What is your church counting, Heads, Butts, Wallets or Hearts?

“We have to count something”

It is true that if you don’t measure anything you can’t know if you are doing well. It is. You cannot successfully adjust your diet without owning a scale. You cannot tell who is faster from different races without a stopwatch. It is why baseball has records and stats. It is how sales reps get bonuses, tax gets calculated, and plenty of other things.

But not ALL metrics (measures) are created equal. What if you ran your business by looking at dollars of sales instead of profit per sale? Ask GM fleet sales if you aren’t sure. You can think you are succeeding (we sold more cars than anyone) while the whole time you are losing money (on every sale)… and then you wake up one day and you are broke and owned by the government.

So it is both true that you MUST measure something.. and it is also true

a bad metric is WORSE than no metric. With no metric there is at least some RANDOM CHANCE you will be successful, if you have a bad metric it is like trying to fly with a broken gauge.. it will keep pointing you into the ground.

So Is counting “Heads” a bad metric for a church?

Well, it depends what your goals are. In most cases it doesn’t measure what you really care about. And worse yet, it doesn’t really tell you what to do or stop doing. For example, if the counts go down, Why? How do you fix it? Counts don’t tell that story. What if counts are flat but offerings are down? Why? How do you fix it? You can guess. You can engage the rumor mill. You can find a list of people to give their opinion. But you don’t really have metrics to help you make those decisions.

And I will try to make the case..

you really aren’t counting heads.. you’re counting butts. Butts in seats.

Counting heads to me sounds like people and their brains are engaged. Butts, mean they are there.

And I will further argue, that the use of that metric is the main driver of many trends we see in churches and mega churches today.

So what is counting Butts/Heads really telling us?

At the very least, counting butts tells you if your seats are comfortable. That might be all it is telling you. It could tell you that the music is good, or the sermons are inspiring, your service times are convenient, your location is good (location, location, location). So if the numbers go down,it could be any of those things that you are not really measuring.. or it could just be you need more comfy seats.

And if I still haven’t convinced you that butt counting only measures comfort then I DARE YOU TO TRY THIS: replace you seating with wooden benches, and turn the thermostat up 2 degrees per week for a month. Don’t change anything else, do the same music, do the same sermons you always do. Where do you think your attendance will be at the end of the month? 

But let’s assume your church HAS big comfy movie theater seats (more on that later), and still no one is showing up to sit in all of them. Well the head count metrics and trends don’t help you do they? Maybe you need something better for them to do while they are sitting in them.  You need music, like a concert. You need video, like a big screen movie. Church in 3D for tithers… I can see it now. You need some beverages, maybe light snacks.. like a snack bar. or a Starbucks.

And you see what you end up with that is something just like a movie theater.. or in some cases, a modern butt counting church.

But “WAIT” you say..”A big church can have good message, and transform people’s lives” and that may be true.. but it is NOT because of a metric like “head count” or “attendance”

 If you want to measure where someone’s heart is, it takes more than showing up occasionally for an hour on Sunday. You want to know that people are going the extra mile or two to live out their faith. Do you have people in your group that are going to live a calling? Do you have people that are willing to give everything? If you have those, you are doing well, and you should figure out how to measure progress in that direction..

What other metrics do people use, are they better?

Well you can check in your church newsletter to see exactly what your church leaders are measuring. You can normally see

  • Sunday School attendance, 
  • Donations, or maybe 
  • Baptisms, 
  • Gospel Presentations
  • Membership

And almost all of those are a better metric than attendance. I believe there are even better metrics I will talk about a little later, but those are at least an improvement. Let’s look at why they are better one by one.

Sunday School attendance. These numbers when compared to overall attendance can tell you how ENGAGED the average person is. So can number of missionaries, number of community service hours, and lots of other things. 

Donations. Again, this could show more than average commitment. You are feeling moved you give more. But it ALSO could mean that the economy is good, so good that successful people have to find some way to lower their taxes.. and lucky you they picked your church. But people can and do vote with their wallet ,often before they vote with their feet (or butts).

Baptisms. A good metric, you are reaching out to people and getting them to commit to your church and symbolic new way of life very publicly. Good for you. The only downside to this is it doesn’t measure what happens every week for the people already in the church. So it has to be paired with other metrics, to get a full healthy picture.

