What Counts, Church?

Patrick DugganThis week’s post is written by the Rev. Dr. Patrick G. Duggan, Executive Director of the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund. Since 1995, Rev. Dr. Duggan has also served as senior pastor of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead in South Hempstead, New York.

Recently I read the journal from a congregation’s 90th anniversary celebration.  It included all of the mementos you would expect: Grainy photographs from the early years, congratulations from neighboring churches, politicians, and local businesses; profiles of church leaders, pastors, and ministries.  I turned quickly to the brief history of the church, redacted from previous journals, church documents, and anecdotes of succeeding generations of congregants.

Interestingly, 70% of the four page document was about the purchase, expansion, struggles, and successes of the church building.  It occurred to me that this was very similar to most other congregational histories I have read.

Such historical church retrospectives usually include budget and membership changes, data on conversions, baptisms, deaths/funerals, Sunday school attendance, confirmations, and a chronology of pastors.  There are often stories of major events or tragedies like a mortgage burning or the recovery from a fire or a weather event (also building-focused).  These are the same factoids churches track today (very similar to the data in denominational profiles).

If it is true that today’s religious climate calls for new ways of  being and doing church, then perhaps it is also true that we need to change the way we think about what counts for a church at the end of a year, a decade, or 90 years.  Money and membership statistics are important to know. However, in a time when the church must assert its relevance in society, it is important to measure effectiveness and impact as it relates to the advancement of mission.  Size may matter, but integrity—the degree to which church activity aligns with claims about God’s purposes on earth—is more important to millennials and younger generations.

The question is: How do you know what to count?  And who defines effectiveness and mission impact?

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What impact is your church having? (Image: Pixabay.com)

Firstly, if any organization intends to measure mission effectiveness, it must have a clear mission articulated in a brief mission statement.  A local church mission statement must support and advance the broader mission of the denomination and the church universal.  And equally important, the mission must be broadly known within and outside of the organization and infused in every activity the church is engaged in.

Many Christians claim that Matthew 28:16-20 and Matthew 25:35-40 outline specific objectives that church must pursue as a part of mission.  Specific Christian traditions may emphasize other biblical sources for measuring missional effectiveness.  Some churches have found that helping church members and friends clearly see the connection between giving and ministry impact increases commitment to the church and provides talking points for outreach and community involvement. Using ministry or narrative budgets, these churches tie income and expenses directly to staff and volunteer activities, often using graphics and photographs to transform the budget into a marketing tool.

Many congregations have the ability to discern what advances mission in their own contexts and to determine what must be measured to determine the effectiveness of their ministries.  In The Social Profit Handbook, David Grant urges leaders to talk through what they want to accomplish and how they know when they have accomplished it, and then use this information to create rubrics that evaluate performance.  The Mission-Driven Venture by Marc J. Lane takes a comprehensive look at the world of social impact organizations and delves deeply into the language of mission impact and effectiveness in business, civic and nonprofit organizations. (For church investment committees that may be considering impact investing, Chapter 15 of Lane’s book is an essential guide to impact investing metrics.)

Most people don’t care how many members “belong” to your church!  The world needs to know the good work—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, alleviating poverty and ending violence—that organized Christians are engaged in every day.  What counts, and what resonates for people of goodwill everywhere are the results of faith working through love.

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One thought on “What Counts, Church?

  1. Thanks so much for this! And it could be true, not only for historical mile-marks – big anniversaries – but for annual reports and minutes of meetings – True, it may be a “business” meeting, but it is “the Church” in “Business Meeting” – the business of following Jesus in his self-giving of life and light and wholeness to the world. Thank you, Dr Duggan.

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