Small Church Enemy Number #1: NUMBERS

Wanted: A pastor who will lead good, God centered worship and increase attendance. Needed: Pastor will assist session with growing the church. Panic: Our denomination has lost half of its membership in the last 60 years!!!!!!

Those first two sentences come from some Church Information Forms that I was reading the other day (I like to browse them from time to time, not feeling the call to leave my current position). The last seems to be the response to a report from Louisville about the declining membership of the church.

Why do we get so caught up about numbers? This is a question that I have had to ask my session two or three times a year when they begin to talk about membership. It seems that in this culture of church that we are currently saddled with the only measure of success is how full the pews are or how many names are on the membership roll.

For small churches it makes a bit of sense I suppose. Each member lost is truly noticeable. Not only has part of the family gone, but once you have less than 100 members the countdown ensues. Marge died-99. Sam passed-98. The Monroe family moved-92.

Sure, numbers matter but why are they the be all and end all? Every few months I have to remind my church that we are doing great local mission, keeping the doors open and fully participating with Presbytery and the denomination through per capita and mission giving even though most of the membership is retired, and none of them were the usual doctors and lawyers with big tithes. Yet my congregation in some ways see themselves as failures because that line on the statistical graph is trending downwards.

And there it is: the statistical graph. Every year we fill out our little statistic report and send them in to the denomination headquarters. Numbers are crunched, trends noted and a report issued on the state of the church. That report is released and wails and teeth gnashing go up at all that has been lost.

Sure the census works for the government and I can understand that Louisville needs to find out what the numbers are, but is there not a better way to look at the state of the church? Why are we stuck in a corporate model? Where is God in those numbers?

For all the time that we spend on compiling the report on the state of the church, can we not also compile stories, lists, anecdotes and quotes about where God is moving in the church? Why can’t we at least see some statistics on how many new mission projects were started? From the smallest community garden to the largest denominational project there had to have been at least a hundred new efforts, if not more.

But even that would look at numbers as the goal of the church when the church’s only goal should be to spread the Word and love of God wherever the Spirit leads us.

I don’t have any answers, but maybe if well all put our heads together we can come up with a better measuring stick or just decide to through the stick out and just do what we are called to do: be the church.