Thursday, October 09, 2014

New Metrics

This past Sunday, Gracyn and I joined folks at a UCC church in Wailuku, HI for worship on World Communion Sunday.  We were warmly greeted by members of the congregation and by the Pastor.  As the Pastor began the announcement time (Elder who was supposed to do announcements walked in five minutes late), he looked right at us, apologized for the low attendance, and explained that the church had a food booth at the local county fair, so many people had either been working late into the night on Saturday or were currently working.  First of all, way to make visitors feel awkward by singling them out first thing, but that's beside the point of this reflection.  The question that immediately popped into my head was: Why do we pastor types ever feel the need to apologize for attendance in worship?

Is it our egos?  Do we want the visitor to know that actually we're way more thriving than that one day might exhibit?  Do we hope the folks who are there might lay a little guilt trip on the ones who aren't?

For the record, there were probably 50 people in attendance at Iao Congregational Church on Sunday, which would probably make a lot of churches feel pretty psyched.

That little moment in what was otherwise a great worship service full of intergenerational & multi-racial leadership, worldwide perspective, and a most-inclusive invitation to celebrate the Eucharist, caused me to spend much of the afternoon reflecting on the metrics we pastor types use to measure "success" in the churches/ministries where we serve (going forward, I'll just use the word church, but mean all manner of worshipping communities).

Frankly, I'm over attendance being the primary metric for churches.  In fact, I'd like it to to be pretty low on the depth chart.  As an aside, Jesus didn't have the best attendance numbers.  He had 12 guys who followed him around, plus the rest of the traveling entourage.  I'm not even sure the Sermon on the Mount drew a crowd equal to Willow Creek's weekly worship attendance.

I'm ready for a meaningful conversation about what really matters to the church.  If it's just about getting people in the door, I feel quite certain we've lost our way.  To be honest, I'd rather have 20 folks exploring scripture, engaging in deep theological reflection, and intentionally seeking to discern how best to follow Jesus Christ in the world than 1,000 people who come because the choir really nails the anthem and the sermon "just makes them feel so good about Jesus" or whatever.

Clearly, this is turning into a series of posts.  For now, here are some questions to ponder:

What metrics does your church use to measure whether you are meeting goals?
What metrics matter to you?
If not attendance, how do we decide whether we are being faithful to God's call on our communities of faith?
What would it look like for church to embrace smallness?
Is there an ideal size for a church?
Is there a number at which churches might follow a missionary impulse to reach out in new ways?

As always, I welcome the thoughts of anyone and everyone.