Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it most definitely is something big. Something wonderful, even.
For the past year, there’s been a great deal of buzz on the interwebs and throughout the United Methodist denominational structure. The buzz has centered on Church Metrics: The practice of reporting and responding to specific data point information. I’m one of the ones buzzing, and in a relative minority. You see, I’m one of the ones who is pretty excited about the accountability.
The United Methodist Call to Action stood at the heart of this question. With it’s defeat at General Conference, the last bastion of United Metrics-dism is found in the Vital Congregations material, a stand-alone initiative related to but not contingent upon the failure of the Call to Action legislation.
The initiative requires local churches to report key data via website for distribution to key leaders like bishops and district superintendents. The idea is for our leadership to know more about the goings-on at the local church level. But, as our new bishop recently intoned, “Vital Congregations isn’t going to save the church.”
And he is right. Expecting diagnostic metrics to fix things is like treating a fever with a thermometer. As it turns out, there’s more to waking up the churches than simply counting the sheep — something we knew all along, but couldn’t quantify. Indeed, we were barely able to articulate the alternatives to jotting down our numbers and struggling to find their meaning.
“Where are the stories of ministry? Where is the relational connection between human beings and God? How do we quantify subjective information?”
In a post entitled, Defeating the Dark Side of Church Metrics, some very helpful information has made its way onto center stage.
What does this mean for us?
Along with accountability for underperforming pastors who pad their numbers, we can achieve accountability for underperforming pastors who hit their goals, but with hollow results. You see, the real problem here is in finding ways to ensure effective pastors are coupled with effective congregations. And where ineffectiveness is discovered, then resources can be brought to bear on the situation. Pastors can be trained and challenged and held in accountability. Churches can be trained and challenged and held in accountability.
Churches that report small gains, no gains, or even losses can demonstrate meaningful ministry in the absence of physical, numerical growth. And churches that have claimed to hold fast to a “growing” ministry can still be challenged to show their work in shedding grace and love abroad in the world. Best of all, this encourages people to see the story behind the numbers, and to become story-tellers themselves: Bishops, district superintendents, pastors, and laity.
In other words, I’m excited that we have a method available (in addition to the options already on the VitalCongregations website) to articulate our narratives and give life and meaning to otherwise cold and sometimes misleading numbers.
Our job as pastors, in many ways, is to equip our congregations to tell their stories better than they ever have before. With this expansion of the toolkit, I think we have an even better chance for more churches to make a positive difference in their own lives and the lives of the communities where they are found.