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.