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A metric worth measuring

November 02, 2015

Church metrics continue to be a moving target of evaluating the health and effectiveness of our churches. I’m reminded of that fact today as our conference journals hit mailboxes and we were bombarded by statistic upon statistic from the local churches across our conference. These numbers (we believe) offer a snapshot of how healthy (or not) our churches are. We look at things like number of new members, professions of faith, baptisms, active small groups, pastor salaries, money contributed toward apportionments, etc., etc., etc. All of these numbers and measurements are good. They each serve an important purpose (well, maybe not all of the stats, but follow me here). 

Lately, however, I’ve been wondering if we’re missing or not fully capturing an important statistic that could tell a lot about the health and faithfulness of a congregation – and the health (or lack thereof) of the disciples we’re forming in our churches. 

Here, I don’t mean how large the membership is. 

I don’t mean how much money a church generates. 

And I don’t mean the value of our buildings. 

I don’t even mean how much a church pays in apportionments. 

You see, all of those numbers, while important, tell an inward-focused story of a congregation’s life – how it perpetuates itself and the denomination. And we’re called to be disciples and churches that focus on more than just ourselves. 

I wonder if (and how) we could begin to measure an important metric I’m calling Community Footprint. Community Footprint seeks to tell the story of how a local church is engaged with the community outside of the walls of the church building. Instead of just measuring how effective a church is at getting people inside its doors, how can we consider measuring how effective a church is at getting people engaged in ministry outside of its doors? 

For example: 

How many people are engaged in mission outside of the church walls? 

How much money (or percentage of your local church budget) is spent on ministries, missions, or causes that do not directly serve to maintain the life of the local church and its buildings? 

How many collaborative partnerships has the local church engaged in within the community? 

As the number of people not involved in local churches increases, the accountability factor for churches to be faithful should increase as well. The worst kept secret in Christian circles is that we’re far more exclusive than we are inclusive; we serve as social clubs instead of service agencies; and we worry too much about how large and powerful we are in our communities and we don’t worry enough about how lowly and servant-like we could be. And the ways we measure the health of our local churches says a lot about how we prioritize being big and focusing inwardly over being mobile, self-giving, and outwardly focused. 

At some point we need to find ways to measure the health of our local churches that go beyond just being self-sustaining or self-serving (or just denominationally-serving). A church’s Community Footprint tells the story of how we succeed (or fail) to send people out into the world to serve as disciples of Jesus Christ. In other words, we don’t know how disciples are transforming the world if we ignore the need to recognize and measure involvement beyond the walls of our churches. 

So what is your church’s Community Footprint? Where are you leaving your mark in your communities through love and service? 

The Rev. Ben Gosden is the senior pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at bgosden1982@gmail.com. 

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