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Traditional church metrics are changing right in front of our eyes. The following are thoughts to help you make sense of new-era metrics. More than likely, many of these shifts should have happened years ago, but it was just too easy to quote worship and Bible study attendance and claim a job well done. So, here are six ideas to help make sense of new-era church metrics:

1. Shift from “production” to “potential” statistics.

You used to look back on Sunday services each Monday morning and high-five the staff or have a hard conversation. While what happened last weekend or last quarter is great indicator of reality, this new era calls for something greater. Many churches have been in the mode of measuring what they have done instead of what they are now capable of doing. This is why so many churches have plateaued or declined. With digital church services and Bible studies becoming the norm alongside physical services, there is now an opportunity to encourage a perspective change regarding metrics. What if the number of views on a livestream being larger than your pre-COVID attendance isn’t just an opportunity to celebrate with the team? What if there was a way of moving each viewer closer to Christ?

The goal of production-oriented statistics is to find out what happened and see if you can do more of the same next weekend. Yes, you had X number viewing worship services and X number in Bible study last week—so what? The goal of potential-oriented statistics is to provide a view of who your church is capable of reaching, discipling and engaging in the future. Once you have your potential quantified and in-view, then it becomes much easier to know where your greatest ministry effort should be applied. It provides a new job description, opening up new volunteer and staffing opportunities.

Consider two different churches. Each one has had an identical attendance (or views) of 100 the past five Sundays.  Church One has had one new guest per week over that 5-week span. Church Two has had 10 new guests per week over the same time frame. During that period, the potential for Church One is 104 people. This is the potential size of the group to carry out the mission, share their faith, invite others to worship, study God’s Word and disciple those who need to grow. However, the potential for Church Two is 140 people. The production for each church during that season was exactly the same, but their potential is very different.

In the past, the church with fewer guests would look at the church with more and perhaps point to their big back door or some other problem. They did this in order to justify the disparity. It is the season to begin celebrating the incredible potential of Church Two. New people create new problems and challenges, to be sure. But this is where the work of ministry comes into play. When your potential increases you channel the work of ministry to see new people grow by properly deploying the existing congregation. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Be a church of potential, not just production. There is a scenario not mentioned which is common to the church world — the church that has 100 people attend per week, like the two in the example, but has no idea the makeup of their viewership or attendance because they also stream their service online. It is time to embrace potential along with production in our metrics. You might not know the exact implications of the number of views, but you can dig deeper to see your church’s potential.

2. Emphasize the new.

This is the primary currency of potential statistics. Churches that want to be a part of the Great Commission will work to find out about the new people engaging their congregation. If you care about reaching the lost but have not quantified the new opportunities God has given you, this could be why you have been spinning your wheels. If the church has stopped caring about the new, maybe it is time for a heart check. This means caring deeply about providing worship for existing church members, but also remembering to care for those who do not know Christ or do not have a church home! Oddly enough, it is the focus on the new that drives discipleship. Vibrant discipleship means people are following Christ at a new commitment level than the day before, right? Focusing on the new does not leave out the existing congregation; it creates more value for them. They will be needed more than ever to model what it means to follow Jesus.

Here are some ideas of things to track in the area of newness: new views, new engagements (example: count the number of people commenting on your feed for the very first time), new givers, new outreach initiatives, new stories, new invites by church members, new people asking about Bible study groups, new people serving, emerging Bible study leaders, and new salvation stories.

New is the currency of potential.  Statistics of potential will stay invisible unless you commit to embrace them.

But if you look for and value them, they will produce more fruit than you ever thought possible. You will start hearing people say, “What if we …?” instead of, “We always …“ or, “We used to … ” It will get exciting and make personal growth a fun experience. There is very little more exciting than when potential is being realized. Realize potential by tracking the new!

3. Scrutinize inputs more closely than outcomes.

This is where reality comes into play in the new era metric. Admittedly, with both online and physical gathering worship it can be very difficult to know the “real” numbers.

But you know what is not hard to know? The internal work from your church into the community.

Consider these questions: How many hours you have spent making your online service better each week? How many people have communicated they received Christ (if none, then how can you make it easier for someone to let you know?)? How many follow-up messages have you sent out to those who might be new from your Facebook Live? Have you purchased the best equipment your budget allows or have you just gotten by? Have you or your leadership team learned a new skill to advance your church’s ministry? How often have your team leaders communicated with those who served regularly? How many meals or other items have you given away to your community? How many people have shared your posts?

The list of inputs is endless. More than likely, if the inputs are going the right direction, God will use them. The outcomes will follow if you will connect the inputs with your church’s entry points.

4. Create a culture of internal drive through your metrics.

Internal drive is a secret ingredient of most churches that reach lost people and grow. Those churches are aware of standard metrics, best practices and what other churches are doing, but they tend to make the benchmark against themselves. They want to be better than last weekend—somehow, some way. Most statistics serve as a benchmark against other churches. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but what if you created a metric for internal motivation (or moving forward)?

