Local Church Ministry

Measuring Success in Your Church Without Stressing Out

When I began serving as an associational leader nearly eight years ago, I had some big dreams for the cooperative efforts of the 25 churches of our association. As a numbers guy, I also had some big goals. Although I didn’t share them with anyone else, here are just a few of the actual goals that I had set for our association during my first year:

  • 300 combined baptisms in a calendar year (1 baptism per church per month). 
  • Total combined worship attendance of 2,000.
  • Total combined Sunday School enrollment of 3,000.
  • 100% of churches represented at the association’s annual meeting.
  • 100% of churches financially contributing to the association.
  • 100% of associational budget met.

Again, these aren’t hypothetical goals. These were some of the actual goals that I secretly hoped our association would attain. Sadly, none of them were met. Most of them were not even close.

Suffice it to say that after that first year, I was discouraged. I was frustrated. I was stressed out. I began to question if I was the right man for the job. 

During my second year, I kept the same goals. Since we didn’t attain them the first year, my thought was that we simply needed more time. I told myself that I needed to encourage the pastors and church leaders more. We would get there; we just needed more time and effort.

Unfortunately, none of the goals were met the second year either. Not even one. Predictably, the same emotions returned. Discouragement. Frustration. Stress. Doubt. I knew something was terribly wrong, but I couldn’t figure out the cause of the problem.

Understanding Lag & Lead Measures

What I didn’t know at the time was that all of my goals were what are known as lag measures. As the name indicates, these are measures that lag behind any activity to bring them to fruition. By the time we see the results of these measures, it’s too late to do anything about it. I have heard lag measures described as “driving a car while looking in the rearview mirror.” Furthermore, these are measures that we have limited control over, but can produce high amounts of frustration when the goals for these measures are not met.

Lead measures, on the other hand, are measures that we have a high degree of control over, which often leads to greater results and much less frustration. These are measures that will affect change and lead to greater results in the future.

From Frustration to Determination

When I learned about these differences during a training seminar, the proverbial light came on. I realized that I had been beating my head against a wall because all of my goals were lag measures instead of lead measures.

The reality was that there was very little I could do to directly impact most of my associational goals. The only thing I could do was become frustrated and discouraged when the goals were unmet each year. After making this discovery, everything changed.

The solution was to change my goals from lag measures to lead measures. To transition from goals that I had little control over to goals in which I had a high level of control over. In essence, I discovered that I needed to redefine success by changing the types of goals that I was setting. Now, I set personal goals for our association such as:

  • Provide at least four leadership development trainings during the year.
  • Conduct at least one evangelistic training event each year.
  • Train new pastor search committees within 2 weeks of their formation.

As an associational leader, these are measures that I can track and can control for our association. These are measures that will likely contribute to some of the other goals that I used to have. However, these new lead measure goals don’t leave me frustrated or defeated if they are not met. I can investigate what went wrong and make corrections so that the goal is met in the future. Therefore, lead measures don’t foster despair and frustration; they instill hope and determination.

Moving from Lag Measures to Lead Measures in Your Church

The concept of lag measures and lead measures also applies in a church setting. Some of the most common metrics that churches track are lag measures. Attendance (worship and small group), financial giving, and even baptisms are all examples of lag measures. When church leaders set arbitrary goals for each of these measures, we can self-impose unnecessary pressure and stress on ourselves when those goals are unmet.

While churches should still track these measures, I would encourage pastors and other church leaders not to use them as your church’s definition of success. In other words, don’t use them as your annual church goals. For each of these lag measures, let me propose some lead measures to use instead.

Lead Measure Alternatives for Baptism Goals

Regardless of whether the congregation is aware of it, church leaders often have an annual baptism goal in mind. Depending on the size of the church, these goals can vary greatly. However, church leaders sometimes need to remind ourselves that baptism is an outward symbol of an inner work that God has done in the heart of a new believer. Ultimately, only God has the power to save. 

God will be faithful to save; the church must be faithful to share. Therefore, churches should consider setting goals which reflect this truth. Here are some lead measure alternatives to setting baptism goals:

  • Set a goal for the number of evangelistic trainings provided by the church during a 12-month period.
  • Set a goal for the number of evangelistic events conducted by the church during a 12-month period.
  • Set a goal for the number of gospel conversations initiated by church members during a 12-month period.
  • Set a goal for the number of doors that are knocked on in the church’s community during a 12-month period.
  • Set a goal for the number of lost people that are prayed for by name during the church’s weekly prayer meeting.

Lead Measure Alternatives for Worship Attendance Goals

Churches really have little control over worship attendance from week to week, but this measure often becomes one of the largest sources of frustration among church leaders. Instead of defining success by how many folks attendance worship each Sunday, consider some of these lead measure alternatives:

  • Set a goal to follow-up with 100% of guests within 24 or 48 hours after their visit.
  • Set a goal for the church’s pastors, deacons, or another designated group to send 5 handwritten notes of encouragement each week to church members.
  • Set a goal to enlist at least 3 prayer warriors to participate in intercessory prayer during the worship service each week.

Lead Measure Alternatives for Small Group Attendance Goals

Another lag measure goal that churches often set but have little control over is small group attendance and/or enrollment. As with the other lag measure goals, these measures are helpful to track, but don’t define success by these things. Here are some lead measure alternatives:

  • Set a goal for each small group leader to recruit and mentor 2 apprentice leaders each year.
  • Set a goal to provide training sessions for small group leaders at least once per quarter.
  • Set a goal to launch a number of new small groups during a 12-month period.
  • Set a goal for small group leaders to share a meal with at least one group member/family who no longer attends at least once per month.

Lead Measure Alternatives for Budget Goals

Nearly every church leader has a goal to meet their budget each year. Unfortunately, this too is a lag measure that church leaders have very little control over. Here are a few lead measure alternatives to consider:

  • Set a goal to preach at least one sermon on biblical stewardship per year.
  • Set a goal to provide at least one small group course on biblical stewardship per year.
  • Set a goal to share one example or testimony of how the weekly offerings are used to advance God’s kingdom during the financial report of each church business meeting.

A Cause for Celebration

Each of these lead measure goals are examples, but feel free to come up with your own. The good news is that if your church is faithful to work toward achieving these types of goals, it’s quite possible that you’ll see increased baptisms, attendance, and giving as well. 

But even if you don’t see these lag measures increase, your church will still have been faithful to make disciples. It will likely be a healthier congregation. Your church leaders will not be discouraged, frustrated, and ready to throw in the towel. For these reasons and more, your church will have something to celebrate!

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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