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How might churches interact with new metrics

So, at first, this might not seem like big news.

mike denton

Conference Comments by the Rev. Mike Denton, Conference Minister

Every year, our denomination sends out information gathering forms to every local church requesting basic information about staffing, finances, membership, church attendance and more.

This information is compiled within something called the UCC Yearbook, which is used as an information directory, as well as a way of extrapolating information about the state of the UCC.

It has always been important, but not every church’s biggest priority to fill out the survey.

A new metric will be added to the next information form called “Total Church Participants.” The UCC’s Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD) gives the reason for this addition this way:

“With many congregations creating alternative models of participation and some redefining the historical meaning and criteria for membership, as well as individuals and families opting to participate in a diverse array of programs with varying frequency, the category of Total Church Participants seeks to capture the number of all regular participants in the life of a congregation, active members and active non-members included.”

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Again, this might not seem like a huge shift, at first. Many of our churches have recognized this as a change in the way we do things.

This is not just something that is a challenge for a church here or there. No church has this as a unique challenge anymore.

Many churches are setting aside the idea of membership as central or as important to their organizational identity. Thirty years ago, it would have been seen as a failure that those participants did not become members.

I remember, on more than one occasion, elder clergy talking about “how to close the deal.”

The idea of recognizing participants as a regular part of our communities is such a significant change within the life of so many of our churches that, in order to better represent who are churches are and who is a part of our church communities, we need a new metric.

This is far from the only place within church life that there is a recognition that new metrics are needed.

The Rev. Ben Guess, UCC Local Church Ministries executive minister, has long named that one of the most important numbers in local church life should be how many people a congregation has served in some way. 

The Rev. Jeremy Smith, United Methodist Clergy Person and frequent contributor to the blog “Hacking Church,” puts it this way, “It seems that the things we should be counting are about transformation, not accumulation.”

I’m not so naive to suggest that there is no connection between the traditional metrics and the emerging ones but, well, it’s not a strong one.

I have known of churches with less than 50 members that are serving hundreds in their communities and churches with hundreds of members that serve very few.

Although higher numbers may indeed increase the capacity of congregation to better serve God and God’s people it does not, in and of itself, guarantee that result.

So, how might your church interact with these new metrics?

How might they change your congregational self-perception or even challenge your vocation, governance and spirituality?


Copyright © November-December 2015 Pacific Northwest Conference UCC News


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