-How’s your church going?
-Great! We had 120 in the service Sunday morning!
-How’s your church’s discipleship?
-Wonderful! We’re up to 1500 in attendance now!
-How well is your church evangelizing?
-Terrific! We had 25 people last night at visitation!
I’m sure you’ve heard – and possibly been part of – conversations such as these. Why do we measure success and obedience by attendance numbers? If attendance is an indication of spiritual growth, then Michael Bay, director of the movie “Transformers” should be voted pastor of the year.
It has become very popular to talk about â€œlife transformationâ€ as the purpose of the church, and numerous studies have shown that worship attendance alone does not seem to impact peopleâ€™s behavior or values. (Ron Siderâ€™s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience comes to mind.) However, people who connect in meaningful and transparent relationships, the kind possible in small groups or with a mentor, do show more evidence of life change. Wouldnâ€™t this be a much better and more helpful number for church leaders to measure? Do you know how many people in your church connected relationally with another brother or sister in Christ last week? Probably not, but I bet you know how many sang songs and passively listened to a sermon.
Granted, Sunday worship attendance is easier to measure than small group attendance or relational connections but I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s why we do it. Dallas Willard has said that most churches are designed to grow their ABCs (attendance, buildings, and cash) not disciples. The ABCs form an unholy trinity; a cycle that cannot be escaped easily. Sunday attendance is vital and meticulously measured because that is what funds the churchâ€”people give money on Sunday. The money is necessary to pay for institutional needs such as buildings, staff, and programs. And, of course, these tangibles are needed to attract more religious consumers to pay for more buildings, staff, and programs.
If our primary measurements are the ministry ABCs one must ask if the mission of the church is really life transformation or institutional expansion? I believe the first step toward breaking this cycle is to change what we measure. Rather than making Sunday worship attendance the most important statistic we need to emphasize something else.
How do you measure the success of a church or the growth of a believer? By attendance? How would you attempt to measure “life transformation”? Can you separate spiritual growth and life transformation from “institutional expansion”? These are interesting questions that should cause all of us to consider our priorities and the way we encourage other believers to obey Christ and grow toward maturity.