"For years, Many churches have used ‘butts and bucks’ as they’re [sic] leading spiritual indicators"

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Bert Perry's picture

If many church "leaders" didn't have an "adequate" metric counting offerings and attendance, they would probably have to get to know their congregations and actually make disciples, and that would be actual work.  Who wants that?  :^)

Seriously, this is an issue that a lot of people who work in the corporate world see from day to day; leaders who really understand financials better than the business they're trying to lead.  While the challenges faced by executives and such do have valuable lessons for those in the church, it's really easy to forget why you're there.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

The conundrum is you have to measure ministry .... but (no pun intended) how?

Simple but what does it really tell you:

  • Attendance plus giving
  • It does tell you something. Particularly if both are growing.
  • It might say you have simple sheep that will follow leadership unquestionably - even over a cliff (Think the old Hammond thing - "the world's largest Sunday School")

Is a church in attendance decline less spiritually successful? Is a church that has stagnated giving a sign of stingy givers?

I'd like to hear from S/I pastors as how they measure "success"

 

 

Steve Newman's picture

This has become more of an issue as the church has pushed for measurable rather than intangible measures of success. When I was at Central in the 90's, we began to be challenged toward making measurable goals. But with the "big data" and analytics being done today, church leaders can try to use data to "micromanage God".

Jim Welch's picture

Jim, I wonder how I can quantify success.  I can measure units time, money, milk, etc.  But my own definitions of success do not seem to matter much.  I think of Paul's standard of measuring of steward in terms of faithfulness.  Hard to evaluate ministry in terms that man would call successful.   Each pastor must evaluate his call, gifts, place of service all with a holy love for God and God's.  Ultimately for me, success would be hearing Jesus say, Well done, good and faithful servant" when I see Him in Glory. 

 

 

Jonathan Charles's picture

The leading spiritual indicator of a church is spiritual maturity.  When Paul commended the Thessalonians, it wasn't over the size of the church or the size of the offerings, but for their faith, hope and love which were all increasing.

 

Dave Doran's picture

I think the lede was a little deceptive about his point, since the point was "as the primary spiritual indicator" not as "of no value as a spiritual indicator." I wonder if anybody actually considered attendance and offerings as the primary spiritual indicator. Too much importance on them, no doubt, but primary? really?

That said, I think the inset quotes in the article represent a redefinition of church, not just assessing spiritual health. To accept, as it seems to, that lack of attendance at congregational gatherings is somehow not a spiritual indicator is ridiculous (cf. Heb 10:25). I know it is the cool thing these days to de-emphasize the gathering of the assembly in favor of "being the church" in some other way, but we shouldn't be so quick to accept that shift.

And, to throw one more idea out there, I personally have thought that there is some discipleship value in a metric that assessing the correlation between giving and attendance. Churches which have high attendance and low giving potentially reveal a lack of commitment to the Lord and the congregation (assuming that the definition of low factors in the economic context). IOW, they may have a large crowd, but they don't necessarily have a strongly committed congregation (cf. Matt 6:21). 

DMD

removed_jh's picture

As I read through the article and the responses, I agree with Dave. There are changes regarding attendance and giving that are happening within churches. But, I find myself agreeing that attendance and giving are strong indicators even if not primary ones. The comment about the Thessalonian church is well said, and is a biblical example of the Matthew 28 commission. My point is that the matrix for evaluating growth will involve all of these things.

One anecdote - a friend and I were talking last week, and both of us have arrived at the same conclusion in our settings. Speaking for myself, it does seem that more people consider the church I pastor their church home, consider me their pastor, and have an expectation (rightly or wrongly) of pastoral care than what regularly and faithfully engage in corporate worship, even 1x a week. They are not members, but do consider our assembly their home. It is not uncommon for there to be a 30-40% MIA each week in attendance, meaning each week a different set of 30-40% of our members/regular attendees may not be in the main worship service. So while the avg. attendance numbers may suggest stagnation because the avg. attendance is not climbing, the fact is more and more are missing more and more. The end result is more time in prayer and more intentional work in trying to lead people to greater fruitfulness and faithfulness in the discipleship process, understanding that church is not what I do, but who we are.

Ron Bean's picture

I remember the days of the Hyle's model of church growth very well. Techniques were employed that produced churches that were like a bird bath--"three feet wide and one inch deep" but brag on their numerical growth as a sign of God's blessing.

On the other hand there are churches whose numerical growth is shrinking or stagnant. New converts are rare and new members are usually people from other churches. These churches often defend their stagnation by adopting a remnant mentality and a "we're in the last days" attitude.

There are good churches that are growing by adding new converts and discipling them through expository preaching and one-on-one instruction. Sadly, some of these churches are looked at with unwarranted suspicion.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Dave Doran's picture

I think I may have spoken along side of the article's point slightly, though I don't think it changes my points. My comments were made on the assumption that attendance might more than just a number (i.e., how many were there), but included knowing who was there. I think the author was questioning whether average attendance is that helpful when there is such fluctuation in who composes that number. His point about the number is valid, but my concern is that a person's non-attendance (or irregular attendance) is a spiritual indicator.

