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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked pastors, “How’s the financial giving going in your church?” And they reply, “Giving is great!”

Too often it’s not. What’s actually happening is that attendance is up (which makes pastors feel better), and a few people are giving at a high level. Since a large percentage of the church budget is being met, all seems well from a giving perspective.

But too often pastors don’t know about underlying problems because they are missing some key data points that more fully tell a church’s generosity story. They need metrics that show the giving patterns in the church.

I discussed this issue recently with David Thoroughman, CEO of the donor analytics firm MortarStone, a company that helps churches maximize their financial potential. He shared three key giving metrics that tell church leaders how they’re really doing.

Giving units

Thoroughman says the first thing to know is the performance of the giving units in your church. He defines a giving unit as a person (or household) that gives $200 or more per year to a church’s general budget. Thoroughman’s research shows that 99 percent of a church’s total funding comes from people who give $200 or more a year, but those giving units represent only 55 percent of the total attenders.

That means 45 percent of people who attend weekly and engage with ministries are giving less than $16 a month!

For perspective, Starbucks gold card members spend $1,200 a year at Starbucks. Thus if a church’s gold-card standard is $200 a year, then almost half our people aren’t there!

“Every church leader should have a clear understanding of who their giving units are—period,” Thoroughman says. “We should be aware of who we should be engaging to help grow them on their spiritual journey.”

Giving bands

Thoroughman also recommends segmenting giving units into four “giving bands” to show the level of givers. This method allows for developing a unique strategy for spiritually discipling each level of giver.

Here’s an alarming statistic: Thoroughman says that for every 100 giving units in a church, six of them are financial leaders who give over $10,000 a year to the general fund. In other words, 40 percent of a church’s funding usually comes from 6 percent of its attenders!

What about the other 94 percent who are not giving as generously but readily could? How do you encourage and challenge them in this vital spiritual discipline? And what about the 6 percent who are pulling a huge weight financially? We owe them a strategic approach that helps care for them spiritually.

I maintain that large givers are largely underserved people in our churches. Many pastors don’t want to show favoritism or they’re intimidated by them. However, having a ministry focused toward giving leaders who largely fund the work of your church is just being wise.

“The financial leaders are uniquely blessed and uniquely positioned to carry the torch of your mission and make sure it’s funded,” Thoroughman says. “They want to be pulled in, and they want to know what they can do.”

The front and back doors

Last, Thoroughman says we need to keep an eye on giving retention—that is, how many people are starting to give, and how many are walking out the back door with their checkbooks.

Studying both the people who start to give and the people who used to give can reveal plenty about ministry programming, systems, and processes for engagement.

“Ultimately, people want to stay where they buy into the vision,” David says. “If you’re not aware of your retention rate, you have a major gap in your strategy and your key performance metrics.”

The bottom line: If we have more people going out the back door than coming in the front door, we have a problem—and it’s just a funding problem. It’s a ministry problem. It’s a discipleship problem.

“It’s not about the money,” says Thoroughman. “We don’t care about the money. It’s about, are you connected with us on mission, and are you growing people to be stewards?”

For more on this subject, see the special Leadership Network report “How Can Big Data Increase Generosity at Your Church?”

Generosity Strategies & Tactics is an ongoing series brought to you by Leadership Network thanks to a grant from the Lilly Endowment. Learn more or listen to the Generosity Strategies & Tactics podcast.