Church Statistics - Really!

Your church's next small group could be in a prison or nursing home

In his book “Leading Change,” John Kotter makes the point that nothing changes in an organization until a sufficient sense of urgency has been established. You can have the right people in leadership and a clearly communicated vision, but if a “plenty of time for us to consider this later” attitude prevails, needed change will never occur. This is the missing step in most church goal setting processes.

I believe that a healthy sense of urgency can arise from church leaders doing the math and looking at their church statistics, but it rarely does. When church statistics are favorable, they are usually lies and half truths, tailored to suit the pastor's ego. The right numbers are rarely tracked. The numbers I want to see relate to the church's witness in the community. We need to keep on top of social trends. Leaders need take a step back and get a broader perspective on the church's current situation. Each new era brings new opportunities. Social change also brings real penalties for those who fail to adapt. The trick is to name these change points without becoming defensive or falling into the blame game. We also need to spend time in prayer, discerning how the numbers relate to our congregation's God given vocation.

Consider the following example:

Ten years ago, 10th Street Church received most of its new members from its confirmation class and transfers from other churches in its denomination. This year its three new members came from a nearby group home. Even though the Nurture Committee had to consolidate three Sunday School classes into one, they were excited by reports from the their newest small group located at the Federal Prison. The average age of a Tenth Street member continues to rise, as deaths out number baptisms. The church council has learned not to be discouraged by these statistics. They instead have a healthy sense of  urgency as they contemplate new ways to minister to the marginalized of their community. The church’s declining finances may mean that they’ll soon have to move to part-time pastoral support. They have made a commitment, however, to insist that their next minister continue to help them expand their outreach.  

When a local church experiences flat or declining income over a several year period, it is reason for concern. This doesn’t mean that the church is headed in the wrong direction, though. Holy urgency comes from vision and Spiritual Passion, not the fear generated by bad statistics.