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The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated quarantine radically impacted the way churches measure success.

It’s turned historical metrics on their head. For many churches prior to the pandemic, the metric was ABC: Attendance, buildings, cash. The numbers that screamed success included salvations, baptisms, small group participation, serve rate—all of these were flipped upside down in the last sixteen months.

COIVD has exposed our tendency to look at these numbers as lead measures rather than lag measures. A lag measure is the result. Lead measures, on the other hand, are the drivers that affect the result. Lead measures have to do with process and approach. They measure what we can control. Lag measures are what we can’t control.

The new metrics imply that by improving our lead measures, we will ultimately enhance our lag measures. The Apostle Paul understood this principle of lead vs. lag: “I planted, Apollos watered (lead measures), but God gave the growth.” (lag measures).

And it makes me wonder . . . did we get it wrong during those years prior to the pandemic? The truth is, we have very little if any control over who shows up at our public gatherings. Very little control whether or not those who show up give. Whether people surrender to Christ or not. Have we made the mistake of embracing numerical metrics as lead measures when all along we should have understood them as lag measures?

It begs the question . . . what do we have some measure of control over? What are some possible new lead-measure metrics? Let me share a few possibilities with you:

A flawless guest-experience

From the parking lot to the lobby, and into the worship center, what is the guest experience? How do we communicate care and genuine interest from the street to the seat? How do we shape a guest-focused culture? We can’t control who walks in the door, but when they do, let’s ensure they find true heart connection with other people, and a reason to come back.

A crisp, powerful worship encounter

An honest evaluation of our worship experience may reveal an insider bias. How do we determine if that’s true of the church we lead?

  • We use terms only insiders know.
  • We assume guests know what to expect in our gatherings without us telling them.
  • When our gatherings are sloppy, have wasted time, and don’t invite the presence of Jesus into the room. People need good information. They also need power encounters with the Living God. Creating space for God to do what He wants to do within the confines of our gatherings night be a new lead measure.

An organic/organized approach to discipling new believers (and seasoned believers)

I surrendered my life to Jesus at age sixteen. Within twenty-four hours of my conversion, I had a Bible in my hands and a spiritual mentor in my life. His name was Rick. Rick showed me how to read Scripture. He taught me how to pray.  He imprinted on me the daily discipline of connecting with God through the reading/studying of His word, and talking to Him through prayer and worship. He helped me learn how to share my conversion story.

Rick invited me and a group of teenage guys into his life. We played basketball together, went out to eat together. He demonstrated what it meant to live as a Christian in those environments. What an amazing start to my spiritual journey! I wish every new believer in Jesus Christ would have a similar beginning.

Discipleship as Jesus exemplified is relational at its core. It possesses an informational component, but it’s more about transformation than information. We can’t control who decides if they want to be discipled or not—that’s a lag measure. The lead measures include me as the leader reaching out to a few people and inviting them into a discipling relationship; our team taking that on, and then cascading the approach to the people we lead. Finding a few Ricks, showing them the ropes, and then cutting them loose.

Preaching & teaching that connects

We have a tsunami of information at our fingertips. The problem is, we often don’t know what to do with that information. We don’t always understand how to make it work in our day-to-day existence. A new friend of mine named Andy Swart taught me the following about this lead particular lead measure:

  • Know the word – Effective talks start in the study. Prepare thoroughly and prayerfully. Microwaved talks rarely move people. Let the message we preach work on us first.
  • Know your people – It’s takes more work to preach in the language of our hearers, but we can do it as long as we practice it diligently. Discover their problems and preach with those problems in mind.
  • Know yourself – Some pastors fall into the trap of denying their God-given wiring and gifting. In admiration for our favorite preachers, we can easily drift into imitating them instead of embracing how God designed us individually to preach and/or teach. I tried imitation once. As a young youth pastor, I attempted to preach like the fiery revivalist R.W. Schambach. Worst sermon I ever preached. Know how God has wired you, and then be true to that on the platform.

The lead measures for preaching and teaching are know the word, know your people, and know yourself. The lag measures? The response of your listeners.

These four possible metrics are not exhaustive. Many more exist. But in this brave new world we’re living in, I fear if we try to reestablish the old metrics which were primarily lag measures, we’ll miss what God is trying to teach us: Work on what you can control . . . plant and water (lead measures); and trust Him for what you can’t control . . .  the results (lag measures).

The new metrics hold the promise of more peace for pastors; they require more faith; and they keep the credit for the results where they belong—squarely on the shoulders of Jesus.

Rooting and praying for you as wrestle through the new normal,


John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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