What if the drive came from within a church’s desire to be more effective at reaching and teaching people instead of only revealing the size of a congregation? How can this happen on a digital level?

Let’s get a little bit practical on this point. Did you know you can look at length of views for most places you livestream? On Facebook you can see who watched a live stream for 10 minutes or longer, which is a great starting place. Track that number and find ways to make it go up. Or better yet, if you have access to unique viewers (most do whether they know it or not) it will be valuable to see that number increase. If churches will focus on these kinds of metrics and make them better, it is possible for online numbers to go up. Focus on recognizing improvement and potential to create an internal drive.

Multipliers. Do not fall into the trap of relying solely on multipliers. Multipliers are simply a church’s educated guess how many individuals watched a livestream. Using multipliers means making an assumption about the average number of viewers watching a single screen (i.e., a family unit), rather than limiting attendance counts to the number of screens logged onto a given livestream. Multipliers make the number to report higher. Sure, it is easy to feel better about this difficult situation by creating larger multipliers to the number of views. If you are going to use multipliers, stay around the formula 1.5x your unique viewers. This is probably closer to reality and it creates a standard for your counting. Creating internal drive means choosing to define reality in simplicity and then work, pray and learn in a way that God can use to increase effectiveness.

5. Ask why the number is the number.

Anyone who has been in charge of tracking church giving knows where this is going. If a church received $10,000 dollars last weekend, but 30 percent of it came from one giver, that’s a lot different than if the largest giver was 5 percent of the total giving for the same $10,000. While all giving is a blessing, there is much more stability in the latter. The same is true of views online.

There are going to be various types of viewings on your livestream. Some are reconnecting church members who moved, others are drive-by viewings for 10 seconds, still others watch all the way through. Focus on growing the numbers that matter most and contribute to the ministry God has called you to shepherd and build. If you are not asking why the numbers are the way they are, you are missing the opportunity to find out the true effectiveness of your online attendance.

Length of views. When you are livestreaming on Facebook in particular (although most platforms provide metrics), the number of total views is provided to you directly on the feed. This total number can inflate reality in a major way. You will need to click on the total views to find how many people stayed on for certain amounts of time. Many will find more than half of the views were 10 seconds or less. Another large group may have watched for a minute and then logged off. Generally speaking, you want to evaluate your progress using at least the “10 minutes or longer” group of viewers. But the shorter views are not useless views! These metrics should challenge us to move people closer into church community. Here are some questions to consider: How do we produce a livestream that moves 1-minute viewers to become 10-minute viewers? How do we encourage 10-minute viewers to engage by leaving a comment? Should we create more entry points into our livestream to welcome new viewers? Whatever you choose to do, recognize not all views are equal.

6. Engagement counts double.

The glue of effective new era metrics is in systematizing personal interaction. It is no longer enough to say how many people sat in a seat or behind a screen. It is also no longer wise to assume just because someone heard what to do that they don’t need help in order to do it. Culture is moving further and further away from Christianity and the result is people increasingly do not have a background for what is being taught. So engagement works off of the assumption people need help, even though they may not know they need help. As a church leader, you are going to have to renegotiate the high-five moment after weekend services. The high-five moments should be when you set a record for how many new people asked for a Bible study sign-up link. Or how many new viewers watched at least 10 minutes. Or how many new and trained volunteers decided to engage your worship community online in the comment section. Or how many new people were private messaged on Facebook as a follow up to first time attendance. Start the process by adding metrics that measure your effort at connecting to people. Engagement means the church and leadership initiate movement toward new people. They do not wait for it to magically happen.

A great word picture during COVID-19 for recognizing engagement is online connection cards. Attraction-based churches take a “We’re here if you need us” approach by simply offering a mention to a connection card once, maybe twice, during a worship service. Yes, you heard that right … it is an attractional approach. Engagement-based churches will decide to initiate conversation with a new person watching, by posting in the comments section, give shout outs to new people during the worship service, provide links to get involved, offer a prayer link when they see a need based comment and send welcome messages via the platform. These churches will also make the same efforts before and after physical services. They will build serving teams around helping people take next steps in following Jesus.

Engagement ties together potential, the new, inputs and knowing why numbers exist. Ultimately, it asks the question: What do we need to do to make a spiritual difference in the lives of those who encounter Jesus through our church? Engagement demands the church is no longer a speed bump people happen to drive over and feel a quick change, but then go back to normal. Deciding to be an engaging church is following the heart of our Savior who chased us down to the point of our salvation. He doesn’t let us wander aimlessly. We should do the same for our communities.

This article comes to you as a part
of the quarterly Reach Magazine.