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May 21, 2017Missiology

Church-Planting Metrics: Measure What’s Important (Part One)

Measure outcomes, not activities.
Church-Planting Metrics: Measure What’s Important (Part One)

A few years ago I was part of a breakout group at a church planting roundtable where we discussed the question, “What is church?” The group was comprised of international and regional directors of church planting organizations. About fifteen minutes into the discussion it became apparent that very few of the leaders had a working definition of church that was common to their entire organization. Taken together, these leaders represented hundreds of church planters.

I began to wonder how church planters could be sent to the field without a clear concept of what they are commissioned to do. Would that be acceptable in any other setting? How successful would car manufacturers be if their leaders told factory workers, “Make cars!” and did not provide them with detailed specifications of what they were to build? Absurd! Yet it seemed like that was exactly what many church planting organizations had done.

When church planters don’t have a working definition of church, they are left with important questions they can’t answer:

  • How do they know when they’ve finished the job?
  • How do they give credible progress reports to supporters when there is no clear definition of what they are progressing toward?
  • How do they know that what they are doing today is getting them to the goal?
  • How do they decide where best to use their resources?
  • Furthermore, from an organizational perspective, if leaders have not defined the end goal clearly, can they truly know whether the day-to-day activities of their church planters are actually fulfilling the organization’s mission?

This article presents a method for developing a measurement instrument that can guide leaders to define the end goal (i.e., “church”) and that provides church planters with a graphic picture of progress toward their goal. The instrument informs church planting strategy by showing church planters what they have accomplished and what is left to be done. Consequently, it creates alignment between the organization’s mission and the day-to-day activities of its church planters. Before getting into the details of developing the tool, however, it will be helpful to review some of the methods of measurement that have been applied to church planting.

The Problem of Measurement Inversion

Church planters who want to measure success often fall into measurement inversion (i.e., they measure what is easy to measure rather than what is most important). Measurement inversion in church planting has been evident in at least two ways.

First, church planters have focused on activities, which are easy to monitor, at the expense of measuring outcomes of the activities. Here is an example taken from a church planting manual that has been used in at least twenty-seven countries. The manual wisely instructs church planters to set goals that are measurable. The sample goal is, “By the end of June, I will prepare and lead a series of three inductive Bible studies in my cell group on the theme of ‘The Great Commission and Church Planting in Our City’” (Deyneka 1999, 157). The manual suggests that this is measurable in that by June the church planter will be able to say, “[Yes/no] I led the studies.”

Clearly, that is not the important piece of information. It focuses on monitoring the church planter’s activities rather than measuring the success of the studies. A true outcome metric would be, “The people in my cell group have adopted a Great Commission mindset and desire to plant churches in our city.” A similar example comes from Scott Breslin’s article in the October 2007 issue of EMQ. He presents five indicators to track progress in a church plant. The first three – making contacts, sowing, and watering - focus completely on church planters’ activity. The fourth, reaping, tracks an undesired outcome in that it counts people who have made a decision but are not connected to the church. Only keeping is a true outcome (2007). The tool does not distinguish between activity and outcomes.

Second, measurement inversion also appears in much church growth literature. Although church growth writers repeatedly stress the importance of growing quality churches, they focus their measurements almost exclusively on the size and growth rate of the church. If quality is important, it needs to be measured.

The object of our measurement, therefore, should be the quality or health of the church, not simply its size and growth rate (Warren 1995, 98; Walker 2005, 3-13). This is not to say the church must grow healthy first and then focus on outreach and numerical growth; rather, it means that healthy churches will naturally grow.

Defining and Measuring “Healthy Church”

The best definition of a healthy church is God’s definition! Gary Corwin argues that church planters need to take their focus off repeating past forms of church, or even creating new forms of church. They need to “recognize essential biblical patterns” and seek to develop these characteristics in their churches (2005, 143). God has defined “healthy church” in his word, and this must be the foundation for defining the end goal of church planting. This question remains: Can church health be measured accurately?

To answer the question, it is important to understand what measurement is. Douglas Hubbard states that even in cases where the subject in question seems intangible and immeasurable, “If it’s something that you think exists at all, then it’s something you’ve already observed somehow” (2007, 267). It follows that if you are able to observe something, you are able to measure it in some way. Although all true measurements are expressed as a quantity, it is a mistake to assume that for something to be effectively measured, it needs to be reduced to an exact representative quantity. The point of measuring is not to eliminate all error, but to reduce uncertainty about the thing being observed so that we can make informed decisions.

Following this line of reasoning, the fact that we can talk about a church’s state of health shows that we’ve observed it, or the lack of it, in some way. It is now a question of being intentional in our method of measurement. In designing a measurement instrument for church planters, therefore, we must begin by defining what we want to observe, and then design a method for consistently quantifying our observations.

Is Your Organization Suffering from Measurement Inversion?

How do we know if we’re measuring the right things? The following exercise will help leaders identify whether their organization is suffering from measurement inversion.

  1. Systematically work through reports from church planters and highlight activities and outcomes in two different colors. How much of the report has to do with activities and how much has to do with outcomes?
  2. Are you measuring only what is easy (e.g., counting converts, baptisms, church attendance, etc.)? Or are you focusing on what is important (e.g., the spiritual health of emerging or immature churches)?
  3. What do church planters do with reports? Are they simply filed and forgotten, or do they provide vital information that informs strategy?

If leaders are not satisfied with the answers to these questions, and conclude that they need to change what they measure, the following three steps will help them begin the process.

First, the leaders must count the cost of making this significant organizational change. When we shift from measuring activity to measuring outcomes, we are changing the rules of the game while the game is in progress. Despite leaders’ efforts to guide church planters through the transition, it is almost inevitable that some people will decide to leave the organization. Second, the leaders must put together a design team. This should include one of the organization’s top executives, a project champion (or owner), and a person who is qualified to be the team’s theological watchdog. The design team will seek input from leaders and practitioners throughout the design process. Third, the project champion must be released from some current duties to focus on developing the instrument. The second part of this article is a step-by-step guide for the design team.

Read Church-Planting Metrics: Measure What’s Important, Part Two (Define the Object of Measurement (i.e., Church); Quantifying the Indicators; Avant Ministries’ Measurement Instrument), next Sunday on The Exchange.


  • Breslin, Scott. 2007. “Church Planting Tracking and Analysis Tool.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 43(3): 508-515.
  • Corwin, Gary. 2005. “Church Planting 101.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 41(2): 142-143.
  • Deyneka, Peter. 1999. Omega Course: Critical Church Planter Training: Manual Four. South Holland: Bible League.
  • European Union Joint Evaluation Unit. 2006. Evaluation Methods for the European Union’s External Assistance: Methodological Basis for Evaluation Vol. 1. Luxemburg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. Accessed February 1, 2013, from ec.europa.eu/europeaid/evaluation/methodology/examples/guide3_en.pdf.
  • Gohl, Eberhard. 2003. Checking and Learning: Impact Monitoring and Evaluation, a Practical Guide. The Association of German Development NGO’s, reg. ass., (VENRO). Accessed February 1, 2013, from www.sle-berlin.de/sleplus/files/Checking%20and%20learning.PDF.
  • Hubbard, Douglas. 2007. How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley and Sons.
  • Walker, Philip. 2005. “The Transition from Church Growth to Church Health.” Journal of the American Society for Church Growth 16: 3‐13.
  • Warren, Rick. 1995. The Purpose Driven Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

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Church-Planting Metrics: Measure What’s Important (Part One)