What gets measured, gets done.
The first challenge in figuring out whether a church is successful is to articulate: what does it mean to be a successful church?
The traditional methodology, common in mainline denominations, is measuring ABC: Attendance, Buildings, Cash. As best as I can tell, these became measurements because they have numbers already mapped to them—a frequent fallback in assessment circles, but seldom a satisfactory one. (Well, seldom satisfactory to me. I have observed that there are those for whom any measurement must be a good measurement, regardless of whether that measurement illumines anything interesting.)
What do you think makes for success in a faith community? Is it that individuals:
Show up (attendance)? Participate in that faith’s rituals routinely? Use their money to underwrite the things that happen in that faith community? Involve their children? Learn more about the particulars of that faith? Make friends and provide healthy emotional support to the people around them? Work for social justice in the larger community where they live? Change the way they think of the world because they understand themselves differently in the light of that faith?
For Christian communities in particular (like churches), is it that individuals:
Feel and can articulate to others the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ? Tell the story of their faith journey to others, with additional people then feeling the impact of Christ’s grace?
I’m sure there are other ways to think about “successful church.” What I want to think about as well is—how do you measure any of this? Is someone “working for social justice” when she attends a housebuilding work day? Travels overseas for a work week? Becomes the congregation’s liaison to the housebuilding organization? Advocates for affordable housing in civic life? Is a church more successful when all its participants are advocates? Or is that weird and inappropriate, and a church is more successful when its participants are scattered across all levels of engagement? What if the person above is only serving out of guilt and not joy, does that count? And this is only one dimension out of the six complex vectors I rattled off above.
This becomes the ‘transfer of training’ problem writ large. You can see why people stop when they’ve measured showing up, showing up regularly, and the flow of donations. In fact, when I started this piece I had fully intended to pick apart all I could from this corpus of inquiry within one post, to then have a pile of meat ready for a generous meal and bones ready to render for stock. Instead, I’m nearly at the end of Post Two with lots more to consider.
Now that I’m this far along, I can see that this is a Real Project that has snuck up on me. Part of me assumes that, if I’m thinking about these things, there must be others who are already digging in, puzzling out how to build Key Performance Indicator (KPI) dashboards for faith communities. The accumulated cynicism/experience of my years makes me skeptical, however…maybe there are others, but perhaps not many others. Hm… is this project important enough to and for others that I should make sure it happens? After all, it’s been simmering on one of my back burners for more than five years.
But first, my core question for myself is: am I interested-interested? Enough to hunt down my own answers? Or am I only interested enough to listen to others’ work after they release it? At any rate, thanks for coming along on a walk that may or may not go farther! If I learned nothing else in seventh grade, at least I learned to recognize this for the cusp it is, and to take a time out.