By the Numbers: Using Metrics

Lately, I have been thinking and reading a lot about metrics. I went back and read my Blog from a couple of years ago on this topic. And I was also wondering how churches approach data. So I googled “Church Metrics”. One of the many interesting websites I discovered was www.churchmetrics.com.   ChurchMetrics will help church leaders track everything that matters – Attendance, Salvations, Giving and Volunteers, and then any other data points that are felt to be important.

What is so important about data? For a synagogue – or any house of worship, not-for-profit organization, or even a business – data can help evaluate what is happening at your synagogue and can help in future planning.

Many churches look at the ABCs of metrics – Attendance, Building, and Cash. I would substitute “charity” for “Cash”, still conveying the same meaning. How often does synagogue leadership look at attendance numbers? I am not talking about religious school attendance, because that is a very steady number. Like public or private school, taking attendance is apart of the fabric of education. For religious schools, this should be an accessible number. But how often is it looked at?

Here, I was really thinking more about attendance at Shabbat Worship, adult education and even the stuff that is more social and fun.

Questions regarding attendance numbers to think about:

How many people volunteer representing the synagogue at the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, or even collect food?

How many visits to those who are sick, either at a medical facility or at home, do the clergy and others representing the synagogue make during the course of a month or even a year?

How do we measure the number of people who sign petitions advocating for marriage equality or health care legislation, especially when such legislation becomes law and the impact such an effort has on the community at large?

We often look at the number of new members. But do we ever really look at those who decide that belonging to a synagogue is no longer a priority in their lives? What are their reasons for leaving? And how can such information help synagogue leaders plan for the future?

I think all of these numbers are nice. But if there is not a strategy behind their usage, the number are just that-numbers. As metrics, they are somewhat meaningless.

Let’s take Worship attendance. In addition to just knowing the count, tracking individual information on participation is also useful. We have lots of very smart people at our synagogues, so I would imagine there must be a way to track attendance at Shabbat worship beyond the typical check in table in the lobby.

And Adult Learning- does the board think that attendance at such programs is an important data point? If one of the priorities of the board is to have adult learning opportunities and to not be too concerned about attendance numbers, then such numbers may not really matter. But I think they do. If resources both in terms of program dollars and staff time are being allocated, participation – as well as participant feedback – should be helpful evaluative tools.

Gil Rendle, a minister and consultant to many churches and synagogues, wrote… “the numbers should give solidity and concreteness to our thinking”.   We have to use data to create and implement strategy that directly relates to our Jewish values as a sacred community.

What data is important to your congregation? How do you use it?

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