Why Churches Should Care About Numbers

June 14, 2006 by

This is part seven in a continuing series, Is Church Growth the Highway to Hell?

Numbers are important because they are a sign of effectiveness (notice I said a sign, not the sign). If you don’t know what your numbers are, how do you judge if anything is improving? How do you know where you’re at? I don’t know a single youth pastor who could get away with not counting heads on a trip because ‘numbers aren’t important.’

“Numbers (which represent people impacted by ministry) help us make better decisions.” –Tony Morgan, author of Simply Strategic Growth

Numbers can prove the effectiveness or failure of outreach methods. They can show you that your worship services are filling up and you better start thinking about a solution. Numbers can tell you if people are only showing up on Sunday or if they’re also digging deeper in small groups or other opportunities. Try telling the trustees that you’re not going to keep track of receipts because numbers aren’t important. Keeping track of numbers helps us keep on track.

Numbers Not the Only Thing
Of course numbers aren’t the only thing. If we based decisions strictly on numbers we’d be just like the businesses that focuses only on the bottom-line and don’t care about the souring public opinion, which will eventually hit the bottom-line—but then it will be too late.

Other factors are important. Mark Waltz, author of First Impressions: Creating Wow Experiences for Churches, looks at both hard measurements (visible, identifiable, trackable numbers) and soft-side measurements (feedback, stories that offer insight and changed lives):

“They both matter. Numbers are people—always people. And people matter. They matter to God and they matter to us. Period. A great story from a person is just that—it’s great! But, when charged with the responsibility to create environments for people to connect to each other and Christ, who and how many of our people are stepping toward Christ in those environments will determine whether or not we even hear stories of life change.”

Sometimes numbers can be deceiving. We need to know about changed lives—a church that isn’t increasing numerically but is still seeing changed hearts is still growing. And a church that is growing numerically but isn’t seeing lives changed has a problem.

Tracking Results
Beyond numbers, it’s important to track our results in general. This includes numbers, but it also means the soft-side numbers Waltz talks about.

It’s a basic marketing principle that you can’t improve anything if you don’t keep track of what you’re doing and what the results are. And churches have a bad track record here. Our 2005 Communications Report showed that 76% of churches aren’t tracking the results of their marketing. Ouch.

What tracking ultimately leads us to is whether or not we’re meeting our goal. Churches have different goals, but one general goal of the Church (capital C) is to tell others about Jesus. Are we effective or are we failing?

We can’t stick our head in the sand and hope it’s working. We need to be proactive and fix what’s broken. It’s not about perfection, it’s about effectiveness. What good is an ineffective church?

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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12 Responses to “Why Churches Should Care About Numbers”

  • emergingblurb
    June 15, 2006

    Numbers are mentioned overwhelmingly in Acts as converts were added to their number daily. This one has disturbed me slightly as I have never been in or known of a church where this has happened. I wish it to happen.
    But if we’re looking for performance indicators surely its not who comes through the door (that reflects our attractional capacity) but as Jesus says the level we love one another.
    With the level of gossip and other hurtful sins within many churches…shouldn’t our focus shift toward effective transformation?
    Its not something that we can confidently ascribe numbers to but should we? Our call is to make disciples…not churches.
    Just a thought.

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  • Dan
    June 15, 2006

    Jesus said we know a tree by its fruit. So what fruit is (y)our church bearing? I think it has to be something more than a warm cozy feeling for its members. By inference, Jesus says it’s important that we measure and evaluate fruit — numbers, disciplemaking, cultural impact. Something.

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  • janna
    June 15, 2006

    my youth pastor always says we’re not about numbers, but every number equals a soul, so in a way, yes, the more students we get there are the more to reach their high schools.

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  • Picicle
    June 15, 2006

    Numbers are meaningless. Unless, of course you know what you’re counting. Sometimes people are counting eggs and calling them chickens. Sometimes they’re counting smooth white stones.
    I can hand out dried bread and attract thousands of pidgeons, but the butcher never seems to care about those kinds of numbers.

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  • centuri0n
    June 16, 2006

    Hey Kevin —
    I stopped by here to take a sip of your tea, and I found the graphic on the right with the vacuum saleman (or is he a delivery guy?), and I’m curious: how do you mediate the tension between the “uncompromising clarity” of the Gospel and what you have just posted here?
    Here’s where I’m coming from: I think that if you want to count heads, count heads. It’s a good way to finguire out some rudimentary things about what is happening at church on Sunday, but I wouldn’t draw a lot of deep theological conclusions from it as it is an aggregate number — unless, of course, you have the SBC problem that your rolls indicate that you have 3 times as many members as you have attenders.
    Anyway, let’s assume for a second that you’re counting numbers while you’re preaching through the book of John, and the longer you stay in John the lower your attendance runs. By the time you get through John 6, your attendance is down 50%.
    If that happens, do you stop preaching through John and pick up a lighter book — like maybe Titus or Philemon? Or maybe you start on a topical study like “how to be a winner like Daniel”?
    If you do, I suggest your numbers have forced a compromise of the preaching of the Gospel.
    I’d like to see your thoughts on that.

