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8 Metrics More Important Than Your Sunday Attendance

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It doesn’t take long in pastoral ministry to feel the pressure and need for numerical growth; it doesn’t start out that way. When you preached your first sermon or led your first Bible study, your focus was not on the attendance, but rather the opportunity. Slowly but surely though, over time, we want to grow whatever it is God has trusted us to lead, and that’s not a bad thing. I believe the desire to make progress is God-given. Where it gets’ tricky is assuming that numerical growth equals progress. Of course, it can, but Sunday attendance only tells part of the growth story of your church.

Over the last few months, my team has been thinking and talking about engagement, specifically how we can track it more effectively. As we have experienced numerical growth, I can’t help but wonder, “Is anyone spiritually growing? Are people becoming more like Jesus? Are our systems and structures helping people take the next step?” Those questions involve different metrics and data than just counting heads. Luckily for us, we were able to use our database search features to begin measuring not only the attendance but the engagement of our congregation.

Let me give you 8 metrics to track more important that Sunday Attendance.

1. Total Reach

You probably know this, but you are reaching more people than your average Sunday morning attendance. A church of “300” is really a church of 450-500 everyone just doesn’t show up on the same day. Your Total Reach is the total number of people who you have engaged in a specific time. You can use whatever criteria you choose, but we use the following criteria in our database search function.

Show me the names of people who have: 
[Checked in a child] OR [Made a donation] OR [Attended a small group] OR [Volunteered in a service] OR [Registered online for an event] Over a certain time

This criteria gives you a fair representation of the total number of people who have engaged with your church over a period of time (1 month, 3 months, 6 months, etc.) Why is that important? As church attendance becomes less frequent, even among Christian families, it is helpful to know your reach is increasing even if attendance is not.

2. Group Attendance

Spiritual growth can be hard to quantify. How can you be sure people are reading the Bible, praying, or obeying? You can’t. That’s why it’s crucial to pick a “next step” metric to gauge for your congregation’s spiritual development. For our church, we chose group attendance. You may want to use different criteria such as Sunday School, that’s fine. Just pick something beyond Sunday morning attendance so you can attempt to measure discipleship effectiveness.

We require our growth group leaders to keep attendance, which allows us to know the exact numbers of weekly group attendance for the semester. Again you can choose any criteria you want, but we decided the following formula:

Average weekly group attendance % by Average adult worship attendance (over the semester)

You get to define success. Depending on what you read, anything over 30% is above average. Our group attendance percentage has grown to over 50%, and we’re excited about the way it’s trending. We believe if a person is regularly attending a group, they will grow in their faith.

3. Involvement

Church is more than a service; it’s a family, and every pastor wants its members to become involved in the life of the church. For us, we decided that if someone was attending a group or serving on a hope team, they were more than an attendee; they were engaged. 

Our search criteria are:

Show me people who have been [scheduled] and [confirmed] as volunteers OR [attended a group] in the last [#] of weeks.

It’s worth noting that we did not include giving in our criteria for engagement, because while giving is an essential identifier for someone’s heart for the church, we also found that people who grew up in a traditional church background, are apt to give but not be involved in the life of our church. We made the decision if someone is ONLY giving, but not attending a group or serving on a team, we did not consider than engaged. You may disagree, but whatever criteria you decide, it’s important to know who is engaging with your church beyond Sunday services.

4. First Time Givers

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be” which means that when someone takes the faith-filled step to begin giving to your church, they are indicating that their heart is invested in your church. That shouldn’t be taken lightly or overlooked. 

There are several things you can do to celebrate someone’s decision to begin giving, a handwritten note, a small gift (we’ve given away The Treasure Principle book in the past) a phone call or automated email, etc.) but whatever you do, do something to celebrate people’s spiritual growth in giving.

I can’t speak for all church database systems, but in most cases, a simple search with the following criteria should give you a list:

Show me people who have [first donated] of [any amount] in the last [#] of weeks.

