And why it’s probably the most important to dig into when facing plateau or decline.
Did you take the pastor math course in seminary? It’s the class I imagine first year’s take to learn how to count in ministry 🙂
Kidding aside, I find most pastors fall into one of two camps when it comes to numbers:
- Pastors that refuse to look at the numbers
- Pastors that only look at the numbers
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a numbers guy. I think they help us get a clearer picture of the health of a church.
But, numbers also represent real people—and real people have real stories. Stories can’t be quantified. It’s easy for leaders to fixate on the the last story we heard (good or bad) and make decisions based on what we believe they tell us about the church.
We ultimately need to have a strategy for monitoring both health metrics and stories of life change. Numbers should confirm the stories you’re hearing, and the stories should validate the numbers.
My team at The Unstuck Group and I encourage churches to at the very least track measures of life change (attendance, baptisms, small groups, volunteering, etc).
But, there’s one other number pastors often ignore, and when it comes to plateau or decline, it may be the most important to look at.
Number of First-Time Guests.
It’s a challenging number to capture, but it helps us clarify whether we have a front door or back door problem.
(If you haven’t read anything I’ve written about this before, think of it like this: a Front Door Problem means you have a problem with connecting with new guests, and a Back Door Problem means you have a problem with keeping people engaged.)
Research shows there will be 15% attrition in your church each year—that is, 15% of people connected to your church will move away, leave the church, pass away, etc. Each year. Think about that.
Research also shows that at their best, churches are able to retain 20% of first time guests.
That means if your average attendance is 5,000 people, you need 5,000 first time guests to just to maintain your numbers.
If you want to experience healthy growth, your number of first time guests each year needs to be more than your current average attendance.
This is one of the most critical factors that we can be looking at. We know if we don’t have enough first time guests, then we will plateau and decline.
I’ve seen that a lot of churches in decline look at their next steps after the weekend service to define the reason their church is struggling instead of checking in on the front door.
This is why it’s critical to measure the number of first time guests—because it helps us discern the actual problem at hand.
Correctly discerning whether you have a front or back door issue can jump start your next steps towards health.
My team released a free resource to help you assess whether you have a front door or back door issue a while back that I think would be a helpful tool. You can find it in the Starter Resource Bundle in our online store. It comes bundled with a few more resources, but no worries—it’s free and you can just download the ones you want. 🙂