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Numbers, measuring and keeping track of things seem mechanical and impersonal until they are about me. Numbers get personal and matter when it comes to my age, my weight, my cholesterol level, and my bank account.

The truth is every number tells a story. (My waistline tells a story that I'm not getting into today.)

As a church leader, do you migrate toward numbers and keeping track, or do you avoid it if at all possible? I don't enjoy numbers, keeping track, or measuring, but I have learned to appreciate their value, so I do.

Every number not only tells a story...believe it or not, it also has heart. Numbers have heart because they are ultimately about individual people.

When Jesus told the parable about the lost sheep in Luke 15, it is clear that in order for the shepherd to know one was missing, he had to count. I know the point isn't counting, and that is my point. It's about the one! I care about how many visitors and converts we have because it's about the one.

Therefore, I'd like to take a moment to discuss measuring what matters. In this article I will cover hard data, and in a later article, "heart data." Hard data is much easier to measure, but heart data, although subjective, cannot be overlooked. We'll cover attendance, plus five key church life issues to measure, in this first category of hard data.

I call attendance the "cosmetic" number because it is not always what it appears. Some churches have had an ecclesiastical facelift when it comes to their attendance.

As a church consultant, I am amazed at the creativity with which some churches count their worship attendance, and the many different definitions of "about five hundred."

The second reason I call it the cosmetic number is because it's the number that we like to make us look good. We like the attendance number because it's the largest number we get to work with.

The trouble is, of the measurements that matter, it matters the least. Gathering a large crowd of people who are spiritually unresolved is critical, but we can't stop there. Helping people become fully devoted followers of Christ is the other half of the equation.

Attendance can be deceiving. A church of five thousand may seem impressive until you discover it's been stuck at about five thousand for years. In contrast, you may think a church of 150 to be very average, until you discover it's in a little town in the middle of nowhere.

One church that fits the latter profile is Leslie First Baptist in Leslie, Michigan. They are in a town of 2,050 where there are several churches from which to choose. Toby Teague is the pastor and is doing a great job.

Eight years ago when he arrived, the church attendance was thirty. Today it is 175 with a high day last year of 415. Now those numbers tell a story. I love their church brochure. It says, "The Church that Could Care Less."

Then it opens to read, "We could care less where you come from, We could care less where you've been, we could care less what you have, The thing we really do care about is You and so does God." Good job Toby, keep up the good work!

Church Life Issue: First Time Visitors
Character It Reveals: Selfless Attitude
Measuring the number of first time visitors tells us much about the health of a church. Particularly when you also study how many of your visitors are not Christians. Who you invite and attract is as important as how many. A high number of visitors generally reveals a selfless character within the church.

New people on your church property communicates that you care about people not yet part of your church family and that you are willing to make room for them. This sends a strong message to both those who are already part of your church as well as those who are not.

Church Life Issue: Converts
Character It Reveals: Faithful Obedience
Keeping track of the number of new converts is not a cold-hearted, mechanical thing. It's the primary way to measure the faithful obedience of your congregation to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20. Keeping track the right way means far more than just counting numbers.

You need to know the name of every new convert and where they are in their new faith journey. For example, have they been baptized? Have they started some kind of new Christian training classes or small groups? In other words, what follow-up do you do to encourage and strengthen their faith?

Church Life Issue: Volunteers in Ministry
Character It Reveals: Responsible Gratitude
The number of people involved in strategic, spiritual gift-based ministry helps you measure the "muscle" of your church. God's plan in Scripture is clear in Ephesians 4:11-12: The pastors are to equip the saints to do the work of ministry, not just do all of the ministry themselves.

This is a key ingredient of a strong church. We all know churches with superstar pastors; the kind that when the pastor leaves, the church basically collapses. This is not true for all such churches, but unfortunately, it is for most.

The difference between one that does and one that does not is how many committed and trained volunteers are part of the ministry. The number of people equipped for meaningful ministry can and will transform a local church.

Measuring this number will give you insight to the responsible gratitude of the congregation. I'm not talking about works of righteousness. We are saved by faith, not by works. I'm saying that when the people of God begin to mature in that faith, they can't help but express their gratitude for what God has done for them through Christ.

They then begin to become more responsible for their faith. They begin to understand that it was never meant to be kept all to themselves, but to be shared with others. And whatever part of ministry they help with, it's part of the church reaching out to those who are spiritually unresolved.

Church Life Issue: People in Small Groups
Character It Reveals: Authentic Relationships
Real life change takes place best in the context of a small group of people who are open and honest and engaged in healthy relationships. The larger a church gets, the more important this number becomes.

I will admit that it is difficult to get a handle on who is and who is not in an "authentic" relationship. But difficult or not, it is vital that we press the issue. This is done through top-notch and ongoing training of your small group leaders.

When people are offered healthy and productive relational environments where they can be honest with each other, it is a tremendous help for them to become honest with God about who they are and what He wants them to become.

Church Life Issue: Offering
Character It Reveals: Mature Commitment
You didn't think I would leave out money, did you? The reactions to measuring money matters vary greatly from hyper-interested to avoidance and denial.

Neither are healthy or wise.

Just face the reality of where you are financially. Whether you like it or not, ministry costs money, and it's not cheap. Churches with strong general fund per-capita giving ($20.00 and up per person, based on average attendance per Sunday) have stronger ministries because they are able to do more and hire quality staff.

At a deeper level, however, your church income gives you insight to the level of spiritual maturity level in your congregation. Although we don't like to talk about it because it doesn't feel spiritual, mature Christians give more money than immature Christians. That's just a fact.

So while it might feel like business, it's more about the growth and commitment of your people to God and His work.

There are so many other things you could measure, but focus on measuring what matters, understand what the numbers are telling you, and keep on leading!

This article is used by permission from
Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter
The Pastor's Coach available at

Author Biography

Dan Reiland
Web site: 12 Stone Church
Dan Reiland is Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

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