This blog is all about statistics, right? So how do we measure the vitality of our congregations and the impact of our mission? We are used to some measures. Most of us count our worship attendance. I’m sure we all count the money that people give us. Yet, are people in the pews on Sunday and money in the offering the only way we should be measuring to see whether we are fulfilling our purpose? Should we be paying more attention to the deeper meaning of our work? How are we changing the lives of the people in our church and those in our mission field? And how do we measure that impact?
I have been reading Gil Rendel’s s Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness, and Metrics. I’m finding it interesting and challenging. It charts a path to generating your own vital statistics in your church. This past week, our church council took a small step in that direction. The congregation I serve as pastor decided to use this otherwise quiet time of the year to hold a mini-retreat for our church council. It’s a time when we take a step back from the details of church leadership, and focus on the bigger picture of mission and vision. As I was planning for that evening I came across a resource in my weekly Keeping You Posted email. It’s called “Be the Church: A Mission Planning Guide for Congregations.”
In fact, we’d given out some of those very items to those who pledged during our fall stewardship campaign! So, we decided to give it a try.
The first section of the planning guide is about assessing where your congregation is now in regard to actions to protect the environment, care for the poor, etc. Members of the council answered 54 questions based on church life over the last 5 years. Each of the “Be the Church” statements received a score. When we finished, we compiled our scores and averaged them.
The two areas to which we dedicated the sharpest focus were “Love God” and “Care for the Poor.” “Reject racism” and “Share earthly and spiritual resources” came in close behind. Our lowest score – “Enjoy this life.”
We’ve done some important work these past two years with a book study on Faith and Ferguson, the White Privilege: Let’s Talk Curriculum, a series on welcoming transgender folk to church from welcoming resources and a series this spring on creation care. We also started a community meal to share with food insecure neighbors. So, our first learning was that we need to spend more energy on joy!
We’re just starting part two of the guide, which is about planning for one or two measurable outcomes for the year ahead. We’ll hone them further this fall. One way we’ve decided to emphasize joy over the next year is to incorporate a time of testimony in our worship. We want to give people the chance to talk about those moments that they, like Jacob, exclaim, “Surely God is in this place!” We’re not a group that talks easily about our faith. It’s going to take some work, just as it did when we began to give people the opportunity to pray aloud during the prayers of the people. How will we keep track of how we’re doing? We decided that the more people who are willing to give a faith reflection, the more progress we’ll be making.
I hope that this post inspires more of you to use the “Be the Church” Mission Planning Guide. I’d like to see us all generate more vital statistics. Let me know how it works out!
Rev. Beth Lyon is Pastor of Glenside United Church of Christ in Glenside, Pennsylvania. She has been an Ordained Minister since 1986, serving congregations in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
[i] Gil Rendle, Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness, and Metrics (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014)