When It Counts: Why Stories and Numbers Matter

This is a guest post by Tony Morgan of The Unstuck Group.

I admit it. I’m a numbers guy. I always have been. Back when I was in elementary school, I used to collect baseball cards. I had thousands of them, and I would spend many hours comparing the statistics of the different ballplayers. My dad used to quiz me on player stats. That fascination with statistics led me to take a couple of stats courses when I was in college, and that’s also where I discovered the wonderful world of Excel spreadsheets. Like I said — I’m not normal.

What I’ve learned through the years, though, is that there are two types of pastors who lead churches. The first type of pastor is a numbers person like me. As soon as the weekend services are over, they want to know how many people showed up and how much people gave. They know that every number represents a person. What’s amazing about these pastors is that they have an uncanny ability to make numbers say whatever they need them to say. What they don’t realize is that sometimes the numbers are telling a false story.

The second type of pastor despises the numbers. Instead, they’re all about the stories they hear each week. They do whatever they can to downplay any mention of numbers to focus on the stories people are sharing. The challenge for these pastors, though, is that it’s impossible to hear everyone’s story. These pastors tend to give the last story the most weight. If the last story was positive, then the church is healthy. If the last story was negative, then something is wrong.

Even though I’m a numbers guy, I believe the best and healthiest solution is to do both — track the numbers and listen to the stories. The stories should confirm what your numbers are telling you. The numbers should confirm the stories represent the broader condition of the church. You need both.

In Vital Signs, our eBook on measuring church health, Ryan Stigile and I share how healthy teams hold both numbers and stories in a careful balance. These teams both track and monitor trends in the data, and they also get very intentional about capturing real-life examples to confirm what they numbers say. Here are three principles from Vital Signs that may help your team find and keep that healthy balance of metrics and stories...

  1. Metrics enable the mind. Stories encourage the heart.
    Metrics reveal important details of a church that would not otherwise be discovered. These insights are invaluable to leaders who want to make informed decisions. But few people are truly encouraged by numbers and graphs. Instead, they are inspired by stories of personal growth within the people they are trying to reach. Your team needs a good set of metrics to make wise decisions. But it also needs to hear examples of how those decisions are impacting lives. Encourage the hearts of leaders, both staff and volunteers, with stories to give them the motivation they need to follow through with your action plan.
  2. Metrics provide a big-picture perspective. Stories provide a personal perspective.
    A good set of metrics gives leaders a birds-eye view of total church health. Stories provide personal examples of the people represented by each of those numbers. Without stories to keep them in check, leaders can easily misinterpret numbers to fit their own preferences. On the other hand, when leaders become consumed by a few personal stories, they lose sight of what is best for the majority of their church. To fully see and understand your church's health, balance the big-picture of metrics with the personal perspectives of individual stories.
  3. Metrics are collected systematically. Stories are captured relationally.
    It takes a clear system to collect data and track metrics over time. Stories are uncovered in a much different way. They are never predictable and often appear when you least expect them. To capture stories, you must form genuine relationships with the people who hold them. Encourage everyone on your team to listen closely as they interact with church attendees. Small groups, volunteer teams, baptisms, and times of prayer can all reveal great narratives that illustrate your vision in action. As you discover great stories, dedicate time in staff meetings to share them with one another. Doing so will encourage the hearts of your staff and give everyone the opportunity to see personal perspectives.

Because I want your church to be healthy and experience growth, I want to challenge you to embrace both the numbers and the stories. You may want to check out Vital Signs to talk with your leadership team about that right mix of metrics to track both participation (attendance) and spiritual formation.

I want to also encourage you to fully leverage Church Community Builder. It’s the best solution I’m aware of for tracking not only how people are connecting to the church, but also the next steps people are taking in their spiritual journey.

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Tony Morgan is the Founder and Chief Strategic Officer of The Unstuck Group (www.TheUnstuckGroup.com), which helps churches get unstuck by providing consulting and coaching experiences for strategic planning, health assessments, and staffing and structure reviews.

Topics: This entry was posted in Leadership Roles, This entry was posted in Blog, This entry was posted in Executive Pastor, This entry was posted in Multi-Site Campus Pastor

Posted by Tony Morgan on February 13, 2015