There is a contradiction at work in the church that needs to be addressed. Simply put, the passionate call for change contradicts the use of old methods of assessment.
To be sure, there has been a shift of emphasis in our assessment, from counting “members” to counting people who are active in their discipleship. We count worshipers, people in hands-on mission, and those who participate in small groups. That’s good, and it is definitely better than counting people in the nearly meaningless category of “member.”
But we are still often times just counting heads in order to determine effectiveness (or fruitfulness), and then making decisions based on those counts. We are calling for our congregations to focus outwardly, meanwhile making all of our assessments inwardly.
It is very encouraging to hear Missouri’s Bishop Schnase and members of the cabinet here in my conference talk about making decisions that are motivated by mission, not numbers. I hope that perspective continues to filter outward throughout the conference, the United Methodist denomination, and beyond. And more importantly, I hope that I can fully embrace it.
I freely admit that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to this issue. The contradiction between a fresh approach to church and a stale assessment method is nowhere more evident than in my own heart and mind. When the room is filled to capacity on a Sunday morning for worship, I always feel better than on Sundays when it is sparse, no matter what actually happens in the service itself. Lives might be changed; insights may be gained; hearts could be strangely warmed all over the place - but if attendance was 10% less this week than last, I’m not happy.
So I suppose I may be preaching this sermon to myself most of all. So here’s what I want to change about myself:
+ I want to concentrate the vast majority of my energy on the amazing patterns of Christian discipleship that are being lived all the time through so many who call this congregation home.
- In order to do this, I will need to free up a large quantity of my energy that I currently expend obsessing over numbers that have essentially plateaued over the past year.
+ I want to self-assess my ministry by determining how the people of the congregation I serve are allowing their pattern of discipleship to shape their day to day lives.
- In order to do this, I will need to be more intentional about asking and listening, providing opportunities for people of the church to provide testimony of their faith.
+ I want to figure out how to assess the fruitfulness of this congregation by determining our impact on the community of Springfield.
- I have no idea how to do this.
Those are my own goals, and what I will be sharing with my District Superintendent in a few weeks when we meet for my annual review.
And so here are the questions...
How do my goals sound to you? I’m curious to know, do other pastors also struggle with this contradiction in your own minds?
I’m also curious to know how laity assess the effectiveness/fruitfulness of the congregations they belong to. How much of a part do the numbers play in how you feel about the congregation you're a part of?
And a related question: Noting the declining commitment to attend worship and other regular church programming on a weekly basis, how does an individual Christian disciple reflect on their own fruitfulness in the stressful mix of so many competing societal influences?
- And the follow up: And how can/should the church respond to that?