Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content at the RNS Archives website.

(RNS) Many congregations stick to counting people in the pews and shun the harder work of measuring outcomes and impact.


  1. You did say anything about HOW to compute the other touches, etc. All that was discussed was useless numbers. I think this article was useless

    • I agree with “useless article”… Reading it reminded me of when I was in another business and hired a consultant to help solve any identified problems with the organization and all I got was a restatement of the problem(s).

  2. The average church attendance metric is NOT useless–it is insufficient. The insufficiency was the main point of this article and on that we agree. I would go on to say that average church attendance is not the most useful metric either, but it is still useful.
    – Banks, lending institutions, denominations REQUIRE this information, so you have to be able to provide it
    – We can learn a lot from attendance trends, I suspect the main problem we have with the average church attendance metric is that most churches don’t like what it is telling us

    BTW, on that last point that is quite common in all organizations and walks of life. If we don’t like what the metric says, we have a tendency to ‘solve’ the problem by getting rid of or ignoring the metric.

  3. I would love to know what metrics you would suggest to measure outcomes and impacts. Numbers do have faces and each of those “fannies in the pew” do have a unique story and are at a different place in the spiritual development. “ASA” can be a useful first step and is usually derided by those who are not getting any new fannies in the pew.

    What metrics would you suggest to measure spiritual maturity? I really have been giving this some serious thought as to what we should be measuring but as you say there are no easy solutions. Give me some suggestions of what to measure! In the last six years our ASA has gone from 450 to 1650 and I use those numbers to make a multitude of decisions but I also what to find a way to measure if are being successful in growing deeper not just wider. Thanks.

  4. Check out “Effectiveness by the Numbers: Counting What Counts in the Church.” Published by Abingdon and available on Amazon. I am clearly biased, but I HAVE spent a lot of time thinking (and writing) about this subject.

  5. Attendance is an limited measure of church effectiveness, but normally it is one of NUMEROUS snapshots of a church’s health. As well, calling the Dow Jones Industrial average “simple to compute” reflects a vast misunderstanding of what it measures over time. It is not a perfect measure, but what is?

    Complex or “nuanced” metrics often are too complex to be calculated efficiently and equally misunderstood (see GNP, DOW). Their misuse provides more fear and confusion than clarity. While I share Mr. Erich’s yen for more complete data, pretending limited metrics are useless is throwing the baby out with the bath water. Waiting on perfect metrics and ignoring the ones you have is far worse leadership than using a metric that tells a story, even if the story is incomplete.

  6. I do not agree completely with the arguement. Numbers in worship are useless as are some pastors. But in counting Sunday School attendance for instance one might find a more useful metric. The idea of a Sunday School is closer to the fundamental church anyways and add in a few surveys would help out or talk and listen to Sunday School teachers that could be a useful dynamic. Although I do believe i wasted my time in reading thee article. (Sunday School or Small groups are interchangable in this reply.)

  7. Tom, i disagree with the terminology you used that ASA is meaningless and useless. We use those numbers for a variety of purposes that help us greatly. Counting heads is not a bad thing and can be a big benefit. However, with that said, we don’t focus on ASA and dwell on it, we just use the data collected to help us make better decisions in many things. I do agree with you that the appealing aspect of ASA is it is easy and quick and takes very little work. We should also be tracking other metrics like changed lives and spiritual growth and salvation. Thanks so much!

  1. […] A much better quantitative measure would get at “touches,” that is, how many lives are being touched by contact with the faith community in its various Sunday, weekday, off-site and online ministries — and then, for a qualitative measure, asking how those lives are being transformed…. Read this in full at […]