Anyway, I felt like I didn't give his point a fair hearing in my earlier post and wanted to point that out. Done talking to myself (at last on-line!).

DMD

Bert Perry's picture

There are good churches that are growing by adding new converts and discipling them through expository preaching and one-on-one instruction. Sadly, some of these churches are looked at with unwarranted suspicion.

Ron, I'd love to hear you out on this one.  I think I know what you're getting at, but would love to see what you're thinking on this a little bit more.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

There are good churches that are growing by adding new converts and discipling them through expository preaching and one-on-one instruction. Sadly, some of these churches are looked at with unwarranted suspicion.

Ron, I'd love to hear you out on this one.  I think I know what you're getting at, but would love to see what you're thinking on this a little bit more.

Bert,

What I'm trying to say is that there are churches that are fundamental in doctrine, feature expository preaching and sound teaching, and are actively involved in discipling one another and are growing numerically and spiritually. Sometimes when they are pointed out, others express criticize their differences from traditional fundamentalism. Differences like:

--allowance for casual dress (not sloppy)

--differences in music (I'm not talking praise bands and drum sets)

--not calling themselves fundamental although they are in practice

--replacing Sunday evening and Wednesday evening services for small group Bible studies and prayer meetings

--and the intimation that church growth is a sign of compromise.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Ron, it sounds as if you're saying that many are rejecting fundamental brothers not because of any real Biblical argument, but rather because the culture of other churches is different.  Am I reading you correctly?

(and thank you for the word picture)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

I remember the days of the Hyle's model of church growth very well. Techniques were employed that produced churches that were like a bird bath--"three feet wide and one inch deep" but brag on their numerical growth as a sign of God's blessing.

On the other hand there are churches whose numerical growth is shrinking or stagnant. New converts are rare and new members are usually people from other churches. These churches often defend their stagnation by adopting a remnant mentality and a "we're in the last days" attitude.

There are good churches that are growing by adding new converts and discipling them through expository preaching and one-on-one instruction. Sadly, some of these churches are looked at with unwarranted suspicion.

Ron,

I would only add that there also some churches whose numerical growth is shrinking or stagnant, but who faithfully discipling the ones the Lord has added to their number. I think this is especially small in our our outlying communities. Here in AZ, Phoenix and Tucson are large cities, but most of the state is dotted with small to mid-sized towns where little change occurs in the population.Many small churches only experience numerical growth when a baby is born, and often experience numerical loss as families move to the big city for work.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

JC's picture

And start measuring faithfulness.   Churches are not businesses.   

G. N. Barkman's picture

I've given the numbers question a lot of thought over the years.  Is it time to ditch the attendance and offering reports?  I'm not ready to do so, though it's tempting when the numbers are headed in the "wrong" direction.  Who wants people talking about the decline of the church, and wondering what's wrong with the pastor?  But numbers can serve a healthy function.  If attendance was down last week, it can say to those who were absent, "Your presence was missed, and your attendance has a significant impact upon the health of the church."  Is that a wrong message to communicate?  Likewise with offering reports.  "Your giving is important.  When everyone gives faithfully, the offerings are strong.  When some fail to give, it impacts the financial health of the church."   Furthermore, offering reports are a factor in the church's financial accountability.  Granted, a detailed monthly or quarterly report is a better tool for accountability, but publishing the weekly offering numbers communicates that the offerings are carefully counted and reported, and the totals are printed for all to see.  The leaders of this church don't run things behind closed doors.  I don't think that is a bad thing.

There have been occasions when the attendance and offering reports have been a bit soft, but members were enthusiastic about the health of the church.  "Pastor, your preaching has been so powerful lately.  Thank you for being diligent in preparing your sermons."  Or, "Pastor, it's exciting to see so many new people attending church.  We're really growing, aren't we?"  I don't think our people pay as much attention to the numbers as we think.  Well taught people measure success by the impact of the Word upon their own hearts, and its apparent effect upon the lives of others.  But if the numbers are sliding, I don't want people to panic, but to feel some measure of concern.  Perhaps it will prompt them to pray more fervently for the ministry of the Word.  Perhaps it will prompt them to take more responsibility to invite others to church.  Perhaps it will prompt them to be more committed to faithful attendance.  Hopefully, they will see these numbers as one piece of useful information, but not the most important standard by which we measure success.

As we well know, growing numbers do not necessarily indicate spiritual success, nor do declining numbers necessarily point to spiritual decline.  But they are one piece of helpful information.  I have a pastor friend whose numbers were in a long, slow decline.  He is a godly, faithful man, who loves people, and is serious about preaching the Word.  His church was simply aging out.  Older members were becoming inform and dying, and few new people were coming in.  He used these numbers to prod his comfortable members into action.  "Folks, if we don't do something to reach into our community, this church is going to die."  And they started an afterschool daycare, and began to make fruitful inroads into their community.  God used it to revive a declining church.  If numbers are down, what should we do?  At the very least, we should search our hearts and pray, and that can't be a bad thing.

