Ratio, O Ratio, Wherefore Art Thou, Ratio?

In the most recent issue of Rev magazine, church growth dude Charles Arn spun out some interesting ratios featuring the word “should“:

5:100 – Your church, according to Arn, should average 5 visitors for every 100 in attendance.

1:4 – 1 of every 4 visitors should be a regular attendee within a year of his/her first visit.

1:7 – Every one of your members should have at least 7 friends in the church.

7:100 – Your church should have 7 groups for every 100 members-plus-regular-attenders

6:10 – For every 10 members-plus-reg-attenders, your church should have 6 role/task positions

Arn suggests that these ratios are a pretty reliable measure of a healthy church, no matter what size the congregation is. Though these figures are rooted in social science and organizational dynamics, these numbers resonate with me. (Amazing, because I’m not generally a fan of numbers.)
In recent years, Bill and I have spent too much time being church visitors. Frankly, it is almost always a miserable experience. We have visited churches that were horribly unwelcoming. They might as well have put a security guard at the door and called the building a clubhouse at the 19th hole.
We have visited churches that appeared to be friendly, only to discover that there was no room for us in the social constellation of the church, another way of saying the place was terribly cliquey and self-congratulatory. Other church leaders informed us that there would be a place for us to serve, and that place was the nursery. (Which is OK, because God loves babies, but it’s not OK, because they never really wanted to know who we were, but only wanted us to plug a hole in their schedule.)
And we’ve visited churches that offer us a bunch of spiritual coworkers, but are too busy to nurture discipleship-type friendships.
The church isn’t called to have the relational dynamics of an elementary-school playground, high school cafeteria, or a Michael Scott-managed office.
I think Arn is right.
Beyond Arn’s number crunching, I believe Scripture calls us to be counter-cultural in some socially-profound, agape love ways. I am contending in prayer for this, in my own life and in the life of the church. It is not an ideal. It is in our DNA as members of the bride.
Agree? Disagree? Let me have it.
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About Michelle Van Loon
  • Eric Nygren

    Hmmm…I flipped past that article in Rev; I’ll have to go back and check it out.

    A few things. I’m not sure that size doesn’t matter. The one that stands out to me is the 1:7 friends ratio. In smaller churches there is a smaller “pool” to make friends with. We can love each other as a family, but being family isn’t the same as being friends. In a larger church the “pool” is much greater to find people you have a connection with. (Just as in a larger church there seems to be a greater distribution of gifts and talents, i.e. multiple musicians etc.)

    The other tricky one is the 1:4 visitors who stay. If someone could please tell me how to get people to stay! As a church we’ve been reading together Mark Dever’s book “What is a Healthy Church?” (excellent by the way) It’s a good reminder that no church is the perfect church; our goal is to be healthy. If only we could get every visitor to read that book. Too often I think people are looking for the “perfect church”. On any given Sunday I don’t think any church comes close to being perfect. And we get so few opportunities with visitors!

    That’s what I think.

  • Michelle Gregory

    Michelle,
    I always get a little wary when someone says a church “should” be this way or that. The only should I would want for my body of believers is “we should be walking with God,asking Him what *He* wants for *our* body” and not trying to copy what He’s doing in other bodies.

  • Pastor D

    From a medium sized Lutheran parish in rural Indiana these ratio numbers actually fit us. The last two however…

    7:100 – Your church should have 7 groups for every 100 members-plus-regular-attenders

    6:10 – For every 10 members-plus-reg-attenders, your church should have 6 role/task positions

    We average about 250 per Sunday and we do not have anything near the numbers the author suggests. Yet these are thoughts and points to ponder. But again, rural people are not necessarily interested in programs…truth be told we have about 7 groups known as “families”

  • Michelle Van Loon

    In larger churches, programs often serve as connecting points, though these programs often net people lots of shallow acquaintances rather than the kinds of friendships that fit the 1:7 ratio. People don’t need more stuff to do.

    Pastor D and Eric, both of you pastor rural congregations. I loved Pastor D’s comment about 7 of his church’s groups actually being FAMILIES. Arn probably wasn’t thinking about families in computing these social science ratios. But they are the essential social structure, aren’t they?

    Most of us want someplace where they know our name and they’re always glad we came (you know, like the ficticious `80′s bar, Cheers). The copying to which Michelle refers will never ever net authenticity. If a church uses stats like this to re-calibrate programs so they don’t “lose” people, they’re missing the point – and there will be little lasting fruit.

    I appreciated the stats because I’ve felt very lonely in church, and the stats validated my own biased observations. However, I want to be a part of an organism, not an organization. And I know you commenters (and all you lovely lurkers) do too.

  • Terra Hangen

    I very much relate to this post since I spent a few years recently looking for the right church for me, after I decided I needed to leave the church where I had been a member for 15 years.
    I am happy in the church I found recently.
    It is almost like a marriage, IMHO, finding the right church.
    We give and we receive so much as members. I wish you success in finding the right church home.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Thanks, Terra – Your analogy of marriage when it comes to a church is a good one. I think that’s why leaving one where you’ve been involved can feel like a divorce.

    We’re enjoying our new church. I hope we never have to look for a church again.


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