In a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Ed Stetzer—author, speaker and professor—joins Carey Nieuwhof to discuss shifting trends in church attendance throughout the pandemic, engaging congregations in their local church’s mission and finding new ways to measure church success.
On Church Metrics
Barna’s recent project, The State of Your Church, outlines new metrics to measure areas of human flourishing and congregational thriving. Certain dimensions of congregational thriving include worship experience, connected community, prayer culture, Bible centeredness, spiritual formation and trust in leadership.
During his interview with Nieuwhof, Stetzer discusses traditional markers of church metrics such as attendance and giving, stating, “I think [these metrics are] not enough. I’m not anti- those metrics. Most pastors I know would know what their attendance and giving is… [but] we need to expand [these metrics].”
He continues, “I’m concerned about what life transformation looks like. What is biblical discernment? What is growing in biblical knowledge? How does that lead to spiritual action and missional activity? What we have to recognize is we shouldn’t just have a two mark scorecard. We should broaden that [scorecard] to include what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Jesus on mission in the broken and hurting world we live in.”
Stetzer shares some of the metrics he considers important, saying, “As someone who cares deeply about evangelism, I want to make sure we’re asking, ‘are we sharing the good news of the gospel and giving people the opportunity to respond to the good news and become followers of Jesus?’ … Also, I want to be measuring life change activities and life change activities for Christians. [These activities] almost always lead into community transformation activities as well.”
On Lower Church Attendance
Stetzer talks about reasons why church attendance dropped after COVID-19, noting, “There’s multiple factors. I think certainly what we’re seeing is some people have sorted themselves out of the church because the church is going in a different direction, maybe ideologically, while some people are still nervous… Some of those people may have a child who’s got leukemia who’s going through chemo, and they don’t want to risk it.”
Stetzer discusses another reason for lower church attendance, explaining, “Some people have gotten unaccustomed to the life and rhythms of church. Here’s one of the mistakes I think we made …We got up two years ago and said that the church never closed… But in doing so we de-emphasized the loss. We lost something significant when churches didn’t meet in person. I think a better way, in hindsight, would’ve been to say that we’re going to have to operate in a temporarily deficient way in the emergency for the sake of the mission, but that gathering is so central. Now we’re having to re-persuade people that gathering is central.”
On the Effects of a Consumer-Driven Church
Stetzer emphasizes the need for churches to increase engagement, saying, “For too many of us, church is a service at a [specific] time with a certain expected product; that’s produced a consumer driven [church], and what we’ve got is a lot of customers when we really need a lot of co-laborers.”
He continues, “I think some people stepped up, stood out and stood in the gap in the last two years and wanted to be co-laborers. We need to help the rest of the congregation move into that co-laboring space and then ultimately labor together on the mission into the world.”
Discussing ways that the church can increase engagement, Stetzer explains, “Part of what we’ve got to do is to normalize the higher level of engagement and involvement that we’ve seen in a substantial number of people in the last few years and call those who are less engaged and involved to join those people on mission. So ultimately we call [people] to a higher expectation in what we do in church and on mission and then call them to something. And I think that’s joining Jesus on mission in the world by showing and sharing the love of Christ.”
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
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