Church Metrics will Help You Avoid this Mistake

Measuring a few important things on a church metrics scorecard will help you in a few important ways. Not the least of which is keeping you from making myth-based decisions.

church metrics

Years ago on a plane ride, I watched a documentary about the invention of the M16 rifle. I thought it was a completely random time-filler, but the lesson keeps coming back to me:

The Legend of the American Marksman

The documentary recounted the place of the marksman in our cultural psyche. Our national stories and heroes include the likes of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Alvin York, the WWI marksman that captured 132 German soldiers almost single handed.

Through WWII and the Korean Conflict, our standard issue rifles were the high-powered M1 Garand. It was basically designed for distance marksmanship.

But then someone during the Kennedy era was tasked with compiling and analyzing the data from all of the army’s field reports and records. Turns out, there was almost no data confirming the M1’s long-distance effectiveness. The research only confirmed its being used at shorter ranges.

The army’s initial response was, “Our M1s are the only rifle worth using.” They were in love with the idea of the American marksman, but the data showed that the real need was for something that fired faster and was effective at closer ranges. Enter the M16, which was very quickly adopted across our military.

Willow Creek’s Reveal Study

This was essentially the bottom line of the brave research Willow Creek did all those years ago. So much of the Church in the US was operating on the assumption, “Active church members = maturing disciples.” So we grew ministries and filled our church calendars with activities to keep everyone engaged. With the best of intentions.

But the study revealed little to no correlation between staying busy at church and personal spiritual growth.

What I Learned about Myth-Based Decisions

Here are some takeaways:

  • Decisions of this kind are based on myths, not lies – there are good ideas and even incomplete data involved (the M1s worked, but not nearly as well as the M16)
  • Designing a solution for a problem that doesn’t really exist is a very real possibility
  • It’s easy as a visionary or idealistic leader to mentally negate data that confronts your particular myth – especially if the current solution is your brainchild
  • When you’re piloting a new idea or initiative, there may not be any data immediately – all the more important to measure as you go so you can make pivots and keep getting better

How is your church doing at making disciples? Are the processes, programs and staff you’re pouring resources into actually making a difference?

As you decide what to include in your church metrics, consider both micro and macro health measurements. And please measure more than just attendance and offerings. Measuring what’s important will let you make informed decisions and avoid holding out for a good idea that isn’t working well.