Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Number's Game?

Somewhere on the blogosphere (forgive me for not giving full credit I could not find the original post) I came across this website for the North Alabama Conference of the UMC. This "dashboard" as they call it gives weekly updates for attendance, baptisms, professions of faith, total membership, and apportionments paid. Participating churches, I do not know if participation is mandatory, plug in number weekly and the corresponding measurement device responds accordingly. Also, if a church does particularly well or poorly they are placed on a kind of honor roll or delinquency list. I watched the instructional video on the website and the narrator claimed that this is a tool to measure the life of a church, district, and the conference as a whole.

My first question is this, can we judge the life of a church, district, or conference only by statistics, which is the only thing displayed on this website? My answer is an emphatic no. Larger churches in larger cities are by their very nature going to bring in more members, attendance, baptisms, etc, of course the inverse is also true. Numbers do not tell the whole story. Numbers do not tell of the love that is in a community. Numbers do not tell of the number of hours spent helping those in need. Numbers do not tell of the importance of a local church to a community.

That is not to say that numbers are not helpful and that a website like this does not provide some motivation for growth. However, the Church should not be just about numbers, but is seems more and more like numbers are all that count. At charge conferences and year-end reports the statistics are very important, maybe too important. We spend too much time treating the Church like a business where the only thing that counts is the bottom line. This is unhealthy and in a lot of ways unfair. The small churches will always be at a disadvantage. Growth is vital because a church that does not grow is dying, but judging a church strictly by the numbers does not tell the whole story.

All that being said, I am looking at this as an casual observer without any direct knowledge of why this system was implemented. I do not want to make absolute claims without all the facts. This is my opinion from my limited view.


TN Rambler said...

I have to wonder what Bishop Willimon's dashboard would say about my congregation. I am a local pastor serving a church in Holston just a mile from the Alabama border. We worship between 35-50 on any given Sunday. In my year here, attendance has been flat. No professions of faith, yet. Have one baptism coming up before the end of the month. Yet, we operate a food pantry that has seen a 40% increase in the number of people served in the past year and we're currently serving over 1300 (distinct) people each month. Before each distribution on the first and third Friday, we hold a worship service for those who wish to attend. Usually there are 20-30 folks who are being served by the food pantry who will attend and receive communion (if they wish). These folks feel free to contact me when they need pastoral care.

Seems to me that Christ is being offered and the congregation is passionate about feeding the hungry. But just what would the dashboard have to say about us? Honestly, I could care less.

Sandy said...

I still haven't decided how I, as a North Alabama pastor, feel about the dashboard yet. I found it to be a fabulous resource before I started at my new church because I could get an idea of about what kind of attendance I could expect.

At annual conference this year we got a big speech about "the numbers game" and why it is important to be concerned with the numbers. I have to admit that after a few well-chosen examples I don't dismiss it quite as quickly. At the same time, while I understand the point of the examples and speeches, there are limits to what any one church or any person can do for a congregation and a community.

We'll see how I feel about it come charge conference time!

B Smith said...

Sandy, what were the arguments for and against the implementation of this tool?