By Carlton L. Coon, Sr.
Let me go way out on a limb here. Perhaps it will inspire thought. If you have little interest in baseball, please do be patient with the next few paragraphs as there is a method to this madness.
Over the past twenty years baseball statistics have expanded. The new level of research is called saber-metrics. It is an attempt to answer objective questions about baseball players. Questions such as, “Which player on the 2013 world champion Boston Red Sox contributed the most to the team’s offense?” or “How many doubles will St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter hit next year?” Sabremetrics does not deal with subjective opinions like, “Who is your favorite player?” or “Was that the best baseball game ever played?”
Such statisticians doubt a player’s batting average (total number of hits a player has divided by the number of times he’s batted) is as useful as was once thought. This is because batting average does not reflect the number of times a batter walks (is awarded first base by not swinging at four pitches outside of the strike zone) or how many times the ball has to be pitched to him each time he is at bat.
Baseball traditionalists don’t like sabermetrics, but the data has consistently proven to have merit. In 1997 the Oakland A’s hired Billy Beane to be their general manager. Under his leadership, using this idea of broader data having value, Oakland hired relatively inexpensive athletes who the data said did the “right thing” even if the “right thing” was not valued by traditional statistics. The result? Soon Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics, with one of the least expensive payrolls in baseball, became champions.
Wow, I’m glad that attempted explanation is done! Now, what does any of it have to do with growing a church?
Let’s start with the statistics we tend to notice (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
* How many were there last Easter?
* How many received the Holy Ghost in your latest revival?
* What was the total number you baptized last year?
* How many will your building seat?
* How much was your Christmas for Christ offering?
* What is your annual budget?
* How many do you have on staff?
Lest I be misunderstood, let me clearly reiterate that noticing those statistics is not bad. As a pastor, I knew the answer to each of those questions. However there is much more to consider.
My heritage is the south where each Easter we’d have quite an event. Easter was the time for an attendance campaign. If someone asked, “How many did you have on Easter?” for our pastor to be able to say, “Just over 320,” was quite a thing. And there it stopped with the bragging rights secure for another year. No follow up or follow through!
An advanced metric for the church might be, “How many Easter Sunday attendees were back the following Sunday or at any time over the next four weeks?” Might it be better to have fewer in attendance one Sunday and effectively follow-up on each visitor in pursuit of a Home Bible Study? As leadership guru John Maxwell says it, “Just a thinkin’ folks, just thinkin’.”
Strangely enough, baptisms and spirit infilling can misrepresent reality. An acquaintance was one of the greatest of evangelists in a local setting. He was a man of prayer who had hundreds if not thousands born again. Sadly, each year the church was smaller than the year before. He had no patience with “baby” Christians. His spiritual progeny died at the same altar they were born on. Some years back that church quietly went out of business.
Advanced sabermetrics ask hard questions about the retention of those we convert. Magnificent buildings that seat hundreds do not necessarily reflect a current evangelistic effort. Perhaps the sabremetrics for an older, established church would be to chart the number of Home Bible Studies being taught or the number of preaching points being launched? An advanced metric – what percentage of the kids in Sunday school has no parent who is a church member. Would it be unrealistic to have 50% of the Sunday School be made up of children whose parents are unchurched?
Is this making any sense? If it isn’t then this may not get any better. Do we celebrate certain things but a year later the things we so celebrated have had no lasting impact?
What would the sabermetrics on a healthy, growing church look like? I would suggest it involves more than Sunday attendance, Monday deposits, staff size, or square feet in the facility. As an aside: I remember over twnenty years ago Thetus Tenney commented on the real costs of church buildings.
She asked, “How many hours each week does the building get used? How many square feet of it get used at any one time? Might it be better to have multiple services in one smaller space than to multiply unused space? Better to rent wonderful office space to use all week and then rent something else to have church in?”
Though some may be taken back by this sort of questioning, does it not highlight the importance of right priorities?
Over the next while, I want to encourage an assessment of local church health and growth potential. An area I see as vital is, “What percentage of the people in this church are actively involved in ministry?” To determine this percentage:
1. List each person over twelve years old who consistently attends church.
2. Next to each person’s name place an asterisk to indicate that the individual actively participates in any ministry within the assembly.
3. Separately total the number of people available to serve in ministry and the number who actually participate in ministry (those with an asterisk by their name).
4. Divide the number of those participating by the number of those available. It gives you the percent
age of people who are actually involved in ministry.
Is a church with eight hundred attendees healthy if only two hundred are involved in a defined role of ministry? Not as healthy or as effective as it would be with 60% involved in ministry. A church of forty people that has 60% of those people involved in a consistent, defined role of ministry will soon be a church of sixty.
Improving the numbers
To work on improving your church’s “sabermetric” numbers:
1. Make serving in a specific, defined role of ministry an expectation every newcomer. Do this by making classes on motivational gifts (Fitly Framed, etc.) part of the disciple making process.
2. On occasion, honor low visibility ministries (church cleaning, lawn care, nursery, etc.) from the pulpit and via social media. What gets honored gets repeated!
3. Each year preach/teach a series of at least three messages on the topic “The Stewardship of Life.” Educate people and inspire them to serve.
4. On the last Sunday of the series have a job fair where each ministry in the church displays their purpose and recruits new workers. For a blog post on how to do a ministry job fair go to http://namupci.com/index.php/nam-blog.
5. When you do a job fair, be sure you have more jobs available than what you think you will need. Simple job descriptions are needed for each ministry opportunity. These include the level of commitment required. For instance, in our church, some ministries required having completed Take Root our level one discipleship course. Other ministries may have lower or higher requirements. For church planters, Apostolic Information Service is a great free resource for you. It has thousands of job descriptions. You do not have to reinvent the wheel.
6. Do this again — every year! Great churches are not built by an event but by doing the right things repetitively.
7. Each year the percentage of participation will increase and each year the church will register growth .
For you to have true growth in your church, you must have growth in your saints. Look past the typical “how many did you have in church Sunday?” stats and look at the more important “how many did you have involved Sunday?” numbers. When our priorities are geared toward Kingdom growth rather than numerical growth we will see a change in those we lead. And that change will bring about an increase that goes beyond what can be measured by any earthly statistic.
In coming months, I’ll be back with more things to think about. If you have discovered some tools that is could be of benefit to others as they birth or grow a church, please, pass them on.
The above article, “Sabermetrics,” was written by Carlton L. Coon, Sr. The article was excerpted from the January-February edition of the Director’s Communique of the North American Missions Division of the UPCI. The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.