One of the first thing you’re told after boarding an airplane is where the exits are, complete with a hand-directing visual cue from the flight attendant. As a pastor, it’s important to know your church’s exits too, though for a far different reason.
If discipleship in your church is as a pathway (see our last article for more on that), exits are the unintentional ways your church exits people off that pathway. Maybe your church is attracting first time visitors, but they aren’t sticking, or you have a strong weekend attendance, but low involvement in any sort of group life. These are signs of exits - somewhere along the way people are detouring off your discipleship path and either leaving your church or stagnating in their spiritual growth. Sometimes the exits can be hard to see.
"If discipleship in your church is as a pathway, exits are the unintentional ways your church exits people off that pathway. "
I once worked at a church that touted it’s high small group attendance rates. Our pastor would throw out leaders, groups, and attendee numbers to establish himself as an expert in teaching other pastors how to increase their small group buy-in. The problem was those numbers weren’t accurate. I don’t mean the pastor made them up, I just mean our measurement system for group life was extremely problematic.
Our church launched groups centered around teaching series that were enormously popular, and then assumed those groups continued to meet when the teaching series was over … except they didn’t, and our church didn’t have a process for knowing that. We also there was no overlap between groups. If a man attended a weeknight married couples small group and a men’s ministry morning small group, he was counted as two separate people.
If I had to guess, our church’s actual small group attendance numbers were half what we advertised, and my point isn’t to be critical of this church, but to illustrate that there was a four-lane interstate-sized flashing neon light exit from our discipleship path, but we didn’t have the process to see it. From this experience I’ve realized there are three key elements every church needs their management systems to be:
This one is obvious, but at every stage in your discipleship path it’s worth asking the question “do we think these are the results, or do we know? Have we created metrics that accurately measure our progress here?”
Going back to the example from before, this church was measuring small group attendance, but the results weren’t integrated. Small groups self-reported numbers but not individuals, so there was no way of knowing if one person who just loved small groups was attending 5 of them, artificially driving up the success rate.
This is a key facet of a great church measurement system, and something Church Community Builder has made central to its church management software. The larger a church grows the more important it is for every ministry to be sharing a common database, complete with “HD clarity” of each person, that breaks down silos and gives you the most accurate snapshot of what’s really happening possible.
Churches also need to create measurement systems that are process-oriented. How are you intentionally moving people through your discipleship path, and are there gaps between steps? How many people are opening your “first time guest” email or turning in a card to get a free gift? Is encouraging newer members to join a small group a good next step, or too much of a leap? Is ministry attendance leading to giving? Are your volunteer rates pulling from the same pool of burned out “super Christians,” or are you continually drawing new people to give back to the church?
"Churches also need to create measurement systems that are process-oriented."
So how is your church doing at having measurement systems that are accurate, integrated, and process oriented? Are there exits you see in your church right now? Are there areas where your data might not be as ironclad as you’d want to think? What ways can you improve your management systems, and what features would you need for that?
As frustrating as identifying exits can be for a pastor (no one likes realizing things aren’t as good as you hoped!), redirecting back on to your discipleship path will be a long term win for you, your church’s health, and God’s kingdom.
There's always a next step:
People are at the heart of your ministry, and knowing where they are in their journey is key to guiding them to deeper engagement. Check out our redesigned people profiles, they make it easier than ever to get a view of the people in your church.