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Gil Rendle in his book Doing the Math of Mission writes:

Let’s begin with the simple recognition of the necessity of counting as a responsibility of leadership.

One definition of leadership is the ability to draw an accurate and honest picture of reality.

In most contexts this cannot be done without counting.

Despite the importance of counting many pastors have an aversion to doing the “math of mission” especially when it comes to budgets, butts, and buildings (the traditional big three). There’s good reason for this aversion since counting those numbers rarely reveals missional health. 

So, what numbers should be counted to identify missional health? A good place to begin is with three numbers every CRCNA congregation reports to the Yearbook. They include persons enfolded through evangelism, number of children baptized, and persons transferring in from non-CRC’s. The Church Renewal Lab has labeled the sum of these numbers as a congregation’s Church Vitality Index (CVI) [evangelism + baptisms + non-CRC transfers = CVI].

Each of the above numbers highlights an important element in the missional life of a congregation. The number coming through evangelism tells if a congregation is Gospel-centered, has members trained in sharing their faith and is connected with near-neighbors. The number coming through infant baptism tells if a congregation is ministering effectively to next generation families. The number transferring from non-CRCs tells if a church is non-insular and creating an atmosphere of exceptional hospitality.

The Church Renewal team has tracked congregational CVI’s in the CRCNA for the past decade and has concluded that a CVI of 30 or more persons a year (or 10% of membership) demonstrates hopeful signs of missional health. A CVI of 40 or more indicates unusual missional vitality and a CVI of 50 or more places a congregation among a small handful of leaders in our denomination when it comes to missional passion.

If you are interested in seeing your congregation’s CVI numbers simply contact the Church Renewal Lab team at [email protected]. Please note that CVI numbers are a “lagging indicator.” In other words, they reveal, after the fact, things that are true of a church. They underscore the statement, “We are perfectly structured to get the results we are already getting.” Changing a church’s CVI score doesn’t happen by wishing it were so. Changing CVI demands changing congregational culture and strategic thinking. 


When counting our numbers each year, we struggle over the definition of evangelism. We welcome people into membership in the church who have not been part of a church for many years. They are not transferring from a non-CRC church. Still, we wouldn't say that they were new believers. They were believers, separated from their community. This group doesn't seem to fit either label. It seems that there may be a benefit to creating a fourth indicator.

Ditto for the context in which I currently minister. In rural, Midwestern America, the missional edge is much more with what Barna calls the "prodigals/nomads/exiles" - rather than than the formally "unconverted". It is with the "dechurched" not the "unchurched". To quote a Barna 6-3-13 article:

"Over half of Millennials with a Christian background (59%) have, at some point, dropped out of going to church after having gone regularly, and half have been significantly frustrated by their faith. Additionally, more than 50% of 18-29 year olds with a Christian background say they are less active in church compared to when they were 15."

I just had a conversation with two such individuals a half hour ago who are dealing with a lot of past pain and hurt. When they come back into a church community and find healing and a new start - they don't show up in a CVI - but I would suggest they still reflect a sign of vital kingdom ministry for which we should give thanks.


We also struggle with a definition, but it is the definition of "member". We have a significant number of people who come to church pretty much every Sunday, and we consider them a member of our church family. But they do not, and do not want, to go through the formal membership process. That seems foreign and unnecessary to them. 

I'm not saying we never go through the formal membership process - we do. But it seems wrong to narrow the definition of "member" to that piece of paper when we're talking about people who have been beloved members of our church family for years.

 Is this Church Vitality Index formula a valid measure of a church’s missional health?  Consider which of these two churches is responding most faithfully to Jesus’ commission on the Easter Sunday evening in John 20:  

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.


Church A has a 50 year history in a neighborhood which over the past 20 years has transitioned into a largely Spanish-speaking population, most of whom are first generation immigrants.  Most members of the congregation have chosen to move to newer neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, where many have joined Church B.   But around a fourth of the members have remained committed to Church A—either because they were not financially able to move or/and because they sensed a call to remain a presence and witness in the older neighborhood.  Most of these people are past childbearing years, so there are few child baptisms.  Language and preferred worship style are barriers to bringing in new residents in the neighborhood, so there are few transfers or converts joining the congregation.  Nevertheless, members have actively sought to welcome and become acquainted with new residents.  Most of this is done by personal contacts and conversations, but periodically a bi-lingual event—concert, informative discussions, talent shows, games and always with food—is held at the church building to which many in the neighborhood now show up.  At some of these events the four Latino congregations in the area are invited to publicize their calendar and make literature available, Recently a fifth church has begun and worships at Church A’s facility on Sunday afternoons.  Members have also organized an ESL class, with day care for young children, which meets two mornings a week at the church.  When it became evident that undocumented immigrants had become very fearful over changes in government policy, a men’s Bible Study group decided to approach the city council seeking ways to modify or at least clarify things so as to relieve some of this anxiety.  The church’s budget includes a sizeable benevolent fund to be available for basic food, utilities, and transportation needs that become evident among neighborhood families.


Meanwhile Church B has grown rapidly, mostly through younger families with children, so child baptisms are monthly happenings.  People are joining from a variety of denominational backgrounds, and since many adults do not have a baptismal record they too agree to their being baptized upon joining.  The leadership of the church is pre-occupied with planning a building expansion, helping new folks assimilate into the fellowship and hiring staff to plan and organize activities.  The vision statement of the church is primarily about attendance projections along with the building space and fund-raising needed to facilitate this growth.

As the author of "Keeping Your Eye on Your CVI" I'd like to make another try at speaking into the CVI.  

As I read the helpful and thoughtful comments made about the article I heard folk saying "numbers should not be the measure of ministry."  To that I say a hearty "amen."  Numbers cannot capture the full story of an authentic missional move.  I was reminded of that during a recent visit to several Northern New Jersey churches who's Yearbook numbers do not reflect the vibrancy of their after school programs, half-way houses, investment in local neighborhoods, discipleship programs, youth projects, dynamic Gospel preaching and the like.  I was humbled by what I discovered.


So numbers cannot be a measure of ministry but they are often a helpful reflection on aspects of ministry that need our attention in the same way that high cholesterol numbers are a call to action even if a person feels entirely healthy.  

Take for example one of the CVI numbers; namely, persons coming into the life of the congregation through evangelism.  If evangelism is defined as persons who were disconnected from faith and faith family who are now connected to faith and faith family and if that number is a small handful over an entire decade then those numbers may indicate the need for a congregation to focus on a more intentional discipleship pathway.  In other words, the congregation may be good at building bridges from the church into the community but not so good at building bridges from the community into the church.  Evangelism numbers can identify this concern and lead to practical solutions to an important ministry opportunity.

Numbers, rightly understood, are a friend to ministry leadership. They provide the opportunity to increase urgency, focus resources and develop a renewed vision of becoming intentional missional congregations that make more and better disciples.




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