Beep … beep … beep … beep…

When you’re being treated in a hospital, that’s a good sound to hear. It means your heart is beating and the electronic monitor is working properly. Your pulse is only one of many numbers (metrics) that doctors, nurses, and technicians consider when gauging your health. Do you remember the last time you had lab work done, and how many different factors were measured and reported? It’s mind-boggling. But here’s the thing: All of these medical metrics are only indirect measures of your health.

What’s really going on with your health — disease, infection, injury — is occurring on a cellular level. And there’s a lot of activity taking place, because your body is composed of around 37.2 trillion cells. So your pulse, respiration rate, temperature, blood oxygen level, platelet count, EEG, and EKG are all just summary measurements that suggest what might be happening in your body. The medical professionals must deduce from  all of that information what is happening in your body and how they should intervene.

We can think of our churches and their health in a similar way.

Just as the human body is composed of individual cells, the church body is composed of individual members and attenders. The health of the church is the sum of the health of all of those individuals, and the kind of health we’re concerned with is spiritual health — even harder to diagnose than physical health. In fact, there are some elements of spiritual health we just can’t know, because only God can see for sure what’s going on in our heart of hearts. So when we talk about gauging church health, we’re talking about somehow gauging the invisible spiritual health of a whole group of people, which in some churches can number in the thousands. That’s a tall order!

No data set is going to tell you “Jim has grown 10% in discipleship since last quarter.” That said, data can give you clues that indicate larger spiritual trends in individual lives. The clues aren’t perfect, but they can paint a picture of the overall health of our churches and provide a peek into what’s happening behind the scenes in individual lives. After all, Jesus says we are known by our fruit. So what metrics might show us some of the fruits of discipleship in our members’ lives?

3 Church Metrics That Show a Spiritual ‘Pulse’

1) Attendance

You probably track various types of attendance in your software already, like worship services, small groups, and events. Any of these can tell you if someone is withdrawing from your church, but when it comes to measuring spiritual growth, not all attendance metrics are created equal. Attending a Sunday morning service, for instance, is easy. Signing up for and consistently attending a small group, on the other hand, indicates another level of commitment. Someone’s taking that step can be an indicator of growth, or of growth potential as they get more deeply involved in a life group or Bible study.

2) Giving

People are very attached to their money, and with good reason. We trade our time, our sweat, and our mental energy to earn it. Stepping up to obey the command to give is a huge indicator of increased spiritual commitment and growth — so giving a first-time gift, or going from occasional donations to regular or even scheduled ones, is a major milestone. It shows growth of commitment both to the faith and to your church. It’s important that leaders recognize and celebrate these gifts as the major steps of faith they are.

3) Serving

For many, giving time is an even bigger sacrifice than giving money. When someone starts serving in your church — giving their time and toil to further your mission — that shows a deep level of buy-in and a step in the journey of discipleship. Development in someone’s serving habits can be a great indicator of growth.

While these metrics aren’t a foolproof measure of someone’s discipleship or the spiritual growth of your church at large, they are a pulse. They’re an indicator. A few good numbers don’t guarantee you’re healthy, but you can’t be healthy without them. As leaders, we owe it to ourselves and our mission to use all the information we can access when evaluating the health of our churches and church members. Spiritual growth is difficult to gauge, but as church leaders, we are the nurses giving our churches a checkup — so take your ministry’s pulse!