At one point in my life, I was a part of a church with a pastor who was obsessive-compulsive about how many people showed up to church on Sunday morning. He would stand in the back of the auditorium until right before he preached for the sole purpose of counting heads.

The problem is, he was never a very good counter. I checked his math a couple of times, and he was almost always good for a 20-percent increase in whatever number I came up with.

A reaction against pastors like that is the reason a lot of people really shy away from tracking any kind of numbers in church.

I think that's a shame. I'm all about numbers - so long as they're the right numbers for measuring what you're trying to measure.

If you're trying to measure spiritual growth, nickels and noses may not be the best data-points to track. But if you're trying to gauge the overall level of generosity at your church, those numbers might be helpful.

The potential for abuse is not an appropriate reason for neglecting something altogether.

If you don't have some way of tracking progress toward your goals (whatever they are), the only thing you ensure is that you will never know when (or if) you reach them.

Furthermore, the fact that you don't measure something officially does not guarantee that it won't be measured unofficially. For example, the church where I currently serve does not officially count noses on Sunday morning. Up to this point, we haven't felt like that metric helps us measure what we want to measure, so no one on our leadership team has ever counted heads on Sundays. But all of them could tell you that we saw a downward attendance trend 5 years ago which has been trending back upwards with primarily young families for the past couple of years.

How do they know? Because everyone is keeping track; they're just not doing it officially.

Sometimes (like in the above case) that's okay; we've intentionally decided that attendance is not going to be a primary criteria for our decision-making. Sometimes, though, it can lead to faulty assumptions based on visceral data rather than the facts.

If you're going to use a criteria to make your decisions, numbers are important. You need to make sure you have an accurate picture of what the data for that criteria looks like. If you're not, it doesn't matter whether you have accurate numbers at all.