Gospel presentations.This is a good measure of effort, but only really useful when you have some other metric to compare it to. Did you present the gospel 5000 times and get one Baptism? or did you present 20 and get 1. 10,000 and 2 or 40 and 2. One presentation might be driving people away, while the other is actually effective. But it takes two data points (like worship attendance and Sunday school attendance) to have this data be useful and not a bad cockpit gauge.

Membership. This could be the same as the Baptisms measure. But in reality it is not. It is a measure of past activity, not current activity. It could be how many people liked the church’s last pastor.  It could be people who were raised in that mainstream brand as a child. and lucky you when they need to go to church on Christmas, you are the closest. Almost any measure of current activity is better than this one. The only thing this drives is how many people are on you marketing mail list, and how many emails you send each week with the newsletter.

So there you have it. Normal church measures, some good, some bad, some very bad, not a whole lot of great ones. 

What should we measure?

Anyone who knows me in real life, knows I like to solve problems..not just complain about them. In fact for a long time I have said.. I think there are 5 groups of people when it comes to problems:

  1. People who don’t know they have a problem.
  2. People who know they have a problem, but don’t really know what it is.
  3. People who know what problem they have, but don’t know how to fix it.
  4. People who know what problem they have and have an idea how to fix it.
  5. And people who actually solve problems.

So while I can often spot problems and vocalize them, I don’t like to do so unless I have an idea to fix the problem and am willing to do something about it. So let’s get to my ideas for a solution to this widespread metric issue.

Inspirational ideas.

I am an avid reader of business books, and management techniques. A few of the more influential things I have read I will try to weave into this answer. 

1. The Gallup  Management Journal Q12 process. GMJ is one of the first places I read about employee engagement surveys. And many of you who work in the real world are probably familiar with them. They however are rare if non existant in the church scenario (like many modern business HR techniques and practices developed over the past two decades, a subject I have queued up for a later blog post). The main observation is that people who are “engaged” are WAAY more productive than people who are “not engaged” (checked out and passive) and most dangerous to a successful organization the “actively disengaged” (Disgruntled and vocal). These are straight forward observations to most people, one bad apple ruins the bunch after all. 

But the step further here, is they identified ways to actually measure how far along the scale an individual might be with a very small set of questions (12 to be precise). For a detailed discussion of this check out this link: http://www.gallup.com/consulting/126806/q12-meta-analysis.aspx

2. Patrick Lencioni’s 3 Signs of a Miserable Job. In that book, he argues that the key things (and you will see them clearly in the GMJ Q12 questions) are all people need to be known as a person (not anonymous), know that they are making a difference (not irrelevance), and have some objective way to measure their own performance (not immeasurability). He goes into more detail in the book. but the key concepts are clearly similar.

3. Tony Schwartz’s Power of Full Engagement which I wont cover in  as much detail, but basically covers ways to get to peak emotional state and focus.

I pull from these books many core ideas, and mix in some of my own about diagnosing performance issues.

The Idea for the church.

I believe that we can create a very small metric that actually measures the engagement in a meaningful and useful way for the church to use. I believe that this will bring the church into modern times as far a HR practices and organizational effectiveness is concerned. The indicators of increasing engagement would be something like this:

  1. Physical presence
  2. Intellectually active
  3. Physically participating
  4. Emotionally committed
  5. Source of self-identity

With maybe 2 or 3 questions in each area along the lines of, 

  • When making decisions I take scripture into account. (never, sometimes, usually, always)
  • My church family cares about me deeply (Strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree)
  • When there are scheduling conflicts Church is the top priority (never, sometimes, usually, always)

So the end result would be you could see who was actively engaged, and on fire for mission, and who was just a butt warming a seat. AND and

this is the key thing, It would tell you where you need to focus your energy.

Taking the next step

So lets say you like what I am saying, and you are VERY brave. And you thought. I would love to know what people in my church or small group, or youth group really think. I would love to have a really good metric like this. Well have I got a deal for you:

If you are in the DFW area, and want to try this out with me. Any Sunday in June or July I will come to your church or group, and give a 1 or 2 minute introduction, and provide your church with an online survey for FREE. And when I blog about it, I will even mention you all by name. 

So what do you say.. Are you ready to join me? message me on twitter @jacksodj or shoot me a note on Facebook.