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A group of numbered chairs in an auditorium.
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The Four-Letter Word That Isn’t

“I don’t really look at numbers; I’m more interested in spiritual growth.”

“You’re so numbers-focused—do you even know anyone’s names?”

“Numbers aren’t the only way to gauge ministry success.”

I work in a pretty large church. I’ve heard all of these “numbers” criticisms, and then some. In the not-too-distant past, I even spouted some of them. I’ve also rolled my eyes at the typical comebacks—‘numbers are people” and “we count because we care” and “healthy things grow.”

All of us have biases when it comes to data-tracking, measuring numeric growth, and eye-balling the bottom line. But after 30 years of leaning into the numbers, and sometimes turning my head in disgust, I’ve decided that keeping track of the numbers really matters. “Numbers” is not a four-letter word—in every sense. That’s especially true when we’re looking at the right numbers and making a plan for what to do about them.

This year, I’m focusing on some key numbers as we try to capitalize on our kick-off momentum and look forward to the future… These aren’t the only numbers we track in our ministry, and they might not be the right focus in your context, but paying attention to what’s really going on in your ministry is not only strategic, it’s Jesus-shrewd.

1. Who is a first-timer? Did they come back? Why or why not?

I look at the number of teenagers who attend our programming for the first time. We devised a system to gather their information and store it according to their attendance date. I send a survey thanking them for attending and asking two-and-a-half simple questions:

  • On a scale of 1-10, what’s the likelihood you’ll do something else with us?
  • What would have improved your score by one point?
  • How did you hear about us? (That’s the half question because we don’t do much with it beyond awareness.)

Then, I track their attendance every week for the next six weeks. The goal is to have them return at least once within four weeks. We celebrate returners and we stay connected to those not returning, continuing to help them feel welcomed and wanted.

2. Who registered for “ministry stuff” last year but have not registered for anything now?

Here, I’m talking about our Fall Retreat, small groups, spring break trips, and special events. The goal is to know who’s no longer in the room, then: a) find out why, and b) go after them. Kids want to be noticed, not forgotten. Of course, we follow up with “the missing” well before the year mark, but at the year mark, we take special care to remind them how wanted they are.

3. What do attendance numbers look like, year over year, on this same date?

I have a spreadsheet that shows me bottom-line attendance with a space for notes (like “homecoming” or “heavy snow” or “Invite Night”). It gives me a general sense of direction and momentum. It also reminds me why I might see a dip or spike in attendance. I use that data to inform calendar choices, series placement, or even repeat invites to guest leaders.

Numbers ARE people, as long as we are doing more with them than counting butts in seats. Healthy things ARE growing, which can be measured in more ways than counting the bottom-line number. And I DO count because I care. The mission and cause of Christ in my life compels me to know who is (and isn’t) in the room, then do something about that!

What are you counting, tracking, pursuing?

Photo by Paul Bergmeir on Unsplash

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The Four-Letter Word That Isn’t

Get free weekly resources from us!
Get free weekly resources from us!
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