Those of us involved in the life of the church spend a lot of time worrying about numbers. From budgets, to worship and program attendance, to membership roles, we are always measuring the numbers. You can learn volumes about congregations and church membership in the statistical reporting section of the PC (USA) website.
Numbers are indeed very useful; they can tell us about who is or is not participating; they show us areas of financial strength and areas of vulnerability. Numbers can even be a useful tool in preparing for the future. However, I wonder, can numbers truly measure the health and vitality of the church?
In a recent blog post, Seth Godin writes about the problem with using numbers as the sole measuring stick for success. Godin writes, "As soon as we measure something, we seek to improve the numbers. This is a worthwhile endeavor, if better numbers are the point of the exercise."
Godin is right, and I think his message is one that church needs to hear. Certainly, there is a better method for the church to measure its success than focusing on just the numbers. Perhaps we should start measuring life and ministry in the church in ways which are more qualitative than quantitative, way which focus more on impact rather than raw data. It would be the beginning of the paradigm shift that many have been discussing in church circles for the last few years- the shift from focusing on membership toward focusing on discipleship.
Could we measure success by assessing how creative or how innovative a program might be instead? Could we measure how something we created delighted or challenged people, or the changes it made in the life of the people or the community?
If we stay focused on only the numbers then we will most likely fail to fulfill our ordination vow to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. Frankly we won’t have a better church, but we might have better numbers.