Part of the general buzz I heard during the Leadership Summit on Wednesday was suspicion regarding the metrics that have been chosen and identified by the Call to Action and the Council of Bishops for evaluation. Some of this suspicion is certainly due to fears regarding how the data will be evaluated, and concerns about punitive responses to inabilities to increase the numbers. But much of the concern seemed centered in the fact that the data points being evaluated are in fact the same data points that have been used for the past 20-50 years in evaluating ministry. There seemed to be a disconnect for there is all the language of doing a new thing, and yet it seems like we are being told that the same old thing is what will lead us to new vitality. That is possible, for it could very well be that the old thing has been ignored and needs to be reconsidered. Yet, there is almost a sense that this set of metrics has been tried and found to be wanting, and that maybe new measurements would be more helpful.
I have written here before that I think the most important thing in the entire Call to Action report is the parenthetical definition of church vitality that is for the most part lost in the pages of the report. That definition, which to me gives much more direction that the indicators of vitality, defines vitality as:
“…the dynamic, forward leaning, state of engagement that connects people to God, each other, and the world in profound ways.”
It hit me this morning that the proposed metrics struggle to meet the goal of vitality because they fail to be forward looking. Things like church attendance, small group participation, etc. are important for the provide a snapshot of where we are in a moment, but by the nature of the data they collect they always are looking back at how we did rather than where we are going. Looking in the rearview mirror is helpful in evaluating the effectiveness of what we have done at a particular point in time, but provides no indication of where we are headed nor if we have a road map for how to get there. Without some sense of a future orientation of a congregation, bishops and cabinets (and pastors as well) can’ really discern whether a congregation’s slowing down is due to a major malfunction or simply a case of not having one’s foot on the gas. In the latter case, it could be that all the connection needs to offer is a simple push, while in the former case, major work may be required to keep the church from life in the scrap yard.
What are examples of forward leaning metrics? Here are a few possibilities:
There are, of course, many other metrics that could be considered that are more forward looking, that recognize the dynamism of the congregation, and consider the state of engagement that leads folks to be connected to God, one another, and the world in profound ways. What are some of the metrics that matter for you, which you think provide indications of potential vitality, and which lean forward with anticipation to where God is leading us?
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