But, as you move toward best practices and the health they promise, you will discover that metrics are your ally. They make it possible to achieve “outcome-based decision-making,” in which you allocate resources and you continue, modify, or terminate activities based on whether or not they are working.
For metrics to work, you need to ask WHAT you are measuring and HOW WELL you are doing the measuring.
An ideal lineup of consistently handled measurements would include key measures of attendance, membership, education participation, mission involvement, financial capability, and leadership performance, as well as a detailed profile of current membership and how factors like age, ethnicity, and prior denominational affiliation have changed over time.
The WHAT of Metrics, therefore examines your current lineup of measurements and asks what more you could be doing. Most congregations measure Sunday attendance, for example, but they should also measure frequency of attendance, a profile of who is attending, and movement, if any, among different services.
Similarly, most congregations track membership, but do they also break gross numbers into segments, compare the congregation’s trends with the overall demographic trends of the community and with the denomination’s trends, and analyze the rate and seasonality of new affiliations?
‘The HOW WELL has to do with consistency and accuracy. A quick guess by an usher doesn’t produce the same quality worship count as a systematic counting process carried out by several trained counters. Since most meaningful measurements vary by small percentages, the difference between a guessed 300 and an accurate 290 or 320 is significant.
To assess HOW WELL, you need to analyze the procedures being used and the keeping of records. A healthy congregation will develop numerous spreadsheets or database reports and present them widely. The HOW WELL, you see, includes accessibility — who gets to see the numbers — and therefore transparency.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of On a Journey, and founder of the Church Wellness Project.