When did all the preachers become statistics junkies?
I can’t remember the last church leadership book or seminar that didn’t emphasize the value of setting goals for your church, then using some kind of metric to determine whether-or-not we are succeeding at reaching them.
I understand the need to assess our progress. If we don’t know how we’re doing and why, we’ll make the same mistakes over and over.
But, as I’ve referred to in Measuring What Matters: The Challenge of Church Metrics, there is an inherent danger in trying to measure a church’s value by using numbers. The things of greatest value are often immeasurable.
Yet it still stands to reason that we need to regularly assess a church’s health and spiritual growth. Are people growing in their faith? Are they practicing spiritual disciplines? Are they sharing their faith? Is the church helping them do all of those things better?
Why Stories Matter More In a Small Church
There are two ways for churches to gather the information we need. Conversations or surveys. When we take surveys we get statistics. When we have conversations we hear stories.
Statistics and stories. They each give us very different kinds of information.
In recent years, it’s been typical to elevate the value of stats, while devaluing the role of stories. Stats are more accurate, we’re told. And that’s true – in certain circumstances.
Talk to any statistical analyst (you know, the one who lives down the block from you) and ask them how the value of statistics changes depending on the number of people surveyed (the sample size), and here’s what you’ll find.
When the sample size is large, statistics are accurate and valuable. When the sample size is small, statistics can be very inaccurate and misleading.
For example, if you surveyed a congregation of 5,000 and had only 10 percent in opposition to an an idea, you’d see the 90 percent agreement as a big green light. But if you surveyed a congregation of 50 and had 10 percent in opposition to an an idea, you’d need to know which five people disagreed and why. Or proceed at great risk.
As a church grows larger, statistics matter more than opinions. When a church is smaller, opinions matter more than statistics.
Why Have Conversations? Because We Can
As small church pastors and leaders, we need to realize that a lot of what works for larger churches doesn’t necessarily work for us.