Lagging and leading indicators

The easiest measurements of how things are going are quantifiable, such as money or attendance. Unfortunately, they are not the most helpful. One reason is that unlike in the business world, where the number of widgets produced or the profit margin does tell much of the story, numbers don’t necessarily reveal the kind of spiritual growth we’re (hopefully) aiming for in church.

Another reason that nickels and noses don’t give us much useful information is that they are lagging indicators. This means that they are backward-looking.

Leading indicators, by contrast, give us benchmarks toward progress. We ask, “What are we going to do to work toward our hoped-for outcomes?” When we name our part in bringing about change, we acknowledge our responsibility, build in accountability, give ourselves an assessment tool to measure our progress along the way, and set goals that we have actual control over.

So, for example, a lagging indicator might be a certain percentage of growth in worship participation. A leading indicator, however, might be that our church develops a team that prays for those who are seeking a faith community like ours to find their way to us. It might be offering training on better including people with disabilities. It might be offering a Bible study on hospitality. It might be learning to tell the story of God’s work among us to our surrounding community in a more compelling way. It might be revamping the bulletin to make it more visitor-friendly. It might be pulling out a pew or two and creating a prayground. All of these efforts emphasize imagination, not fear. They are in service to a larger goal, but with the emphasis on what is now within our control and requires our investment and ongoing discernment. They lay the foundation not just for growth in numbers but also in understanding of our connection to God’s story, God’s work among us, and the gifts God is asking us to use on behalf of others.

I encourage you to assess your current measurements. Which ones are lagging? How might you transform them into leading indicators, and in the process allow yourselves to be transformed?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.