What should we count?

Reposted below is a helpful Facebook post from Brad Brisco of The Missional Church Network.

Brad Brisco

When it comes to “keeping score,” churches in North America have typically focused on three metrics: buildings, budgets and butts. While there is nothing inherently wrong with counting these things, we do need to ask if keeping score of how big our buildings are, how much money people give, and how many people show up when we meet is the best indicator of how a church is doing. The fact is, these three metrics give us little real sense of the influence a church is having on its community. There is absolutely no correlation between the number of people who show up for an event and the difference those people are having where they live. The same is true with how much money people give to the church and how large a church’s buildings are. The reason we “count” those three things is because they are easy to count.

Counting (quantitative) and measuring (qualitative)

While we often use the language of “counting” and “measuring” interchangeably, there is actually a difference between the two. It is important to make the distinction because the church has largely been in the counting business, which has negatively influenced the way we think about the nature of the church and limited our impact in the world. We need to move to measuring more and counting less. Let’s make the distinction this way:

Counting is giving attention to numbers. When counting, the question to be answered is: “How many?” It is quantitative. Conversations about “How many?” are most frequently conversations about resources but can also be about activities. Conversations about resources, in a time of limited resources, are commonly conversations about sufficiency, “Do we have enough?” or, “How can we get more?” Examples could include finances or people. We ask questions like, “Do we have enough money for that mission?” or “Do we have enough volunteers for that ministry?” A quantitative question about activities might be, “How many Bible studies were conducted?”

Measuring is giving attention to change. When measuring, the question is not about “How many?” but rather about “How far?” Conversations about “How far?” are frequently about the change that can be measured over a particular time, as in, “How far have we come over the past year?” Measuring is about qualitative change. Has the quality of something changed over time? In other words, has something gotten better, or worse, since the last time we measured?

I hesitate to be too prescriptive in giving suggestions for what your church could count and measure because contexts are different. But here are a few suggestions that will hopefully crack open your imagination for metrics that fit your community more specifically.

Counting

In light of the fact that the church is a missionary entity—we are the sent, missionary people of God—one of the things we should count are missionary behaviors. For example:

How many neighbors have I gotten to know by name in the past month? How many coworkers have I gotten to know on a deeper level? How many significant conversations have I had in my favorite Third Place? How many people have I had in my home this past month? How many meals have I shared with people outside my church family this week? How many times this week have I intentionally been a blessing to someone?

Not only does counting the right things give us a better indication of a church’s engagement in the community, and ultimately its impact, but it also illustrates to the congregation what is important. The reality is what gets measured gets done and what gets measured gets repeated. When we count the things suggested in the above list, people know what is valued; they, therefore, know the target for which they need to be aiming.

Measuring

While all of the suggestions listed above can certainly help a church begin to move in the right direction, these questions are still activities. They are more about “inputs” rather than “outcomes.” Unfortunately, most often in the non-profit church world, we stop with inputs.

What do we mean by a “measurable” that is outcome-based? First, they are primarily about change. If we can describe the change that we desire to see or make, then we can also have conversations about whether we are moving toward that change over time. Measuring relates not so much to what is, but rather what could be. It is more about possibilities.

Second, the best questions associated with measuring ask both about change and about time. For example, we might ask, “How have the test scores changed over the past six months in the elementary school where the church provides tutors?”

In the context of the church, measuring is about determining transformational change (discipleship) in both people and in the neighborhoods where we live. Ask yourself, “What changes would you like to see in the lives of the people, but also in the life of your community?” That is an outcome. But then ask the follow-up question, “What will it take to get to that place?” Then begin to ask measurement questions toward that change. “How will we know if we are making progress in the right direction?” “What will we measure to determine transformational change?”

Measuring is definitely more difficult than counting, but in almost every case, it is essential if we are serious about making a difference.

One thought on “What should we count?”

  1. It might sound simplistic but I think that God’s Spirit will guide and lead us in the Father’s work to the extent that we earnestly seek to follow Jesus’ call. God’s love cannot keep to itself. It seeks to reach out and to touch us in very creative and sometimes suprising ways. Christians frequently experience “divine appointments”, our Father’s personalized “visiting card” and outreach to fallen and frail human beings. We have a God who deeply cares for every single one of His children. That heartfelt conviction gives me comfort, encouragement, hope, strength, confidence and peace. This is the message I desire to share with the world.

    God for us, in us and through us.

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