How I Changed My Mind About Metrics

How I Changed My Mind About Metrics

Numbers used to drive me crazy, but now I depend on them to minister well.

Note: This article is excerpted from Small-Group Ministry Metrics.

I’d like to say I’ve always been a metrics person, but I would be lying. I wasn’t much of a fan of metrics until I began overseeing the small-group ministry at a 7,000-member church, a world where understanding and using metrics is imperative. I had to become a fan whether or not I wanted to. When metrics and dashboards were first introduced as part of my job responsibilities, I resisted the idea. All I wanted to do was develop group leaders and get people plugged into community; not deal with numbers. Once I understood the value metrics brought to my ministry, however, I was all over it. Now it’s a natural part of my thought process and paradigm. Let me share with you what helped me navigate the land of metrics.

First, I realized that metrics could help my ministry be more effective. As Director of Small Groups, understanding the state of my flock is imperative, but the larger we’ve grown, the harder it’s become. When our church was less than 1,000 people, it was easier to know every small-group leader personally. At our current size, it’s impossible. So, using metrics helps me gather data which paints a picture of the health of the ministry.

One number we track is the percentage of our attenders who are in a small group. We’re a church of groups, so our goal is to have at least 60 percent of our people in groups. Here’s some of the information I track to know how we’re doing on this goal:

  • How many groups do we offer?
  • How many adult attenders do we have? (We use a four-week average.)
  • How many groups should we have to meet the need of our population? (We use a ratio of 17 people per group. So if we have 2500 attenders, we need 148 groups.)
  • Is the rate of new small groups growing faster, slower, or at the same rate as the general church population?
  • How many unique individuals are in groups?

These metrics help me quickly ascertain our strengths and weaknesses, what we need to change, and what we need to keep doing. One great example is MERGE. Hoping to increase the number of small group leaders, I developed an event called MERGE. It was a fun-filled night of games, prizes, dinner, live worship, and an inspiring message. Small-group leaders were encouraged to fill a table with people they saw as potential leaders. We did this event three times over the course of three small-group semesters. Each time we kept track of how much money and time it took, how many people attended, and how many became leaders. After three events, it was clear that the number of new leaders we gained was too small to justify the use of our resources. Using metrics helped me to responsibly steward our ministry’s resources and choose to discontinue the initiative at the right time.

My feelings toward metrics changed as I saw how they could help me do ministry more effectively, but I really warmed up to metrics when I realized the heart behind metrics. Initially, the idea of metrics seemed like a numbers game, but then I realized each number represents a person precious to God. Each local church has the privilege and profound responsibility to steward the people God brings through our doors. Our heart is that each person coming through our doors experiences a relationship with Jesus Christ; is discipled, and is released into ministry. How can we know if we’re reaching this goal if we don’t measure outcomes? Knowing how many first time guests we have, how many salvations, how many new members, how many people going through the discipleship track, how many getting connected in groups, how many serving in each area of the church, and how many are tithing helps us get an accurate picture of how our church is impacting people. It also helps us gauge our progress in helping people become fully devoted followers of Christ.

We gather this data several ways—from gathering data about newcomers through connect cards, to tracking salvations through counting raised hands. We also use a software program that keeps track of people moving through the discipleship program, small groups, and various ministries.

When I first started working in this role, the number of groups was well below the number church leadership determined we needed to match overall church growth. After two years of working to develop new leaders and groups, we’re positioned for growth and we’re hoping to hit an all-time high for number of groups this coming semester. Our goal is to have 130 groups this fall—not because this number will allow me to pat myself on the back, but because that number represents hundreds of adults experiencing community, growing in their relationship with Jesus, and becoming more fully devoted to him.

So, yes, I’ve developed a much better relationship with metrics. They’ve helped me better understand the state of my flock, steward the resources God has given me, and make appropriate changes to minister effectively.

—Julia Mateer is a writer, speaker, therapist, director of small groups at the East Bradenton Campus of Bayside Community Church in Florida, and author of Life-Giving Leadership. Copyright 2016 by Christianity Today.

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