Small Church Metrics: Why Average Results ≠ Typical Results

Statistics, surveys and comparative metrics are not as helpful in assessing small church health as they are in assessing big church health.

One of the challenges of pastoring in a small church is that there’s nothing typical (or normal) about anything we do.

Our schedule, our skill-set, our facilities (or lack of), our staff (or lack of), our salary (or… you get the idea…). None of it is typical.

Our friends and colleagues in big churches are able to collect information, assess data and find numbers that help them understand what a healthy church looks like statistically, but those metrics fall apart when churches are small.

Here’s why.

The Big/Small Difference

Imagine that the data for a group of large churches shows that an average of 35-45 percent of their offerings go to salaries, while 50-60 percent of their attenders are involved in small groups. It’s likely that almost all the large healthy churches surveyed will fall within those parameters.

In healthy big churches, average numbers will be typical numbers.

On the other hand, the data from a group of small churches might show 50-60 percent of their offerings going to salaries and 30-40 percent of their attenders involved in small groups, on average. (These numbers are examples, not actual statistics). But that won’t tell you what a typical healthy small church looks like.

Unlike the consistent numbers in bigger churches, healthy small church percentages will stretch over a much wider range.

Healthy small churches can have a pastoral salary range from zero percent to 80 percent and have a small group involvement anywhere from zero percent to 100 percent. Yes, literally zero – 100! Why? Well, how (or why) would you do small groups in a church of 20?

In healthy small churches, average numbers will not be typical numbers.

The Unique Small Church

What does this mean, and why does it matter?

It means that small churches are a unique part of the body of Christ. Because we’re small, the averages aren’t typical and what’s typical is all over the place.

That’s the nature of small groups in general and small churches in particular. Trends, metrics and averages don’t mean much for us because you need much larger numbers before they become reliable measures of health and effectiveness.

Knowing this matters because, if the pastor of a small church isn’t aware of this dynamic (most of us aren’t), it’s easy to see national or denominational averages, compare them to our congregation’s metrics, and assume that we’re not healthy, even though we might be very healthy. Or, conversely, we might match up with average numbers quite well, but not be healthy at all.

Small churches need to assess health and effectiveness more qualitatively than quantitatively.

Small Church Health

Certainly, it’s helpful to assess our healthfulness in the most objective way we can. No one is capable of a completely unbiased assessment, especially of something we’re so close to.

But metrics are not as helpful in assessing small church health as they are in assessing big church health.

Small churches need other ways to assess our health and effectiveness.

What might that look like? That’s the subject of my follow-up article8 Non-Numerical Ways To Assess The Health Of A Church.

(Photo by RawPixel Ltd | Flickr)

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