Dragons Den is a classic show. In one episode the then-dragon Duncan Bannatyne stated a well-used phrase, “revenue is vanity, profit is sanity”. And he’s right. In a business, It’s not about the money that you make, it’s about the money that you keep.
Vanity measures are important. Tracking revenue is really important, but when you make it the headline figure, it tells a vain story, rather than a sane one.
The point of metrics are to show you what’s actually going on, not what you want the outside world to believe what’s going on.
In churches, we’re guilty as any for falling prey to the lure of vanity metrics. Here’s four vanity metrics we’ve noticed, along with the sanity metric that you should be tracking:
We all love Christmas and Easter services, new guests arrive, the church packs out. You may even need to add additional services to hold all of the additional people. So when you’re asked the terrible, but inevitable question, “So how big is your church?” Don’t be tempted to give your Christmas figures. That’s not the reality of how many really attend your weekly worship services.
A much better metric for answering the question is the average attendance over the last 12 months. This gives you a realistic picture, and it’s a much better figure for using when you’re going to make decisions. Please, never make decisions on adding services or changing buildings based upon your Christmas/Easter attendance number.
Gift aid is… a gift! For every £1 a taxpayer donates, the U.K. government gives an extra 20p. However, this scheme should not be relied upon. Why? Because you’re only ever a Government Budget review away from it being potentially scrapped. You definitely need to track it, but you definitely shouldn’t set your budget by it. So what do you do with the extra money that comes in from gift-aid? Well that’s a good problem to have. Be generous, add it to a new-building fund… the choice is yours.
If you set your budget by pre-gift-aid income, you’re working with the reality of what people are giving, and you’re not beholden to the whims and changes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is a much more prudent and responsible method of budget planning.
This one is controversial. After all, isn’t salvations what we’re all about? Well, yes, but that’s only a part of the story. Firstly, just because someone puts their hand up at the end of a service, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve given their life to Jesus.
As a Worship Leader, I get to stand on stage at the end of the service whilst the salvation appeal is going on. Whilst I know I’m supposed to be ‘head down, eyes closed’ I’m excited to see the response. What do I often see? The same person putting their hand up week after week.
Why? When you’re so new to faith, a bad day can feel like you’ve backslidden and when Sunday comes around, you need to give your life back to God again! This is a wonderful thing, and people doing this are slowly taking steps towards Jesus, but for tracking life-change, this can easily start to skew your figures. By all means, track salvation appeals, but don’t make it your headline figure.
Baptisms are a much better gauge of people taking their next steps in discipleship. This is because someone only gets baptised once (or at least should). It’s also a significant experience, to get dunked under water in front of a group of people is a scary thing, and won’t be something done lightly. It means that you can have much more confidence that people making this step are really experiencing life-change.
Since COVID-19 virtually all churches have started online services. For most of us, we’ve taken to Facebook Live to stream the service, and that little number that appears in the top left can be a very tempting number. When you see the number peak, you think “wow, that’s how many people have come to church today.” Not so fast. What that indicates is how many people have started watching the video, that could be that the service has appeared on their Facebook Newsfeed and the video has auto-started. It’s essentially tracking the footfall of people past a shop, just because they walked past and saw the sign to your shop, doesn’t mean they came inside for any length of time. However, this figure shouldn’t be discounted. Now more than ever, we can actually track who is seeing our church’s services, we can actually track online footfall, and that’s a figure that should be celebrated, but not relied upon.
Instead of just looking at the number of views, a better thing to track is engagement. This is looking at likes and comments of unique users. You’re looking to see how many different people have engaged with the service in some way. That’s a much stronger gauge for people who are truly getting value from your service.
Maybe you’ve noticed some vanity metrics that churches are using, let us know! Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org