How to track TRUST to diagnose the health of small groups

Posted by Boyd Pelley on 2/7/23 2:00 PM
Boyd Pelley
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Steth2A few weeks ago, coinciding with the new year, I started a series of blogs related to the difference between tracking something to achieve a goal and tracking something as part of an ongoing relationship.  So far we've looked at demographic data and guest follow up tracking.  In this article we look at tracking adult small groups.

Most pastors encourage adults to be in small groups as an important step in their spiritual growth or discipleship process.  However, once the data comes in and pastors realize that small group enrollment has a direct effect on giving and worship attendance then there's a temptation to make small group tracking a goal to achieve rather than a spiritual formation relationship to develop.  I know this because I lived it.

One church I served was growing fast and needed the adult education space for children.  It was my job to help transition adults to groups that met off campus. 

For years we had measured average weekly group attendance compared to average weekly worship attendance.  When we moved groups out of the building it was a huge challenge to capture data, but we did it.  When we analyzed the data we realized that our ratio of group attendance compared to worship attendance was tanking.  This was not good for job security.

A common solution for many churches facing the same problem is to stop tracking attendance in groups and only track enrollment.  This sets them up for a very agreeable metric of people enrolled in groups compared to average worship attendance.  This is tracking groups to achieve a goal.

However, I did not have that option.  Through Churchteams we developed an incredible system to get the data of weekly attendance from all our off-campus as well as our on-campus groups.  Email me if you want more on that.

From that data I realized that the major difference (data-wise) between on-campus and off-campus groups was frequency of meeting.  On-campus groups always met.  Off-campus groups were more sporadic. This really messed up the weekly attendance numbers.

To solve this, we add up the average attendance for every group in a month whether they met once or five times.  This is a far more informative metric than either average weekly attendance or enrollment.  This is still more goal-oriented than relationship oriented, but it set the stage for insights to come.

A business friend leading the small groups ministry in his church called me one day and asked if I thought TRUST would be a good metric for small groups.  He had been doing a lot on this topic related to team-building in business.  I had never even heard the question before in the church small group context, but the Bible says a lot about trust and relationships, so I said, "absolutely."

Then, he pointed out that TRUST is built by consistency and asked if we could measure consistency in small groups.  We already had the data (average attendance for a group per month) and just needed to divide that by the enrollment to come up with a group consistency rate.  We built this metric into Churchteams and discovered that you could track the relational environment of every small group by tracking its consistency.

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The result is the ability to order small groups from least to most consistent.  We learned that small groups of up to 12 that averaged 80% or more were strong and healthy (and a great place to get new leaders).  50% to 80% are doing fine.  But, groups that averaged less than 50% consistency often have relational issues that provide spiritual growth opportunities (okay, conflict) that coaches and staff can help address.  Larger groups have lower percentages for each of the three categories.  

Churches market small groups as the arena for spiritual development.  But, the metrics we often use turn this objective into little more than a goal to connect people to groups. 

The use of technology has come a long way in recent decades.  It's time for us to use it to help us think differently about ministry, less goal-driven and more relational.  A great example is using it to listen to and diagnose something like TRUST which is so foundational to the health of disciple-making small groups.

Tags: Groups, Reports

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