A Season of Numbers

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

September is only a couple of days away and signals many things…vacation is over, children return to school, fall church programming kicks off, and congregations hear about Stewardship (hopefully not for the first time of the year). It’s a season of numbers! Sessions, Finance Committees, Stewardship and Generosity Teams, Pastors and members of the congregations look at all kinds of statistics: 

– How many new members did we receive this year? – How many members have we lost due to death or relocation? – How many children and youth do we have in Sunday School? – How many people do we have in worship? – How much money do we have in the checkbook? – How many pledges have we received? 

Wow, that’s a lot of numbers! What do they mean? What does any of it have to do with ministry? Are we growing or declining? Are we thriving or struggling? How have we done as a congregation this year? 

In August, several of us attended The Big Tent in Baltimore. It is a denominational event held every other year when the General Assembly is not meeting. The theme for 2019 was, “Called to a Movement Beyond Institution.” Through worship, Bible study, learning opportunities, and active engagement with one another and the community, we encountered ways that the Church is at work transforming lives beyond the walls of institutions. 

I attended a workshop entitled, “Beyond Butts and Bucks: Measuring a Movement- Oriented Church” that challenged the way we are “called beyond the institution” to transform how we measure church growth – to move toward measures that transcend membership and budget. The workshop discussed a new US Congregational Vitality Survey that helps churches track growth based on seven marks of vitality. How are we growing in discipleship, evangelism, outreach, leadership, worship, relationships, and health? 

The survey focuses on the life cycle of a worshiping community. This concept has been around for a long time, and it is often presented in a diagram that looks like a bell- shaped curve, showing the stages that a congregation can proceed through in its life cycle. The diagram shows how a church grows and thrives and circles back to those phases as the result of intentional work to define its vision. When that work is not effective, the congregation may find itself declining and even struggling to survive. 

As a former survey researcher, I was intrigued by the questions in the survey and more importantly the marks of vitality they seek to measure. Let me introduce you to these: 

  1. Discipleship – How do we claim and proclaim our identity as followers of Christ? This is about how we practice our faith; how we grow our faith, cherish faith, and share our faith in the world. 
  2. Evangelism – This is simply how we share the Good News. How do we share our stories and connect it to the story of God’s redeeming love? How do we develop authentic relationships founded in Christ?
  3. Outreach – The church practices genuine hospitality by anticipating the needs of others, practicing inclusion, stepping out of the comfort zone, loving and nurturing others. Who is at the margins of your community? 
  4. Servant Leadership – All people of God are given fruits of the Spirit and spiritual gifts meant for building up the church. In this way we are called to serve the Lord and do our part in membership of the body of Christ. What are your gifts? 
  5.  Spirit-Inspired Worship – Six days we labor and toil, and on the Sabbath, we encounter the mystery of the God who longs to be in relationship with us. Do you experience awe, expectation and anticipation when you worship? 
  6.  Caring Relationships – We all want a place to belong, and people who care about us. The church provides a place where all people belong. What would a neighbor or visitor say about the caring relationships in your congregation?
  7. Health – Why do we gather as a church community? How do we practice being church together? There are several factors to consider: prayer and discernment, decision-making, pastoral health, stewardship of budget and resource, and clarity of mission.

We are being called to transform how we view the life and ministry of our congregations. It’s okay to do the numbers; but help your congregation take on a new perspective – one that sees growth in the transformational areas of your ministries! 

Deborah Rexrode
POJ Associate for Stewardship 

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