Over the last several months I have received a few emails from church pastors/planters asking me to point them to a post I wrote last year about not getting jazzed about attendance totals. I basically wrote that percentages give a much clearer picture of the spiritual health of a church…not the totals. After receiving another email request this morning I just decided to just repost the whole thing. Here goes…
We Stopped Looking At Totals
Unlike many church planters, I didn’t spend college taking
Bible courses or attending seminary (I’ll share more about this in a later
post). I was a business major. I fell in love with economics, accounting and
statistics. However, it was
macro-management that really got me emotionally charged . . . the ability to
see the big picture of a company then determine success, failure or needed
change. In those classes I learned that
totals don’t really prove anything in business – it’s percentages that show
success or failure.
Several years ago I arrived at the idea that totals prove
very little in church work when I was doing some administrative consulting at a
Central Florida church. They were having some financial problems and I was brought in to make
suggestions on where they could cut. After looking things over I felt – among many things – that the $60,000
salary package they were paying the youth pastor was way too much. They were not getting their bang for their buck.
A healthy youth ministry in any church should count for no
less than 10% of the total attendance in the church. The youth pastor had been there for almost
eight years. He took the youth group
from 55 teens to a little over 100 in that time. For many churches this youth group total
would be cause for celebration! The
problem . . . the church ran over 2,500 in weekly attendance. In over seven years the youth pastor and
youth ministry was bringing in less than 5% of the people. To make matters worse, they had never had one
youth baptism. Almost all the kids had
church homes before coming to this church. The totals looked good, yet the percentages showed the church was
getting the bum deal. They kept the pastor on staff, but set some new goals for him.
In my life as a pastor – first on staff at other churches –
and now as Lead Shepherd of Compass Point, I am amazed at how many pastors
don’t understand that totals don’t really mean much. When I have a guy at a pastor’s conference
tell me they are running 500 in worship I wonder, “500 what?” Does he mean 500 people that didn’t have a
church home or 500 people that hopped over from other local churches? Does he mean 500 folks that are getting a
meaningful weekly dose of community and Bible study in small groups or 500
people that just show up for the Sunday morning “show” to enjoy the cool videos,
kicking lights and rocking band?
I’m honestly not trying to sound holier-than-thou, I just
think it’s time we started asking some tough questions about what total
attendance numbers really show. It’s
easy to spout off a cool “pastoral” number at a planter’s conference to pump up
our fragile preacher egos or “one-up” someone else – which I have been known to
do. The question though, comes down to .
. . are we really affecting people for change with our church plants? To answer that question, Compass Point
stopped looking at totals and started looking at what we feel are the important numbers . . . percentages.
When we planted we took the time to really look at what
goals were as a church plant and to design a ruler for measuring
were actually meeting the vision. We felt
a calling to reach unchurched people. For us unchurched is defined as
anyone not actively involved in a church
for over sixteen months. To break it
down into modern church-planting concepts our initial target market was
not based on age, race, social-economic status, music style, location,
etc. It was simply the unchurched of Lakeland, Florida.
We also wanted to make sure that folks were not getting
saved, baptized and then out the back door. We knew that small groups were of paramount importance to Compass Point
– much more so than even Sunday mornings. For us success was not how many unchurched people came through the front
door, but how many never exited out the back door.
The measuring stick we set for determining success, failure
or the need to make changes was based on percentages. Since the spiritual goal for our flock is
life change and ongoing spiritual growth we only count Sunday attendance in
order to compute the percentages. Please
also note, we have never had a numeric goal for Compass Point – only
We concluded that success in meeting the purpose and calling
of Compass Point meant that we needed to see 70% of our attenders be unchurched
– having had no church home in at least sixteen months. As I stated in yesterday’s post over 80% of
our folks meet this goal. Within that
percentage almost half have had no church home in their entire life before
coming to Compass Point.
We also determined that Compass Point would not be
considered a healthy church until over 65% of our attenders were actively
involved in a weekly small group. At
present our percentage is around 58% so we have more work to do there. I really won’t be happy until we reach
100%. Lofty goals I know, but necessary!
Compass Point was planted to reach
people that other
churches were not. In essence, we would
be horrified to know that we pulled one person from another church. We
were never called to illicit “Kingdom
trading”, we were planted to see “Kingdom growth”. Tracking
percentages and not totals is the only way to make sure we are not
engaging in pulling people from other churches!
As a church plant seeking to reach unchurched
people with the Good News of Jesus Christ, we have dismissed totals as
determining success. Totals – for us –
are like a Polaroid. Pretty to look at and able to be quickly produced,
but strictly show a shot of the surface. To
measure our ability to meet our calling we need an MRI or X-ray to see
what the make-up is like on the inside. For us, using percentages meets