United Methodist Clergy around the United States have turned in their statistical reports. Some call it “A Necessary Evil.” Others call it our “church metric.” Others merely think of it as a big, ol’ pain in the butt. I used to think of it that way. I used to get really worried about whether or not the numbers would all add up; if the membership figures and attendance, and giving, and spending would be, not only an accurate portrayal of the church, but a favorable one.
I’ve gotten over that. Now I just try to see the sea of numbers as tool to understand how the church is engaged in the world. And it doesn’t take me all that long to complete anymore.
But there are things the numbers really don’t tell. And that makes assessing them challenging. It’s hard to measure discipleship or growth when we’re concerned more with the number of folks in the pews. Stephen Lutz, a few year ago, suggests we move from “Head Counting to Seed Spreading“. While the post was originally written with college ministry in mind, it’s still appropriate for us today:
The missional approach also changes how we measure success. Traditionally, our metric of success has been pretty simple: “How many people are you getting?” We look at our head counts as the source of our success and legitimacy.
A missional approach knows things aren’t so simple. What are a few hundred people among 40,000? What are 50 people among 5,000? The need is so much bigger, and fruitfulness will need to be measured by things other than weekly attendance. We should be figuring out ways to assess how well we’re doing at discipling people for lifelong fruitfulness. We all measure things, and we all keep score. But are we counting the right things?