Comparing Numbers

I didn’t go to the doctor for my annual check-up for a season in my life. I was young and relatively healthy, so I thought, why bother? Now that I have passed more milestone birthdays, it is a yearly occurrence.

The pattern is consistent year-to-year. They take some blood, my vitals, and my weight. They ask some questions about my health and do a quick exam. Then we discuss adjustments that we should consider making in the coming year.

In this blog series, we are examining the use of metrics in the local church. (We encourage you to read all the previous posts if you have not.)

Today, we want to answer a crucial question about metrics: How do we use metrics to prioritize and sequence action?

This first step is to make appropriate comparisons with our numbers.

Let’s go back to the doctor for just a moment. When they take my blood, vitals, and weight, they make three comparisons to evaluate my health. 1) They compare it to where it was before. 2) They compare it to a more extensive data set of people. 3) They compare it to where I want to go.

Church leaders should use the same three parameters for making their comparisons.

1. Compare your current metrics to the same period from the last few years.

We have mentioned this in a previous post, but we must emphasize it again. Be consistent in counting and recording methods.

We have had countless meetings with teams who wonder how to count. Do we count everyone in the building, including volunteers, for each service? Do we subtract the volunteers? Etc.

It does not matter as long as you do it the same way every time.

Comparing your numbers to previous years is to discover patterns and trends. It is not getting a 100% clear picture of how many different people are in your building on the weekend.

When comparing quarters, be aware of moving holidays like Easter and excessively impactful weather in specific quarters.

Timesaver Tip: We encourage you to use consistent data from your streaming provider regarding online attendance. There is no need to guess how many people are watching a given video. (If that is of great concern to you, check out this blog on the emotions of metrics.)

2. Compare your metrics to researched benchmarks.

The Church Growth Ratio Book by Win Arn is a classic and still valid today, and there are other similar resources based on their work. These resources provide a comparative analysis of various metrics that help you see potential problems. (For example, if your per capita giving is exceptionally high, that may be a sign that you are becoming internally focused.)

When using outside resources, remember they are helpful but may not be apples-to-apples comparisons.

Churches have seasons, and seasons change based on the region of the country. In the midwest and south, school starts earlier in August, so church activities pick up. In the Northeast, schools run into late June, and summer is condensed to July and August. This will impact comparisons.

Remember, there is no such thing as church competition. The use of outside comparisons should always be used to prompt insights about your church and its mission. 

3. Compare your metrics to your goal.

Let me go back to the doctor one more time.

My experience is that this is where my doctor’s visit falls flat. They compare my numbers to previous years. They compare it to a larger data set, but they rarely ask me questions like, “What do you want your life to look like when you are 70?”

Because we don’t talk about the goal, it feels like the visit is a win-lose situation.

Churches can fall victim to the same thing.

In ChurchOS, we map a 3-5 year journey to double kingdom impact, including, but not limited to, metrics. We call it your church’s True North. At first, that may sound overwhelming. However, when we break it into steps and seasons, it is attainable. It actually helps your team prioritize and sequence action (including what we can say “not yet” to) which allows you to execute faster.

The most effective comparison is where we are to where God wants us to go – allowing True North to help us prioritize our limited resources.

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