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  • kevin
    June 16, 2006

    centuri0n–first of all, nobody’s talking about drawing “deep theological conclusions” from numbers. That seems kind of silly.
    Secondly, for the example you give you about preaching the book of John, I think it’d be pretty simplistic to conclude that the book of John was at fault for dropping attendance. How do you know there’s any correlation? You’d need more data and helpful information to know how the congregation is taking it (the soft-side measurements Mark Waltz talks about).
    And if you did conclude it was the sermon that was driving people away, I’d look at how the sermon was delivered. Is the pastor boring people to tears? I’m pretty convinced the Bible’s not boring, it’s just a matter of how we talk about it. We’re a soundbyte generation and a pastor needs to figure out how to effectively communicate.
    There are my thoughts on that, hope that answers your questions.

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  • Pastor Todd McKeever
    June 17, 2006

    I must admit that the first thought I had with the comment about the dropping of numbers while going through the book of John, I never even thought about the book of John being the problem. I also agree I would look at the one bringing the message first.
    As far as counting, I agree that it is important. It is also important that as a team you need to first figure out what you should be counting seeing that success will look different for each of us, even though I do feel that there are some basics for all of us.
    Great discussion.

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  • Gene Mason
    June 17, 2006

    I like numbers, so here are a few. Number of persons who will die today worldwide who have no relationship with Christ: about 60,000. Number of people living who have never heard the name Jesus, about 1.1 billion. Number who have no access to the gospel whatsoever: about 1.6 billion. Number who will die this year worldwide from preventable (curable) deseases: about 300 million.
    Number of evangelical churches in America: about 200,000. Percentage of those churches who have not reached one person for Jesus Christ in the last 12 months: 63%. Percentage of those churches with declining membership over the last 10 years: 70%. (Sources: IMB, Barna)
    Numbers are a measure of accountability. If you don’t want to look at numbers at least for the “big picture”, then you probably at some level subscribe to “ignorance is bliss.” If you are in steady decline for whatever reason, don’t rationalize that numbers aren’t important. For heaven’s sake wake up and change something. Now! Today! At the very least, numbers should motivate you on some level to do something. Anything!
    There’s a great, big, lost world out there people. Can we not agree to do something about it? We live in the richest country in the world by far–and we will be held accountable for how we use our resources to impact the world for Christ. And yes, that drills-down directly to your church and community. Do you not see that numbers are important?

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  • centuri0n
    June 18, 2006

    Kevin —
    Deciding how to “market” your church is a deep theological conclusion, bro.
    For example, the conclusion to review your method of delivery of the messages in inherently a reflection of the kind of theology your have regarding how a pastor should act. That is: should the message be dictated by what the book of John says (which, I would agree, is pretty exciting if you read it in faith), or by whether or not people have the ears to hear it? It seems to me that one would never preach John 6 or even the whole breadth of John 3 if one waited for people to have the ears to hear.
    One last thing as I get ready to go and teach part 2 of a 4-part sunday school series (which include PPT and music) on the person and work of Jesus Christ: the objection that “can’t we agree to do something about it” ignores that most of us conducting this discussion/argument are actually doing something — and the argument is whether or not what we are doing is the “something” which is required by the condition of the world.
    Kevin and I would agree on this, I think: rotely reading the NT in Greek to people in large groups would never pass for evangelism in this world today — it would not be glorifying to God in any way. But there is a difference (and this is where we part company) between presenting the Gospel in (for example) English or Chinese and turning the Gospel into a media campaign.

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    • Ron
      July 6, 2011

      Hi Centurion,

      I’m curious… Is a growing church alwasy a bad thing? What if a person is relevent, biblical, doing church marketing, counting numbers and is also evangelistic and converting people through the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Isn’t that possible?

      What if sharpening ones skills as a speaker is not exclusive of staying relevent and theologically sound at the same time? “He that winneth souls is wise” comes to mind.
      Isn’t that possible?

      I believe it is possible to do these things with a right heart attitude with a method, goal and mission that is pleasing to God.

      Just a thought Brother. God Bless

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  • Mike
    June 23, 2006

    We had a senior pastor who preached through John, and Corinthians, and lots of other books for 9 years. During that period we lost half the congregation.
    This preacher was one of the most entertaining, personable, and charismatic (in the secular sense) preachers our congregation ever had. His problem was, he didn’t really preach Christ crucified, he preached his own list of helpful hints. See, it wasn’t the Bible that shrunk the church, it was the failure to lift Christ up.
    We have since changed preachers and begun “marketing” Christ to the community. Guess what. We’ve been growing.

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  • Judson
    January 29, 2008

    I see no problem with using numbers as an indicator of effectiveness. Jesus used the tools in his day to communicate the message to people around Him. He used parables and stories to relate to the people around Him… He spoke from a boat…
    I agree, the preaching of the Gospel is important, but if we can make it more interesting without losing the purity of the message, than we should do it.

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