In “Leadership Challenge #1” we explored the challenges of church programs for missional leaders. In this second installment, we’ll briefly explore the challenge of assessing transformation.
First, a question: Why are measurements in the church elusive?
You’ve likely completed many reports, participated in surveys, and been involved in conversations about the “numbers” and trends in the church. None of these conversations begin to touch on measuring transformation.
Counting v. Measuring
Perhaps we need to go back to basic arithmetic.
There is a difference between addition and multiplication. There is also a difference between counting and measuring. Gil Rendel reminds us, “Counting is giving attention to numbers. When counting, the question to be answered is ‘how many?’…Measuring is giving attention to change.” In measuring we ask, “How far have we come, over the past year, toward our goal?”¹
Can we make a statement of the obvious? We do a lot of counting in the church. We are counting and not assessing the change that has occurred as a result of our ministries. We need accountability and measurements.
We readily acknowledge accountability for growth is difficult to measure across diverse contexts and a variety of congregational sizes. Since when has something difficult stopped us from doing anything? But, we have defaulted to collecting massive numbers of “counts” instead of exploring ways to assess transformational change.
If we want to access the 25-year trends for most churches, we can. We can explore worship attendance, membership, and financial giving, just to name a few. We can also find the number of people in Christian Education classes. All of these things are good. But, none of these numbers tell us if lives are being changed, communities are being transformed, and the world more closely reflects the kingdom of God than it did last year because of the ministry of the church.
Challenges with Counting
There are several challenges with counting. At least three challenges include: what to count, not knowing how to count, and the result of only counting present challenges to missional leaders.
First, as we’ve already mentioned, counting fails to show transformation. If we want to be missional leaders, we need to find ways to assess and interpret changes in behavior, not simply participation. Counting worship attendance does not measure whether the worship experience resulted in changed lives, it simply tells us how many people were in the room. (What about that dear person who falls asleep every Sunday morning before the prelude is finished? Yes, we’ve likely counted him/her in our worship attendance for years.)
Second, the long-standing decline in mainline denominations has placed increased pressure on leadership. In some places, pressures to grow have left some failing to remember elementary school math. Some simply report numbers from last year, add groups and events that are beyond the scope of the church’s influence, and/or add ten to fifty people to final numbers. We once overheard a church leader lament, “Here’s what we know: we are consistently inconsistent in our counting.” Friends, many of us have forgotten how to count!
Third, while the local church can add to whatever measure we desire, the denominational reporting forms are not missional in nature. Not only do the numbers have little to do with disciple-making, they have even less to do with transformation. Until we are willing to acknowledge that transformation is not about people sitting in pews, but, about transformed lives, we must acknowledge we are counting, not measuring.
Here are two questions to ask to start exploring missional measures:
- How has our neighborhood/city changed in the past year as a result of our congregation’s engagement in the neighborhood/city?
- Answering this question will require talking with community leaders, police, residents, etc.
- In the past three months, how has my life changed as a result of being in a relationship with Jesus?
- How about in the past six months? Over the past year?
These are not questions to quantify, but stories to tell. May we have the courage to share our stories and the desire to listen to the ways the Spirit is on the move.
Yes, it will always be easier to count people sitting pews, signing up for classes, and the amount of money we give.
Be reminded, the kingdom of God is an unfolding reality. We need missional measures to focus on assessing kingdom impact. Share your voice, offer a listening ear, and be a part of measuring the change that is unfolding in your midst. When we have the courage to measure transformation, we will begin to understand how, and to what degree, we are fulfilling our mission.
That’s a leadership challenge we’re willing to accept!
- Gil Rendel, Doing the Math of Mission, “Counting and Measuring: A Systems Approach”