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Could it be that churches need to measure more?   Now totally dumping the notion of counting the offering is a no-go, and for the purpose of having enough pews/chairs, so is totally ignoring attendance.  But what about taking a look at more?  Start with attendance and giving, then....

.....how many attendees are members?

.....how many members are attendees?

.....how many immersions?  What age groups?

.....how many new members?

.....for what reasons are members leaving membership?  Death, leaving town, discipline?

.....how many non-member attendees are immersed?

.....how many members are serving actively in a ministry?

.....what is the age distribution of members?

.....are the children/grandchildren of members who are in the area are at this church?

.....how many visits has the pastor made to the homes of members (non-disciplinary reasons)?

....and the like.

Now I'll grant that some of this will get some serious pushback, but speaking as a quality engineer, if you don't align your metrics with the behaviors you want to have, you are going to get, well, the wrong behaviors.  And if you just take a look at attendance and giving, well, you encourage pew-warming, no?

Probably a bunch of other things, likely better things, that I missed, but it strikes me that this might get the discussion started regarding a certain amount of self-confrontation that a church might engage in.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

removed_jh's picture

And, so we come to the $ question ... If we stop measuring "success" and measure 'faithfulness,' do we not still have to go to the text for our metrics that help us understand faithfulness? Make no mistake, Scripture is clear that faithfulness is the result of a proper love for God which is correspondingly displayed toward others. It is discernable and obvious to those who observe our lives - see Acts 6:3; 9:36-39 and 16:1-3. Being faithful is certainly, first and foremost, the result of a properly aligned heart. But, faithfulness will be displayed in obedient fruitfulness, which is in fact observable, discernable and measureable. There is certainly enough warrant in the NT that would challenge us that, at the early levels of discipleship, attendance and giving are some of the metrics or indicators of a person's faithfulness. These are not the end all or even the highest forms of faithfulness, but they certainly are part of it. While it is true that you can be a regular, faithful attendee and giver without a genuine heart of faithfulness, it is also true that you cannot be a faithful follower of Jesus without growing in your involvement with the body, which requires your presence with it, as well as growing in the capacity to be generous as 2 Cor. 9 indicates. We should not be content with just counting bucks and butts, but neither should we relegate them to irrelevant obscurity.

Ted Bigelow's picture

In 2 Cor. 10 Paul provides two God-centered metrics for ministry that have little, if anything, to do with those things we are all tempted to measure.

Indeed, the kinds of things we usually see measured are the very things the false apostles in Corinth measured: people (2 Cor. 10:12) and money (2 Cor. 11:5-7).

In humility Paul refused such measures. Instead, first, he measured ministry by geographic sphere:

"But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you." (2 Cor. 10:13)

Second, he measured ministry by a geographic rule:

not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men's labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere [or, "rule"], enlarged even more by you" (2 Cor. 10:15)

 

removed_jh's picture

Lest someone get the impression that my comments are all about the numbers, that is not the case. The reality of progressive sanctification, however, is that when people are growing in Christ, it will be obvious. Love of God will be seen to be a reality through the obedience of the faith, namely love of others. Great commandment stuff. So, why not start the metrics back in 2 Cor. 8-9 as Paul takes the theology of grace and applies it to giving. This is an evidence of loving others. The metrics of growth can be seen in Gal. 5:19-26, as well as 2 Pet. 1:5-9 and so many other places. Consider also the commendation of the Thessalonians in chapter 1, where the metrics of growth have expanded far beyond geographic sphere or rule.

 

removed_jh's picture

here, so I will concede the narrowness of how you are using the word sphere or metric. But, I believe the greater point still stands, and that is genuine faithfulness in heart will be evidenced in genuine fruitfulness of life. So, while I do not believe in any way that attendance and giving are by themselves the end all means of evaluating whether a person is godly or growing, they will be a part of a growing person's personal and public display of faithful, gracious obedience, which is what Paul commends in 2 Cor. 8-9. 1 John is all about evidences or indicators of whether a person is truly born again and growing, being described by John in 3 John as 'walking in the truth.'

Show me a person who does not delight in being with God's people and demonstrate faith in their great Sustainer through grace giving, and I will tell you it would appear they are not growing in grace and knowledge of their Savior.

Rob Fall's picture

Hamilton Square Baptist Church (founded in 1881).  We keep (or have kept) records of the attendance on Sundays.  Not for publication, we figure it would be nice for folks in 2050 to see what the numbers were like in 2014.  The Sunday bulletin has a listing of the various budget categories (General, Building Fund, Missions, & Designated Missions) compared to the offerings made to them on a year to date basis.  The numbers are published in an effort to be as transparent as possible in money matters.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..