What do you count at church - ABC or DEF? 

When I was a child, sometimes during church services I would look at the hymn book and count the number of words in the hymns we were singing.  I don't do that any more but I still count when I go to church.  I think we all do, even if it is subconsciously:

  • We look at the number of people in the service and compare it to the number of people who were at the last service
  • We look at the buildings and compare their size and condition with what we think they should be;
  • Especially when finance reports are distributed, we look at the income and expenses to see if we have enough money.

While we might count these things subconsciously, those in church leadership positions often count and track these numbers explicitly.  They are the ABC's of Church Growth - Attendance, Buildings, and Cash.

To some extent it is necessary to count the ABC's but they can sometimes give misleading information.  
  • Our Attendance might be going up, but if it is because three local churches have shut down and 50% of the people have come to our church and the other 50% have stopped going to church it might not be as good it seems.
  • We might have appropriate and well maintained Buildings but this might because we have sold the church manse and our minister can no longer afford to live in our neighbourhood and so it might not be as good as it seems.
  • Our Cash balance might be healthy, but if it is because of income from the bequests of previous generations or because we happen to be located in a wealthy suburb rather than a poor suburb, it might not be as good as it seems.

Jesus seemed to be focused on making disciples (Matt 28:19), sending out workers on mission (Matt 9:38) and seeing fruit (Matt 13:23).  The problem with counting Attendance, Building and Cash is that they only indirectly measure these things.  And sometimes these numbers can be affected by things that have little to do with what Jesus focussed on.  

So to more directly measure what Jesus focussed on, I think we need to count the DEF of Kingdom Growth and not just the ABC of Church Growth
  • Discipleship
  • Evangelism
  • Fruit

There are various ways that this could be done.  The way we attempt to do it at Encounter is to count the following three things every six months:
  • The number of people in discipling relationships - personal relationships where people intentionally process what God is saying to them and how they can respond.
  • The number of people in our missional communities - mid sized groups focused on a specific local mission.  This is the way we attempt to measure how many people are involved in local mission - its not the only measure.
  • The number of people who have come into the life of our church from non-churched and de-churched backgrounds.  
    • Now we also track transfers.  Transfers can be indicators of church health and transfers can sometimes help people get into a congregation where they can make the most impact for the Kingdom of God.  But we are careful to distinguish between transfers and Kingdom Growth that comes from people coming into our church from non-churched and de-churched backgrounds.

So the next time you are in a service and find yourself counting the size of the congregation, why not pause and wonder how many of those people are involved in discipling relationships; how many of them are engaged in local mission; and how many of them might have come into the congregation from non-churched and de-churched backgrounds.  It can change your perspective because WHAT WE COUNT GETS THE ATTENTION.  And as we count different things, it leads to different prayers and different ideas about what to do next.  That has certainly been my experience.

photo credit: marfis75 counting IIII (cc) via photopin (license)