How Can We Measure Church Growth Post-COVID?

(Unsplash/Austin Distel)

We know that COVID-19 brought a shift in the way that churches operate and reach their audiences, but which of these trends are here to stay and how will the landscape of church change from 2020 on? Since understanding these trends will be critical for ministry leaders to understand moving forward, I recently conducted research with some of our client churches to learn what has changed for them over the past few years. It's clear that going forward, churches won't be able to accurately measure the growth and size of their church simply by counting the number of seats filled during Sunday service.

Here are the biggest takeaways and most critical conclusions from my research. I compiled the data to see what we could learn from it, as well as my findings and new metrics for measuring church growth in a post-pandemic world this year.

Digital is here to stay.

Online worship is easily the biggest story for the church in 2020 and beyond. Nearly everyone we talk to agrees that weekly online worship offerings will continue in the future and must become increasingly more engaging. Churches that refuse to continue (and accelerate) their online offerings will quickly find themselves irrelevant in the years to come. This change had been coming for years, and many of the churches accustomed to online offerings simply flipped a switch and went fully digital. The pandemic forced churches to adapt to this change much quicker than they ordinarily would have. In this regard, and in many others, COVID was much more "The Great Accelerator" rather than "The Great Disruptor."

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Digital will be counted, but will be a count of the "front porch."

Digital attendance (and counting it) is still finding its way, but is clearly the new front porch to the houses of the local church. Much like shopping online before visiting a store, the pandemic has created a new reality where people are far more likely to attend online worship first, before ever entering the building. Smart church leaders are realizing that and finding new ways to track the trendlines of their online effectiveness. And unlike the days before the pandemic, this applies to churches of all sizes, not just the bigger congregations who are already multisite.

What Can You Actually Use to Measure Growth?

— Measure frequency of attendance. Whether through old school methods like attendance pads or newer software like geotagging, find a way to figure out how often your families are actually coming to church.

— Reward frequency. Come up with a system to honor those members who are particularly involved for their faithfulness in worship.

— Measure the high holy days. Measuring holiday attendance doesn't necessarily give an accurate read of regular attendees, but measuring your biggest days can give you a fair reading of how many people are actually part of your church family.

— Measure attendance, but celebrate volunteer growth. If your volunteer numbers are going up, it's almost a given that all of the other metrics will follow suit. As the race to increase engagement in churches heats up, this might be one of the best new metrics I've seen churches put on their dashboard.

— New metrics for life change. What if you continued to count attendance, but mentoring one on one, or discipleship, become your new gold standard? If this goal is met, all others might just take care of themselves.

— Measure the money, but differently. Now that people are more accustomed to giving electronically, the growth of the number of donors (not necessarily the amount given) could become one of the hallmarks of measuring congregational growth and health.

— Virtual is here to stay, but it won't replace in-person attendance. The first malediction in the Bible is clear, "It is not good that man be left alone." God does not want us alone in worship, and we just aren't wired for it.

Big churches are about to get much bigger, but normal, local churches will matter more than ever to their communities. New metrics will mean new methods. But concurrent to those solutions will come an old-school desire to be with one another. Alongside new methods of reaching people will come a return to the old gold standards of what it means to be a pastor, part of a family of faith, and impacting our local cities.

At the end of the day, the new metrics are a lot like the old ones. The new skills needed for leading a church will be much like the old school ones. And your ability to relate to, communicate with and pastor your people, in person and in a live relationship, will make all of the difference in a world that is tired of being quarantined and is really really looking forward to being together again.

What 2020 trends are you anticipating will become part of our norm from here out?

William Vanderbloemen is the CEO and founder of Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally. Follow him on Twitter @wvanderbloemen.

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