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Why Your Church May Be Measuring the Wrong Info

We are constantly training ourselves on what we really believe is important, though typically with little conscious awareness. This is particularly true of congregations.

How so? Whatever our leaders talk about most often is what we come to believe is really important.

Just look at our leadership team, staff meeting and committee agendas. Or take a look at the parochial reports we turn in to our denomination. Or look at the handouts in our next congregational business meeting.

Nearly all of these are focused on lag measures, which we can do very little about.

A couple years ago, while reflecting on what we measure in church, I picked up the book, “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling.

The authors describe ways of measuring organizational movement that have guided my work with congregational leadership ever since. They use two kinds of measuring, which clarify measurement in fantastic ways.

First, lag measures are our traditional ways of measuring organization progress.

Lag measures are measurements of the results we are trying to achieve, typically items that are lagging behind our activity. They tell us where we have been, with little opportunity for influencing them.

Lead measures, conversely, are measurements focused on what we want to achieve. Lead measures foretell the future, with two characteristics: predictive and influenceable. Lead measures are more under our control, actions that we can do that predict particular results.

A couple simple illustrations will help.

Your car breaking down on the side of the road is a lag measure (past tense, little ability to change this) while investing in routing maintenance is a lead measure (predictive and under your influence).

Or how about a goal of reducing overall body weight by 20 pounds? The lag measure is the number you see on the scale each morning while the lead measure is increasing your exercise along with eating more healthily.

The common mistake of organizations, including churches and denominations, is spending most of our time trying to influence lag measures.

Leadership guru W. Edwards Deming, cited in “The Four Disciplines,” describes managing a company by looking at financial data as the equivalent of “driving a car by looking in the rearview mirror.”

So, how does this apply to congregational leadership? Let’s shift from focusing on lag measures to what we can do something about (lead measures).

Lag measures in our context are budgeting, attendance at events, membership numbers, volunteer numbers, structural changes and building expansion plans.

These items are important, yet they lag behind other far-more-important activities. They are very tangentially related methods for measuring our spiritual vitality as a faith community.

Because these lag measures get the most air time in our agendas and conversations, we grow to believe they are the mission; they are what church is about. Clearly, lag measures are about the past and are not under our influence.

Lead measures though are about the present and future, indicators of whether we may move ahead in mission-congruent ways.

The following are lead measure examples in a congregational context:

  • Helping every disciple in our congregation identify, articulate and live out his or her calling for this season of life.
  • Designing and implementing invigorating worship gatherings.
  • Involving ourselves in disciple developing growth groups that support our living out our faith.
  • Training each other on stewardship of life.
  • Designing and implementing our collective Rule of Life, supporting our growth as disciples.
  • Organizing holy experiments in our community focused on relational engagement with our neighbors.
  • Partnering with others in our community who are working for transformation.

One can see how engaging these lead measures is predictive for spiritual vitality. No, we cannot guarantee we will grow in our faith or meet God through particular activities. Yet engaging lead measures dramatically raises the likelihood that we will live as the invigorated church.

So what is it your congregation is really about? What is it that stirs your soul when it comes to following Jesus? What do you find compelling about this Christ-focused story?

Let’s engage the lead measure, knowing we are far more able to influence these for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. Let’s trust the lag measures to follow along behind as they will.

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his personal blog.