Monday, January 23, 2012

The Metric-ization of the Church

This month, a ridiculous amount of my time—as with nearly every manager and director in American business—will be focused on the setting of objectives for our employees next year. In this process, most companies generally try to develop “metrics” or “key performance indicators (KPIs)”—measurable ways of tracking how well you are doing your job. It serves as a scorecard; every quarter you should know whether you are winning or losing the “game” of meeting objectives for the year. And the game is important: at the end of the year, it will be their performance toward these metrics that determine how much of a raise and bonus each employee receives.

It is commonly said in companies that the metrics must be SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. This very data-heavy method of reducing your year’s work into 5-10 objectives can be a challenge. For instance, I have a team working for me, which is responsible for installing all of our molds for new products worldwide. So they each have an objective which is: “For all 2012 launches, the time from mold arrival on site to first-off-tool start of production shall be 30% reduced from 2011 average—that is, average of all mold setups from 2012 shall be 8 days or less.” So no matter what else happens this year, that very specific set of cold data will determine how much or how little I can give them for a raise next year.

This metric-ization of performance reviews has become widespread and industry standard. And it has some real value to it. If done properly, it can be a good way to align your organization. If done poorly, it can cause serious problems. (Example: Once my company decided to judge the quality technicians based upon how many defects they “missed” that were found in a later stage. As a result, each quality tech was so overly cautious that production could not even finish a single process. Getting a product approved to move to the next step became nearly impossible.)

As more and more business and marketing principles from private industry have leaked into the Church in America, we find a natural tendency to want to measure our success in similar ways to our corporate culture. How do we know if our church is succeeding or failing? How do we know if our youth pastor is doing good work? How do we know if we compare favorably to other churches in the area, or need to learn from them?

We are obsessed, as a culture, with success and its measurements. It is why we play fantasy football; it is why sabermetrics is the thing to know in baseball; it is why we all have SMART KPIs in our businesses. It is why we have Tiger Mothers and Dragon Fathers. It is why we “teach to the test” in schools so that our kids’ scores look better (and if they actually learn how to think or reason in the process, that is a nice secondary bonus). We are a data-driven culture, and the data is the only thing that matters. So it is natural that this would leak through to church life.

It is also a very, very bad thing that it has done so. I can say this from experience; I once was in an advising role in a church and found that we continued to justify bad spiritual decisions because it helped our church “grow” in the particular points of data that we were using to judge ourselves.

The fundamental problem with trying to develop KPIs for the Church is that the work of the Holy Spirit is not data-based. Spirituality is, by its very definition, extra-worldly. And therefore we cannot directly measure anything that tells us about our church body’s spiritual growth. There is no combination of factors which says, “If our church achieves X, Y, and Z this year, then we have done the Lord’s work.”

Most churches gage their success (either openly or subconsciously) by the Big Three in church metrics: worship attendance, number of professions of faith/baptisms, and monetary giving. The theory goes that if more people are coming to church then you must be doing something right; if people are claiming conversion experiences then you are adding to the roster in heaven; and if they are giving their money, then they are supporting the ministry with the thing most dear to their hearts—their wallet.

But are those assumptions true? Is this a good method of determining the spiritual health of our Church body?

Scripture seems to indicate that, most of the time, only a small percentage of those who profess faith (“the remnant”) is actually devoted to Him. So clearly, numerical growth (either in attendance or in professions) is not necessarily an indication of spiritual success.

Jesus says (both in the Sermon on the Mount and in Revelation) that it is the poor in spirit who are receiving God, not the wealthy, and that a church may be financially poor but spiritually wealthy. So clearly it is not financial giving which is indicative of your church’s spiritual health.

It is not simply those who are professing faith or have improved the righteousness of their lives; the Pharisees beat us by a mile on such accounts, yet Jesus called them a “brood of vipers”.

In fact, Jesus often tells us that those who on earth appear to be the least valuable are actually the most valuable in the kingdom of heaven; the poor are the richest; the smallest have the biggest influence. So clearly if we are “measuring” our church success in the same manner that we measure success in business, then we are not likely to be properly measuring the success or failure of our ministries.

Frankly, I think any attempt to “judge” the health of a church based on any kind of data-based metric is likely to lead to bad decisions. If your pastors are saying, “God is really at work here—just look at all the people who attend now,” or, “You can tell that God is behind us because look at how much more people are donating than they used to,” then you are likely to be misled a bit on the legitimacy of your approach. Such metricization tends to lead to simply building bigger, wealthier, trendier churches to attract bigger, wealthier, trendier clientele…er, I mean, worshippers.

We must avoid metricization of the Church at all costs. The Church is about matters of the Spirit—and this can never be analyzed through a spreadsheet kept on the associate pastor’s PC.

So then, if you are trying to determine if your church or ministry is succeeding or floundering, what do you do? I suggest reviewing James 1:27 and Acts 2:42,46—two passages which describe purity in the church. From these passages, ask yourself the following about your church/ministry:

• Is your flock devoted to studying the teachings of the Apostles (the New Testament)?
• Is your flock meeting regularly for fellowship outside of ministry/church walls—sharing meals and building “glad and sincere” friendships (Acts 2:46)?
• Is your flock devoted to prayer?
• Is your flock caring for those who cannot care for themselves—the poor, the widows, the orphans, etc.?
• Is your flock avoiding being corrupted by the sinfulness of the world?

These are the measures of spiritual success. But even within these, I encourage you, avoid trying to make it about data. Keep these five questions in your church staff meeting room, or ministry office, and every month as leaders prayerfully consider each question. Do not turn these into measurements and try to figure out how much time each member spends praying on average!

