Monday, July 02, 2007

How You Doin'?

How do you respond when somebody asks you, “How’s your congregation doing?”

Would you compare this year’s worship attendance to last year? Would you speak in terms of income related to expenses? Would you describe a building project or some kind of capital improvement? Would you pull out your copy of the budget and refer to particular line items?

Would you mention mission trips, classes being offered, or the style of your worship services? Would you talk about the programs you have for youth and college students? Would you highlight your children’s ministry? Or maybe you would talk about what curriculum your church is buying in order to be “relevant” to today’s young people?

(Yeah, so that last one may have crossed over the cynical line a little bit, sorry.)

I’m wondering about this question because, depending on whom you ask here at North Kansas City, you would get highly divergent answers to the “How’s your congregation doing?” question. On the one hand, I hear parishioners talk about how bad things are, how we are not generating enough income, how we might need to only include in the budget the “administrative” items and have the “ministry” items fundraise to support themselves, how we need to save our current funds for a future rainy day, and so forth.

On the other hand, I also hear parishioners talk about wonderful things are, how many new people are coming, how attendance is up, how great it is to see so many children, and so forth.

And here’s the kicker – sometimes, it’s the same people saying both things!

Maybe we would be better off if we concentrated less on answering the question of how we’re doing and more on just doing it. I feel really bad for people caught up in a business mentality who want “specific, measurable, attainable” goals to assess the success of a congregation. I know that I myself get caught in that trap from time to time, sometimes when I’m around other pastors and my competitive tendencies start to kick in. It also happens when we are feeling the continual pressure from the higher ups to have “fruitful” congregations and “effective” pastors, and we want to be able to show how we’re accomplishing these expectations, so we tend to dwell on, even obsess over, the “How’re you doing?” question.

Every now and then I would like to release that question, pretend like it didn’t matter, and just be church, you know? That would be so liberating! Or maybe answer that question in a completely unexpected way. Something Carlin-esque, perhaps.

Next time somebody asks me, “Hey, how’s your congregation doing?”

I think I'll reply, "Oh, we’re moderately neato."

Update: Cross posted here.


Lucas Parry said...

Amen Andy, preach it brother! :)

"moderately neato"

Art said...

The 'Church as a business' blueprint has failed so often and so completely that I wonder why we continue with it... I sometimes wonder why I get stuck in that mentality too.

Helen said...

I have been asked this many times in the last year and just in the last month because of all the comings and goings of ministers in our church---my answer the last 2 months and now is

Well, guess we are ok because no minister left or no minister was moved.

That has stopped the rest of the questions for the time being.

We have had 4 senior pastors in the since 2000 2000 -2002

2002-2004 2004-2006 and now one that has been year a year

People, even in the community, are always interested in these comings and goings.

Adam said...

I guess to me it is all about a balance of vision/more abstract things with strategy/more concrete things.

Because if the staff/lay leaders of the church just got together and had a conversation, that's cool but who cares unless something comes from it?

I guess the question is how do we "do" church as you say? I think the answer lies in reigning in "programming" and focusing on discipleship- which I believe you CAN measure and it's not necessarily a bad thing.

I agree that we need to go easy on all the budgets and line items and various "statements" of mission or vision or beliefs sometimes and just go out and do it. But without structure we'll just be willy nilly and the work needing to be done suffers.

Good post!

Andy B. said...

Re: structure.
I'm reminded of something Robert Martin said recently - "A cloud has structure." As in, structure does not equal rigidity. I like it!

RevErikaG said...

Rob Bell, in a sermon series he did recently, asked, "Would it make any difference if our church disappeared? (from this community?)" he asked in response to their congregation's mission-- to make a difference to the poor and hurting in their community. I'd love for my congregation to be able to answer that question with the challenge to make a difference in the community rather than what needs to be reported on the tables 1-3.
Interesting post...thanks....

Roberta said...

Very cool! I must remember that for my new appointment. In just a few days, I will be at General Conference for the Free Methodist Church of NA and find it a huge relief not to have to answer such a question since I am between churches.

Adam said...

But a cloud is ordered and complex. I agree that church shouldn't be like a business or some rigid org. chart. But again, when we sit down and figure out how to "do church" what do you end up with besides an organization? You can call it something else or intellectually frame it differently but at the end of the day a congregation that has reached critical mass has got to have people in charge.