without developing creative ways to monitor progress on goals not so easily quantified. Virtually everything is measurable, but extra effort and new systems are essential to capture more qualitative categories.

Our energy needs to go toward extending the range of measures. Notice that these global business leaders do not see a need to abandon their financial measures, but they know they need additional measures to supplement their current data. As one person put it, businesses need “to know why the numbers are what they are.”  The need is for expanded measures so leaders can identify and build on strength and spot weakness for improvement. Businesses may know their financial trends, but without knowledge of such things as their brand equity, customer perceptions, and staff morale, they are at a loss to interpret the numbers.

Some factors churches might consider in expanding their metrics include:

People. The most valuable asset any organization has is its people.  Worship attendance figures tell us a great deal, but not everything, about how people are responding to our ministries. Having up-to-date information on the changing mindset of laity in the pews could be important. Likewise, clergy are on the front lines of ministry, and similar monitoring of what is going on with them is critical.

Long term. Churches focus far too much on the short term.  The measures given most attention tend to be those that started when the current leader arrived. While the most recent results are important, the long-term trends need far more attention.  Most negative trends require more than quick fixes. Sustained adaptive change is required to turn around such trends, often requiring major alterations.

Share generously. Measurements are too important to hold closely.  Today’s technology makes possible generous sharing of information that permits people to view the findings through different lenses and often discover new things. You can never over communicate how things are going.

Collaboration. If we expand the range of measurements to include morale, discipleship growth, prayer vitality, biblical competency, mission engagement, and community involvement, for example, then many more players are required to develop reasonable and manageable measures. Out of such collaboration representing a range of priorities, a broad coalition of church leaders should come to appreciate not only the importance of measurement but one another as well.

Related Resources:



About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.