What Counts?

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This blog entry is the fourth in a 4 part series on Growing Churches in the CRC and RCA.  The previous entries can be found here.

This is the blog entry where I turn everything I said in the previous entries upside down.  We’ve looked at growing churches in the CRC - churches whose attendance and membership grew by more than 20% in a recent five year period.  We examined the characteristics of those churches and evaluated their leadership.  We’ve thought about the issues that arise when a church is in a season of growth.

But, if we dig a little bit deeper into the statistics this report is based upon, maybe we’ll find that we’re missing an important segment of living, active - and yes, growing - churches in our denomination.

I recently heard a report on a CRC in Texas, a church that was not included in the list of growing churches because its statistics didn’t fall within the requirements of growth in attendance and membership.  However, it was obvious that this church was growing, just not in the traditional way we tend to ‘count’ growth.

This CRC has spun off multiple, diverse Missional Communities, smaller worshipping and serving groups of people that embody the characteristics of the church but don’t show up on denominational statistics.  The foundational parent church was not that large but, when you count the number of people impacted through the affiliate communities they started, the church becomes up to three times bigger.

How do we think about growth?  According to our denominational statistics as listed in the yearbook, we count growth by the number of people or households that become members of our churches.  The denomination also keeps track of attendance numbers in churches, but these numbers are not published. 

Either way, we count growth in terms of people that come inside our church buildings each week for Sunday worship. Is this the main calling of a church?  Is this the church of Acts 2? 

What if we began counting differently?  What if we counted the people who came for a Wednesday night meal and GEMS or Cadets but never came on Sunday mornings?  What if we counted the people who play on our church softball team but have never worshipped with us?  What if we counted the small group that meets in one of our member's homes, even though those people have never been in the church building?

Here’s the interesting thing:  if you talk to these people, people who come for Cadets or play on our softball team but have never come to worship, they would say that they are part of our church.  Crazy, isn’t it, to our traditional picture of church ideas?  There are people on our church softball team who say that they are part of our church, even though we’ve never worshipped with them on Sunday mornings.  They are still an important part of our community.  They are in various stages of discipleship with people from our church community.  Do they deserve to be ‘counted?’  Does a church making these connections in the community deserve to have their efforts recognized through denominational statistics?  How should we count?  Or, what type of growth counts?  What do you think?  

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Let's Discuss…

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With all due respect, I think you are just playing games with numbers! We count members because they make profession of faith and seek to become "members" of the local congregation. I married many couples from the community. I required that they have a minimum of three counciling sessions and always invited them to worship. Many did and I also hears from several when they had other life problems. We also had "casual" attenders who would come randomly. All of the above considered me as THEIR pastor and our's as THEIR church. Should they be included in any "counts"? OF COURSE NOT! The local church works with many people to help/assist them...to develop relationships...often leading to becoming believers in Jesus, or who choose to make our church THEIR church (by way of profession of faith).

Regarding "spin-off" ministries, those stand on their own as "unorganized" status. Statistics are not for recognition or standing. ..they are intended to reflect the facts for each congregation.

One stat I always find interesting is total members in relationship to average Sunday attendance. Non growing churches tend to see fewer on Sunday than the number of members while growing churches tend to see MORE people attending on Sunday than they have on their membership roles.

Thanks for engaging the issue, James. 

Since you speak of recognizing the 'facts fo each organization,' I wonder why we count certain facts and not others?  We currently count how many people are members, and how many people attend Sunday worship.  I think these are important numbers and the reflect important things about a church body.  I also think there are other facts that should count: the number of persons who attend a small group but not Sunday worship, the persons who have committed to a missional community but are uncomfortable with signing their name to a membership statement (which is pretty common with people who've had bad experiences with church in the past.)  I wonder if we could count these facts too?

One reason I think these facts also count is that they reflect the work of the church and of the pastor.  If these numbers don't count, how does that influence a council's evaluation of whether the pastor is doing his or her job?  If these numbers aren't valued in the larger denomination, what would encourage a congregation to seek out new and creative ways to develop meaningful dispcipling relationships with unchurched persons?
 

Mostly I'm wondering how we can accuratly reflect the work of the church in today's changing culture and the ways the church is connecting to that culture. 

Amy, I'm not saying those stats aren't important, just that the Yearbook is not a research document and can't possibly record all the numbers that you suggest. Growing churches maintain records of all the categories you suggest and probably more, but they don't do it to post on the denominational wall for others to see. As far as evaluating the performance of the pastor, each council needs to develop their own criteria. As far as growth is concerned, it is a function of not only the pastor, but church leadership and congregation. Other church's statistics don't motivate other churches.

As to your question, "what will encourage a congregation to seek out new and creative...", the "A" answer should be because they desire to be obedient to the mission Christ gave the church..."go make disciples! ", but regrettably it is usually self preservation when they realize that their membership is in a down turn and their only hope is to turn their attention toward the communit.

The usual metrics are bums in the pew and pennies in the plate. I found that a helpful measurement tool is to count how many people are intentionally being discipled. We count the number of people that are participating in a small group, in a discipleship group or  taking a class of some sort.   We live in a culture where Sunday morning attendance is much more sporadic than it used to be, so I don't think it's an accurate way to count or assess growth.

Good point, Martin.

One article I was reading by a church growth specialist lately said that the average regular church attender in the USA today only attends church twice a month.  He suggested that we count attendance by the month instead of by the Sunday in order to reflect this change in what attending 'regularly' means.  Good food for thought (and somewhat encouraging when churches like ours have a low attendance weekend for no particular reason).

Thank you, Amy.  You are right on target here.  I appreciate your comment about "various stages of discipleship". Ultimately, disciples is the only thing that counts, because making disciples is the only task that Jesus authorized us to do.   On a related issue, we record how many people have come into the church through evangelism.  We should also ask a question like this - How many people who came into your church through evangelism three years ago are now demonstrating that are truly committed to following Jesus?   Thanks, Amy

Good food for thought. The numbers of building the kingdom don't always translate into "members." Moreover, it seems that there are plenty of professing members who never darken the door of their church, while plenty of non members are there every Sunday and participate in church activities.
I would be interested in this CRC in Texas and how they went about starting this network of "missional communities." Could you share about that?

Aaron,

I would email Jerry Hollemans (Home Missions Regional Leader)- he was the one who gave us the presentation about this church with multiple missional communities.  He'd love to connect you, I'm sure!

 

Aaron,  Victory Point Ministries in Holland is also transitioning to Missional communities.  I would enjoy meeting you for coffeE to talk about that.  In brief, VPM  is using some tools provided by Mike Breen with 3DM.    616 218-8707

 

Where is it possible to get a copy of this report on which these blogs are based?

Here is the blog site listing all the articles from Mike Breen on missional communities
http://weare3dm.com/mikebreen/we-are-3dm/missional-communities-series-fi...

I'd be more than happy to provide the full report to anyone who emails me: aschenkel@crcna.org

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