We have a saying in the business world: “What you measure is what you get.” (Or, as some say it: “If you don’t measure it, it can’t get any better.”) In that regard, the business world is onto something: if you keep the five questions above in the forefront of your ministry strategy, then you will always be growing spiritually and succeeding in God’s eyes—and you can know you are a success, whether your flock is 10 people or 10,000.


  1. I disagree. Perhaps strongly. I think what you're saying (probably inadvertently) is that no combination of metrics can approximate the success or failure of a church. You should have full authority to not show up at work, bet paid as a pastor, and "God's will is still going to be done."

    I think what you might want to reflect on is that there are two TYPES of metrics that need to be balanced in judging the health of a church. One is "quantitative" and the other is "qualitative". Quantitative metrics are things like "butts in pews" or "total giving". Qualitative metrics are things like you listed at the end, and they CAN be approximated. Send anonymous surveys and gather the responses. For example "is your flock devoted testament" can be turned into a survey question like "In the last month I picked up my Bible to read ____ times outside of church."

    Extremes demonstrate what I'm saying. Let's say your church is purely driven by QUANTitative metrics... Then you think you're only successful if attendance is climbing. Conversely if you measure yourself only with QUALitative metrics, then you think you're successful if you've managed to bring one person to Christ and you have demonstrated evidence of their continued spiritual growth over a lifetime. Neither of these approaches, by themselves, are good approximations of health. However, combine them and you get something that DOES approximate health. If both butts in seats are climbing, AND surveys are showing that people are growing spiritually, then you have a balanced scorecard that IS helping you know where to invest your time and talents.

    Arguing that metrics have no place in managing the health of a church is like a doctor arguing that he/she shouldn't be bothered with taking vital signs. It's sort of immature and points toward wounded pride or something. Proverbs 11:1-2.

    1. I wonder if you actually read the above carefully when you made this comment? Because there are several problems:

      1. Straw Man - saying that spiritual things can't be measured with mathematical measurements is not controversial, it is factual; by the very definition of the terms "spiritual" and "mathematical measurements", I am correct. But you seem to think that by this statement, I am claiming--your words--to have "full authority to not show up at work, bet (sic) paid as a pastor, and 'God's will is still going to be done.' " I neither said nor implied anything of the sort, don't know where in the world you got that insane idea.

      2. Ad hominem attack - really, because you disagree with me, I am "immature and point toward wounded pride"? Really? That doesn't even make any sense, and is frankly petty and not relevant, and violates the commenting standards. My initial thought was just to delete the comment, but I may let it stand based on your response. Surely you don't think that just because someone disagrees with you they have wounded pride?

      3. Out of context Scripture. I can tell you one thing...make one "qualitative approximation" haven't mastered reading Scripture in its context yet. You quoted me Prov 11:1-2. Verse 1 is about money-changers being dishonest at work and stealing money. Verse 2 is about pride causing disgrace. Are you really saying that my original article is DISGRACEFUL? Or are you instead implying that verse 1 is supposedly about metrics? Either way, you are WAAAYYYYY off base.

      4. I don't think you know what the term "metrics" means. Go to wikipedia for "Performance Metrics" and read the three step process; you will find that step 2 explicitly requires them to be measurable QUANTifiably. The very term, "metric," means 'measurement.' And I can tell you as a certified Six Sigma Black Belt with a Master's degree that focused on Total Quality Management--and as a person who, for his career, is the Director of this portion of a billion-dollar, multi-national company--that "qualitative metrics" are, by definition, not "metrics" at all. This is a common mistake by those who haven't studied advanced statistics. Data comes in multiple types, and it is common for those without proper training to assume that you can apply mathematical tracking and modeling to descriptive (or in your words, qualitative) data. This is an error, however; it is like using a ruler to try and determine how healthy someone feels. Plotting their feelings on a ruler does not make it a measurement, any more than sending out a survey is a measurement.


    2. 5. Surveys are a horrible method of determining someone's spiritual state, for two reasons:

      (a) As study after study shows, people respond to surveys in the manner that they wish to be perceived, not in the manner of what they actually are; and

      (b) your suggestion can only approximate ACTIONS, not the spirituality underneath them. For example, the fact that they read the Bible X amount of times out of church does NOT mean that they are committed to the truth of the New Testament; indeed, Benny Hinn and quite a few heretics do so, and Satan himself is shown to be an expert in Scripture. At BEST, the two would be correlated; but correlation is not causation, and you should not make decisions accordingly.

      Above it all, you have ignored the primary point of, well, everything above--including all the Scriptural references. You are falling for the trap of Scientific Management, the Taylorism approach to leadership--believing (as do the scientific atheists/naturalists) that "only matter, matters"...that is, only that which can be physically seen and measured is relevant. But in fact, the spiritual world is indeed MORE REAL than our physical reality, not less so; and measuring this is like looking at someone's shadow, finding it to be long, and concluding he must be a ten-foot tall man without a face. Your measurements/metrics based on works/actions are at best a measurement of a shadow of reality; you cannot directly measure the heart.

      Now this does not make the church's leaderships' job easier...far from it! It means we have to actually spend time MEETING OUR PEOPLE and PRAYING FOR THEM AND WITH THEM and GETTING TO KNOW THEIR HEARTS and PROVIDING COUNSEL AND WISDOM in their lives. Instead of reducing them to a number, or a ridiculous survey result.

      In other words...we have to do OUR JOBS as spiritual shepherds, and not simply ape the foolish, already-largely-disproved Tayloristic methods of fifty years ago in the automotive world.