Most of us track attendance when it comes to our Bible study groups. Attendance gives us a snapshot for comparison to other days or groups but attendance only gives us part of the picture. If we track the total number of people in a month who attend versus the number of different people who attend in a month we may get a completely different picture of what is going on. We may find out we have three groups meeting under the same designation: the people there every week, the people there on the first and third weeks, and the people there the second and fourth weeks.
Which brings us to the question: are there some better things to track than attendance? Some of the answer to this depends on the goal and kind of group. For example, a closed group will look at consistency in attendance while an open group will track the new people coming into a group. Having said that, here are some general principles to consider:
- Define what is tracked by the big purpose. Words matter and how you define what is tracked matters. Number of people in attendance communicates something differently than number of people who engaged in Bible study this week.
- Track the stuff we control. We don’t control the number of people we baptize or the number of people who actually attend our Bible study groups. We do control the number of people we share the gospel with and the number of people that are contacted weekly.
- Track what creates the biggest impact. If you know that people are most likely to accept Christ if they attend a Bible study group, then track that over number of people in worship. As a side note: churches that track these types of things have found that 1 out of 3 lost people who attend a Bible study group will eventually accept Christ (those who attend only a worship service are far less likely to accept Christ), so they track the number of unchurched people in their Bible study groups.
- Track things that lead to the larger goal. We want to see people come to know Christ and become disciplers. If that is the larger goal, then we should track the things that get us there. The number of people we engage in conversations about Christ is something we control and that gets us to the larger goal of seeing people come to know Christ.
So what actions might we track that give us a better barometer on what is going on other than attendance?
Number of people contacted this week. For open groups to grow, they must contact everyone on their ministry list every week. For closed groups to maintain attendance, they too must contact everyone on their list. Every organization has a number. We tracked it in one church and found that if the groups reported 400 contacts in a week, our attendance was above 225 for that week. If the reported contacts were less than 400, then attendance was below 200. In that setting, the type of contact did not matter so we did not track the contract types…we only needed to know if a contract was made.
Number of people who initiated a conversation with someone about spiritual matters. We will not reach the lost and unchurched unless we talk with them and that usually means us initiating the conversation.
Number of unchurched and unaffiliated people being prayed for. (Variation: Number of people praying daily for a lost person.) One step toward engaging in conversation with a lost person is praying for them by name daily. (Note: You can find out more about the importance of this practice in the booklet It Begins with Prayer at lifeway.com/trainingresources).
Number of people engaging daily with the Bible. The number one predictor for spiritual growth is daily Bible engagement. If the goal is for people to grow in their spiritual walk, then it makes sense that we would want to find out if they are doing the one thing that impacts spiritual growth more than any other action. That also means we need to provide them a tool for doing so, either a Daily Discipleship Guide, daily devotion, or some other tool.
What actions will you track this year that will help your groups accomplish the big goals and purposes?
Dwayne McCrary leads various teams at LifeWay that create ongoing BIble study resources for adults. He also teaches two weekly ongoing Bible study groups in his church and is an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.