the weblog of Alan Knox

Michael Bay should be "Pastor of the Year"…

Posted by on Jul 7, 2007 in blog links, discipleship, gathering | 3 comments

-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.

In an article on “Out of Ur” called “The Measure of a Ministry“, Skye Jethani suggests that attendance is not a significant measurement for a church. He says:

It has become very popular to talk about “life transformation” as the purpose of the church, and numerous studies have shown that worship attendance alone does not seem to impact people’s behavior or values. (Ron Sider’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. Wouldn’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 don’t think that’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 church—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.


3 Comments

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  1. 7-7-2007

    Alan,

    We measure success in our church/community by the loving obedience of Christ followers to His mission. This is the direction I see our church moving toward… we are not there, yet.

    Our church averages over 2,000 in attendance on any given Sunday. But we only have about 600 active in community small groups… my goal is to move all who are active in small groups toward becoming part of a missional community that is focused on a population segment or people group. We organize the missional community around a core team that leads the initiative. We are developing/working on mission initiatives in six countries and three states right now… along with several local initiatives.

    The struggle before I came to the church was transitioning from a traditional fbc to a relevant community of Christ followers engaging our culture with the gospel… now that has happened for the most part… the struggle now (and reason I am here right now) is to transition from an evangelistic attractional model church to a missional incarnational model.

  2. 7-7-2007

    I struggle a little with this since numbers do represent people. The point however is, what are these people becoming, as Tim is getting at on his comment.

    So I’d rather focus on whether we’re becoming true Christ followers and let God take care of the numbers. Being Christ followers involves loving our neighbor and getting into peoples’ lives.

    We need to try to look at success more with the eyes of Christ, the mind of Christ we have, and to do so, with what success is pictured as everywhere, can surely be a challenge.

  3. 7-7-2007

    Tim,

    It is great to hear that some are not simply counting noses. I hope more and more believers seek to measure “success” by maturity instead of by numbers.

    Ted,

    You said: “So I’d rather focus on whether we’re becoming true Christ followers and let God take care of the numbers.” Amen!

    -Alan