How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. In order to accomplish a big, big dream, you have to break it down into bite size pieces.
If your business is not making money, what are the bare minimum questions you want answered? I am thinking, "How much did I take in? How much did I spend?" The first number is the gross. The difference between the numbers is the net. If the second number is bigger than the first number, you qualify for a first rate Internet business!
If your church or group is not growing, what are the bare minimum questions you want answered? I am thinking, "How many visit? How many join? What is the growth rate?" The first is the magnet factor. The second is the velcro factor. The third is the growth rate. If you dream of doubling your church every five years or less, it requires a 15% annual growth rate.
Church growth is not rocket science. You need to have people visit before they can join. If they visit, we need to get them to stick around. When they stick around, we need to make disciples out of them. The ultimate question is not, "How many showed up?" but, "How many disciples did we make?"
This benchmarking is useful for a very simple reason. The stratagems you use to address the velcro factor are completely different than stratagems you would use to address the magnet factor. Think about it.
What are some things a church could do if they had lots of visitors but the visitors were not sticking around? Giving Friday nights to Jesus is one answer.
What are some things a church could do it the visitors they had were sticking around, but they were having very few visitors? Alpha is one approach. Direct mail is another. Friend Day is another.
Hopefully, you can see these are very different lists.
Most church leaders think what they need is more visitors. In reality, most churches have plenty of visitors. I knew of one church that had 100 visitors a week and was not growing. The staff was concerned with how to attract more people to the church. They needed to concentrate on getting the visitors to stick around. This is true in most churches.
I was in a church recently where half the visitors were joining, a very high velcro factor. Still, the church was showing slow growth. In their case, they needed more visitors. Half of "not-very-much" is not very much. This church had completely different issues than the church above.
If your church is not growing, the reason may have to do with the magnet factor, the velcro factor, or, occasionally the attrition factor. It is not often the case, but sometimes churches are having many people visit, many people joining, but so many are moving away that the church is showing negative growth (a very kind phrase for decline). Ken Hemphill told me of a church in which 25% of the town had moved away, yet the church was maintaining its attendance. In this case, because of attrition, a plateau is a victory.
The question is, how many visitors is enough? What kind of velcro factor is considered good? How do I know if I need to work on the velcro factor or the magnet factor?
Let's start with the bottom line. If you would aspire to double your church every five years or less, I would invite you to consider the benchmark goal of 1% joining per week. Allow me to show you why. Let's imagine a church of 100.
If you want to double your church every five years or less, it will require 1% joining per week. How many visitors do we require if we are to see 1% joining per week? Answer: at least 3.
I have known very few churches that have consistently maintained a velcro factor above 33%. Maintaining 33%, however, is attainable. Obviously, if you have a magnet factor of 4%, you only need a velcro factor of 25% to see 1% joining each week. If you have 5% visiting each week, only 20% of them need to join to achieve 1% joining per week.
Let me mention one other benchmark. I have known fast growing churches--doubling every five years or less--that are baptizing half the national average. How does this work? They are the best show in town! (This is better than being the worst show in town.) But, they are growing primarily by transfer growth and baptizing their own kids. Most of us want to make sure we are growing by reaching those who don't know Christ. To test this, try to see that you baptize 15% of your Sunday School attendance each year. The national average is about 10%.
Benchmarks for classes
On a class basis, this is all a little simpler. I would suggest the following benchmarks: to thoroughly assimilate two new people each quarter. I am told that Paul Cho has built the largest church in the world, simply by requiring that each group reach two people a year. Who have you thoroughly assimilated and how long has it been since you did so?
I have known churches that used other benchmarks for classes. One very aggressive example is, "One more than the month before." As a Minister of Education, I would create a chart where I would compare this month's attendance with last semester's attendance on a class by class basis. The goal was simply that each class was growing. On the whole, I am most comfortable with the goal of attempting to thoroughly assimilate two people by the time you are handed a quarterly four times a year.
The last factor is a little harder to measure. It is the answer to the question, "Are you making disciples of the ones who stick around? Do they love the Lord our God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength? Are they marked by the fruit of the Spirit? Are they full of zeal for God?" Do they enjoy God? My Daddy taught me that the most important things in ministry you can't measure. Issues of the heart and love and passion and zeal are hard to measure. You can measure how many show up. You can measure how many bring their Bibles, or pray, or read their Bibles. You could measure how many show up for visitation or share their faith. Where do you put a thermometer to check the spiritual temperature of a soul?
In a way, this is one of the hardest things to measure. In another way, it is one of the easiest. Your soul already knows. How would you describe the spiritual temperature in your class or your church right now? You are probably right. Your soul already knows. People with great joy in God, great zeal for God, big hearts for God, accomplish great things for God.
C.S. Lewis taught us that we are amphibious beings. We have one foot in the spiritual world and one foot in the physical world. We must pay attention to both. Whether the piano is in tune or not affects my worship and thus my soul. We must never become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. We must never become so into the measuring and benchmarking of things that we lose our hearts. Truth is often a midpoint between two extremes.
Let me invite you to do some benchmarking. Where do you need to concentrate your efforts in order for your group and your class to be where you need to be? Do you need more visitors? Do you need the visitors you have to stick around? Are we creating thorough-going disciples of the people that come?
For more information on benchmarking, see my book and video series, You Can Double Your Church in Five Years or Less.