"What do you see churches doing that is new and effective?"

"What new trends do you see among America's fast growing churches?"

"What are some of the best ideas of the churches that are really getting with it?"

These are questions I get asked quite often. People are usually disappointed with my answer, which normally goes something like this, "The music is worshipful, the instruments are in tune, there isn't a stack of old literature sitting around the corner of the classrooms, when people step to the microphone, it works and is on and they don't have to tap on it and make hand signals to the sound guy, and the preschool area doesn't smell like a dirty diaper. In short, they execute well in the details and everything matters."

"Yeah, I know all that, but what are they doing that is innovative, cool, hip, with-it, creative?"

I am in about fifty growing churches a year, many of them fast growing. With few exceptions, they are not doing church differently so much as they are doing church better. They execute in the details and everything matters.

This was also the finding of Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan written up in the business best-seller Execution. Here are a few excerpts:

  • Most often today, the difference between a company and its competitor is the ability to execute.

  • Here is a fundamental problem: people think of execution as the tactical side of business, something leaders delegate while they focus on the supposed, "bigger" issues. This idea is completely wrong. Execution is not just tactics, it a discipline and a system. It has to be built into a company's strategy, its goals and its culture. And the leader of the organization must be deeply engaged in it.

  • Execution is not only the biggest issue facing business today, it is something nobody has explained satisfactorily.

  • We talk to many leaders who fall victim to the gap between the promises they have made and the results their organizations have delivered.

  • When companies fail to deliver on their promises, the most common explanation is that the strategy is wrong. But, the strategy itself is not often the cause. Strategies often fail because they are not executed well. Things that are supposed to happen don't happen.

  • Everybody talks about change. We are not necessarily debunking this stuff. But, unless you translate big thoughts into concrete steps for action, they are pointless.

  • No company can deliver on its commitments or adapt well to change unless all leaders practice the discipline of execution at all levels. 

  • Lots of business leaders like to think that the top dog is exempt from actually running things. It is a pleasant way to view leadership: you stand on the mountain top, thinking strategically, and attempt to inspire your people with visions, while managers do the grunt work. This idea creates a lot of aspiration for leadership. Who wouldn't want to do all that and keep your hands clean?

  • The term manager has become pejorative.

  • Only the leader can make things happen through his or her deep personal involvement in the substance and even the details of execution.

  • There is an enormous difference between leading an organization and presiding over it.

  • Why don't leaders get this? The real problem is execution doesn't sound sexy. It is the stuff that leaders delegate. Therein is the problem. 

So, what are we suggesting? That pastors need to micro-manage their people? Hardly. In fact, managing too many things means managing nothing, at least managing nothing well. The person who says he has ten priorities has no priorities. The key is to settle on a few dashboard metrics that let you know at a glance how the engine is running. If the indicator says the engine is hot, it may be the thermostat is stuck, or the water is low, or the indicator is faulty. You will have to delve deeper to discern and fix the problem, but this one indicator is an important  pointer to engine health.

Dashboard Metrics for Pastors

The Bible says, "Know well the condition of your flock, and pay attention to your herds." Proverbs 27:23 (HCSB)

I suggest church leaders keep their eye on three metrics to as indicators of the health of their flock:

The Magnet Factor

Rick Warren teaches about pulling people successively through five rings into the core of your church:

  • The community

  • The crowd

  • The congregation

  • The committed

  • The core

A simple way of measuring a similar kind of thing is to measure the number of visitors, the number of people joining and the relationship between these, I call these, the Magnet Factor, the Velcro Factor, and the Growth Rate.

The Magnet Factor has to do with how magnetic the church is, or, how many visitors a church has as a percentage of worship attendance.  A good benchmark to shoot for is 3%. For every 100 attendees on Sunday morning, 3 of them should be first time visitors. This is first time visitors that you have names of. This only includes in-town visitors. It does include visitors of ALL ages--that is, it includes the visitors in the preschool as well as children, youth and adults.

I recommend you get someone to actually keep up with this on an on-going basis. Have them give you a monthly report on what your magnet factor is. This someone may be a secretary, the Minister of Education, or any geek who likes to keep up with such things.  A single month graph might look like this:


If you track it over time, you can create a graph that looks like this:

100% of the growth of your church will come from visitors. You can't grow a church without visitors. If you have no visitors today, you have no growth tomorrow.

There are all kinds of strategies to address the Magnet Factor if it is below 3%. The most important issue is to ask the question, "Why is it that our people do not naturally invite their friends?" Other strategies include advertising and campaigns like a Friend Day.

Velcro Factor

In most cases, the reason the church is not growing does not have to do with the Magnet Factor, it has to do with the Velcro Factor. The Velcro Factor has to do with how sticky the church is. It has to do with whether or not people stick around.

Most people think the problem is the Magnet Factor--we can't get people to come to church. That is not usually the problem. The problem is not getting people to come to church, the problem is getting them to come back to church.

A good benchmark for the Velcro factor is 33%. The bottom line is that a good target is to have one percent of your Sunday School attendance joining every week. If you average 500 in Sunday School, shoot for having 5 people joining every week. This should result in doubling the entire church every five years.

A graph of the Velcro Factor over time might look like this:

Where a single month might look like this:

The Growth Rate

The bottom line of the above two numbers in the growth rate. 15% a year will cause your church to double every five years. This is a good goal for a normal church under normal circumstances. Downtown situations  in a larger city tend to be more difficult, so this number may be too optimistic.  In some fast-growing suburban areas, it may not be optimistic enough. I recommend you  have someone produce a report each month that shows you how you are doing. The graph might look like this:

It is also helpful to see this same information displayed as percentage growth each year. That graph might look like this:

You will also want to look at where the growth is coming from--is it coming from baptizing new converts, or from transfer growth of Christians. A good rule of thumb is this: the average church baptizes 10% of their Sunday School attendance each year. Most people want to be above average. In order to "know well the condition of your flock" it is helpful to have a graph like this:

These benchmarks are only the beginning of a process of executing in the details everything that is necessary to grow a church. They let the leader know where we are doing well and where we are not doing well. From there, the leadership can dive in to discern causes and possible solutions.

The tricky business about all this is that you can do it all and still not be effective. That is how it is in God's work. There is one more crucial component. Jesus said, "without me you can do nothing." He didn't say you would be slightly more effective if you remain in the Spirit. He said, "Without me you can do nothing." Nothing. No spiritually significant results can come from our effort except that we abide in Him. None. That is an important topic, perhaps the most important topic, but it is a topic for another day.