5. First-time Guests

First Time guests are the lifeblood of a church experiencing momentum. Measuring the number of guests who visit your church is also a great way to measure your evangelism effort, marketing strategy, and whether your current members are excited enough about their church to tell anyone about it.

There are many ways to capture a first-time guests visit. I wrote more about the specific strategy our church uses in this post, but most churches use some form of “connection card” or “guest card” and ask guests to fill it out and turn it in. If you use that model or anything similar, it’s effortless to keep track of the total number of guests who visit your church every year. It’s also easy to track trends of guests and know the seasons in your church when guests are more likely to show up.

According to this post by Tony Morgan, a growing church needs more guests each year than you have people in your total average attendance. In other words, a growing church of 500 will need more than 500 guests in a year. We haven’t experienced that percentage total of guests in our church, but we have experienced over 50% of guest to attendance ratio. Don’t be intimidated or discouraged. Whether you have 1 visitor or 1,000 just keep track, so you have the best data to make the best decisions in the future.

6. Guest Retention

Keeping track of your first-time guest numbers is crucial to creating an effective assimilation plan. The next step is to measure the number of guests who return and eventually get connected to the life of your church. This can be tricky if you haven’t created a way to know if a guest returns. At our church, we also track the number of 2nd-time guests who return. I wrote more about our system in this post.

In our language from the stage, we say, “If you’re a 1st or 2nd-time guest, be sure to go by the connection booth and pick up your gift.” This allows our connection team to know if a guest returns and gives us better information to try to take the next step. We believe that when someone returns for a second visit, they are letting you know they are seriously interested in getting connected to the church. We take that as permission to follow up and connect with them.

The next step for our church is “Launch Class,” which is our “next step/membership” class. At the end of Launch class, someone helps them decide where they want to try serving on one of our hope teams (volunteer) and then they receive a follow up from the leader of the volunteer team. Eventually, our goal is to see a 1st-time guest take the next steps to be a group attending, serving, giving church member. Not for us but for them.

We don’t use search criteria to measure Guest Retention, we use a spreadsheet and manually input the data because it involves a lot of personal follow from our team. The spreadsheet has columns for all the next steps we want to help a guest take. I’ve provided the spreadsheet template we use if you would like to use it just click here to download.

I guess if you wanted to use search criteria you could use something like this:

Show me people whose [first attendance date] was [time period] and have [given] or [served] or [attended a group]

As long as you’re keeping the data, this should provide the information you need.

7. New Group Attendance.

I’ve already talked about how our church uses group attendance as the metric to measure spiritual growth. It’s not a perfect metric but is at least something that allows us to gauge effectiveness.

Similarly, we want to measure the number of people who are joining a group for the first time. You may have noticed that the people in your church who do everything, do everything, and everyone else does very little. It’s the classic 80/20 principle. At our church, we want to know if anyone has decided to join a group for the first time because we want to measure our effectiveness at onboarding new people.

As long as your groups or Sunday School require registration and/or an attendance report, you can produce a list for first-time group attendees. While your church is small we’ve found the best way to measure this number is with a highlighter and a list printout, but as your church grows you might need to define a more complicated search criteria that looks something like:

Show me people who have [registered] for [current group time period] AND EXCLUDE people who have [registered] for [past group time period]

8. Inactive

See if this sounds familiar, you have a church database system with thousands of names in it because over the years you have added families, but the information isn’t up to date, and most of those people are actively involved in your church. Every pastor knows the frustration of having way more members “on the books” than people actively attending. Is there a way to know when someone is no longer active in your church unless they tell you? Yes!

Through the power of automation, you can categorize names in your database as “inactive” based on any criteria you choose. This is a powerful feature because the more accurate your information, the more effective your planning can be.

To create an inactive list, use criteria similar to this:

Change [Membership Status] of people who have NOT:
[Checked in a child] OR [Made a donation] OR [Attended a small group] OR [Volunteered in a service] OR [Registered online for an event] Over a certain time

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Jason Isaacs
Jason Isaacs

By Jason Isaacs