Tag Archives: membership

Butts and Bills: Changing the Metric System

ImageNote: I did NOT say changing TO the metric system! This is not about arguing the virtues of centimeter and deciliters over the arcane English distances and amounts. I already have a functioning grasp of using the other side of the ruler.  I know how to calculate area and circumference. What I am no longer as clear about is how to measure ministry.

A number of years ago I was confronted with the reality that I struggle to connect with adolescents (I know this comes as a surprise to all those people who continue to describe me as being rather adolescent!). I was leading a Confirmation Camp, who purpose was to engage young teens in the spiritual questions of life. It was at best a miserable week. I had one young man who was a consummate bully and I had to pull him out of the community in order to assure that he did not ruin the experience for those he selected as victims. That was just the largest example of a series of mishaps and disappointments that clouded that week for me. I couldn’t see how any participant could have survived that week and come away with anything like a holy or spiritual experience.

Years later I was back at that same camp, having coffee with that summer’s staff. I told this story of the most miserable week of camp I ever had when one of the counselors looked at me with disbelief. She said, “I was at that camp and it changed my life. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that week!” Obviously the metrics I was using did not measure everything that occurred in that week long ago.

This comes to mind because I think a lot of churches are using the wrong metrics. We count people in the pews, and dollars in the plates or on the pledge cards. We count it as success when one or both increase and use it to diagnose malady when they don’t. I think the accusation of the non-churchers is accurate when they say we are obsessed with numbers.

Instead of filling seats and meeting budgets, what if we measured our attempts at fulfilling our purpose? How have we offered to our culture a positive alternative Christian spirituality? How have we embodied the radical hospitality of Christ for our neighbors? When did we seek a deep understanding of our spiritual neighbors of other faith traditions? Who (besides ourselves) have we engaged in conversations of meaning and hope?

These metrics are less quantifiable than butts in pews or bills in baskets. Nonetheless, I think as we seek to go boldly onward through the fog they are far more important. Butts and bills are about maintenance. How and When and Who are about being faithful to our calling: why are we here as a community and how are we living that out? We desperately need to change the metric system.