Stories and statistics as indicators for Growth by David Treat

“The effectiveness of your small group ministry can be monitored by the statistics you track and the stories you hear”

A few years back I tried to convince my boss that this was true. Unfortunately, he had a bad case of “MBA Syndrome” and only wanted numbers. In fact, if I told him a story of how group leaders were really starting to “get it” and were increasing in their effectiveness his eyes would glaze over. His eyelids became heavy when I talked about developing relationships and life-change. Give him a page of numbers and as long as he thought they were going “up and to the right” he was happy as a clam.
Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” – Mark Twain

Metrics can both enlighten and mislead. If your leaders are abandoning groups in droves, wouldn’t you want to know about it? How about when you pour a couple of years into a developing leader and she finally starts coaching… in another ministry? Look at the numbers: Your leaders just decreased by one. Was it a “win” for the Kingdom? You bet. But you won’t know that unless you hear and comprehend the significance of the story.

We sometime track the wrong things (number of group members) when we should be tracking something else (regular attenders). You can get anybody to “join” a group, but try to get them to come! Showing up once should not get you on the roster. If you create an expectation that a large roster is how you “win,” exceptionally creative staff members will figure out a way to make that happen.
Unless you rely on story, you won’t be able to find the mirrors in the smoke. When I was in Men’s Ministry I used to ask leaders how many guys were in their group (numbers). Then I would ask them to tell me the guy’s names and something about their lives (stories). Unbelievably, some leaders did not even know last names, whether a guy was married, or whether or not he was a Christ-follower. These situations became teaching moments. I use a 2×4 as a pointer.
If he passed the first round, I’d ask the leader what a guy was like six months ago, what he was like now, and (for bonus points) what he thought God wanted the guy to be like in six months. Only then could we understand if the life-change process was stalled, progressing, or even in reverse. Any leadership debrief should include stories as well as statistics.

What are you counting?

This post originally appeared on the Willow Creek Association Group Life Blog. It has been edited to remove outdated material.

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