What The Numbers Are Telling Us
First, what numbers are we talking about? The “Three B’s” of course - Buildings, Bodies, and
Budgets – evaluating our church’s effectiveness by these institutional metrics. When we are building more buildings or at least maintaining those we have, then we are an effective church. When our attendance and membership rolls are increasing or at least stable, then we are an effective church. When our budget is growing or at least stable, then we are an effective church. This is how we measured our effectiveness as churches during the Modern Era (pre-2000).
Now the numbers are pushing back. They are tired. They are tired of being used for the wrong purposes. They are tired of being held up as the gold standard for church measurement. They are tired of the hyped-up expectations and over-the-top pressure. They are tired of their identities being stolen over and over. They are tired of the misdirected attention when other things are so much more important. They are tired of being asked to provide what they cannot give. Yes, the numbers are tired of it and they won’t take it anymore. Here’s what they want us to know.
We can’t give you what you don’t have (aliveness)
So many believed (with good intentions) for so long that getting the numbers up would somehow give our congregations that which we so desire - aliveness. It’s strange when we think about it….how did we get there? How did it happen that we came to believe that increasing the numbers would give us the spiritual vitality we currently lack? I do believe that’s actually a spiritual issue, not one to be solved through organizational development.
We don’t want to be the center of your misplaced attention anymore
What’s the agenda of your lay leadership team look like? How much attention is given to the treasurer’s report, the membership numbers, and the building maintenance items? Typically (and unfortunately), the agenda looks much like the agenda for most board meetings in corporations or businesses. So, not surprisingly, over time we came to believe the numbers ARE what’s important in church. The mission of God to transform the world….well, we rather focus on the numbers.
We don’t want our identities stolen anymore
Yes, numbers are important. They just aren’t that important. Yes, they tell us something; just not the most important things. The numbers are simply reflections of other, more significant realities. When we make them our first priority, then they are asked to be something they are not. The numbers are tired of having to impersonate something far more important than themselves; the mission of God.
We are followers, not leaders
The numbers are lag measures; they lag behind what’s really happening in our congregations. The mission of God is our first priority; living into it with vigor. When we do this, then oftentimes the other people in our world who are drawn to that kind of faith community expression tend to find us. The way we are church together and in the world helps open the doors to God for them. So this is the priority, the focus, the purpose of church…making disciples who partner with God to transform this world (kingdom coming on earth). Numbers only tell us how many people want to be part of our expression of church. They lag behind more important endeavors.
We wish you would talk about someone else
Here are some suggestions from us (the numbers) for your meeting agendas. Look for examples of how people are being transformed into disciples and share them. Look for how God is moving in and through this church and share those stories. Look for who’s being drawn to faith in Jesus because of your church’s loving witness. Share stories of how your church is partnering with God to transform your community toward justice, equity, and peace. Make this your first agenda and we bet your energy and vitality will rise. If by chance, you come up with nothing when you turn to these suggestions, then talk about how you can pursue connection with God between now and your next meeting. We (the numbers) will back you up as you move along that pathway.
If the numbers could speak, perhaps this is what they would say.
Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA