At what point did simply teaching the Bible and walking alongside people in their spiritual walk become not enough? At what point will we allow God to be enough? At what point will we realize that even if our church doors close or we aren’t a mega church God will prevail?
Keep score. You need that dashboard. You need to know if you’re running low on fuel or going too fast. Don’t allow the score to keep you from God’s mission. Not all failure is bad. Pruning will take place and usually is needed for future growth. Keep God first and allow the Spirit to take care of the rest. We are not in the business of saving people or the attendance police. We are those that follow God, proclaim Jesus, and walk in the Spirit.
Next time you’re at church, VBS, a youth event, or serving in His name, look around and instead of counting heads, soak in the fact that where two or three are gathered, God is in the midst. Breathe in the Spirit on that occasion and anticipate the next time you can commune that way, again!
Cons for Keeping Score
Recently my twin sons attended a VBS in town presented by another local church. This particular VBS was all week long. On day 3 on of my sons followed his heart and in his words, “I became a Christian today!” That phrase and children and salvation is the topic for another article or blog. The VBS they attended was making a push for kids to accept Jesus and be Christians. My son raised his hand simply because they started with, “Who wants to be a missionary?” and he thinks that would be awesome to go and tell people about God, Jesus, and Spirit. Of course it ended with him being in a private room being told how to become a Christian. Did I mention he is 7? Unless I choose to ask I really cannot say if this is one of their “scoreboards.” So I won’t make that assumption, but nonetheless, it got me thinking, this is where keeping score goes wrong.
When keeping score starts to set the agenda for how you do your programs, events, or worship service, then that is a huge drawback and negative agenda. If attendance, baptisms, and/or giving begin to shape how or why we do what we do in churches we have allowed the tail to wag the dog. We must be careful to allow for things of the Spirit and God’s call for our churches to be the lead in what do and where we go.
I will also say that churches must be extremely careful when using a happiness measurement to lead us in our mission. There will be times in the life of a church when people are happy and when they are not. Trying to keep everyone happy all the time is a recipe for disaster. It is extremely important that we keep God’s heart and mission in front of our churches as our course of action.
One of the most dangerous things that churches can do is manipulate to achieve a desired outcome. Some use baptisms and salvations to keep score of their success as a church. When this is on your scorecard there is a great temptation to prey on the immaturity of children, the fears of adults, the needs of the marginalized, or the emotions of those in a difficult time. Keeping score can lead and I think has led to a foundation of fundamentalism. If you do this certain action then you will receive this certain result. And when you don’t do the required action to meet the certain church’s outcome, you have rejected the gospel.
Keeping score can backfire on people too. It can lead to unnecessary firings, premature changes in operation, or panic among leaders and members. Keeping score can drive you away from your mission if it seems it cannot be accomplished. We forget that God can do all things and sometimes He wants to do it without us. We begin to create an environment of chaos because we choose to continually change up things in order to achieve a certain number rather than patiently waiting for God to do His work. Good ministers lose their jobs simply because the student ministry attendance is down or preaching ministers lose their job because the truth wasn’t attractive and people quit coming back. Sometimes God’s mission for your church needs to be done regardless of the numbers. I think the story of Gideon makes this plain to us.
I could give example after example of how keeping score can dissuade us from His true mission. So again, the score whether high or low should never be the defining factor that directs the church.
An uplifting song telling of Jesus Christ's sacrifice and how he has overcome death and now we all live Forever.
Practically, the dashboard becomes counting people, real contribution numbers, whether or not baptisms and salvations are occurring. There are other kinds of gauges on the dashboard as well. We can gauge pretty well staff effectiveness, financial accountability, completion of service projects, member attendance, guests’ attendance, number of mission works, number of those served, number of campuses, or how much attendance has grown or declined. We can somewhat measure overall happiness, dedication, support, engagement, and volunteerism. It may be more difficult to measure spiritual health of individuals, the Holy Spirit’s presence, outcomes from ministering the word to people, God’s work in community, transformation, ongoing salvation in a person or community, and spiritual accountability.
In my ministry career I have been exposed to these three levels of measurement. Some I have used for my benefit when they showed my work in a good light and have used them in my defense when they didn’t. Keeping score is always a temptation. It is Satan’s trick to keep the unimportant things at the top and the important things in the shadows. However, having a good dashboard can bring light to lies on the other side too.
I was working at a church in transition (same work as mentioned before) and there was a “feeling” that in the past few years (I had been there 5 at the time) the number of students had went from 350 to 250. I was being questioned as to why we had lost so many students. I was curious myself why this was happening, because I had said throughout my career at this point, “Numbers aren’t the thing, but they do tell a story,” and I wanted to know what was this story. I dug into some numbers and rosters. What I realized in this situation was that when I started there, there were only around 280 students and presently there were 275. Somewhere someone decided to round up to 300 with just their words (it was easier to say 300 than 275) and the “feeling” was that there were actually 350 (as if a minister of any kind would have a lower count than the actual, ha!) Also recently with some leaving our congregation and another congregation in town (same denomination) seemingly growing (also another false feeling) the “feeling” was that we were down to 250. After looking at who was on the roster and actually participating in Bible class, devotionals, camps, mission trips, retreats, and service projects the hard numbers, the dashboard, told a different story, one that was truer. While this fact-finding and dashboard ended the concern, almost worry, about our “declining” youth ministry, it wasn’t proof to me or my co-worker that all initiatives were being met. Honestly, some of those initiatives could not be measured.
Kids returning to the same event every time we offered it or watching their enthusiasm for worship, class, or an event was enough measurement for us to feel confident in some of the programs we were offering.
Those things that were immeasurable at the moment became clearer as students graduated and lived on their own. You could say that those who became ministers, missionaries, stayed in church, married, had children, became church leaders meant our initiatives were met. However, that would also mean that those who, following high school or college, were imprisoned, addicted to drugs, divorced, atheists, or who simply quit attending church were a failure of ours. That’s really impossible to say either of these things, since there are too many factors beyond the ministry that could affect these paths. Not to mention that even though students may end up on one of these paths following school, they could easily end up on a different path later. It is immeasurable to us and in my opinion it should stay that way.
I have been fortunate to drive reliable and pretty nice cars ever since I’ve been driving. However, there have been times when I have needed to borrow someone else’s car. In a few of those times those cars have been less reliable and not so nice. I never minded much since at the time I was simply grateful to have something to get me from point A to point B. However, it makes me nervous when I’m driving a car that has a broken speedometer or even worse gas gauge. I don’t know if I am driving too fast and going to get a ticket or if in the next mile the engine will sputter and I’ll all of the sudden be stranded. Even in my own cars it the gauges have been important.
One time I was driving on a trip from Houston, TX to Abilene, TX (375 miles one way) and about an hour into my trip (still in Houston) my check engine light came on, followed by my oil light. I was able to pull over and check my oil, only to find out my oil was leaking out my engine. Since I was in my early twenties I decided not to let something so little derail my trip, so I stopped every hour and put in more oil. Without those lights I would have never known and my engine would have blown and been destroyed.
I sat in a staff meeting at my previous church where I was reintroduced to a concept that held my attention. We were a large church going through a non-crisis transition. There were many feelings about from members, leaders, and staff about what was taking place. As we entered that meeting, our new executive minister took us through the idea of needing a “dashboard.” It wasn’t a new concept to me, but I definitely needed the refresher course. On many things that we were having concerns about and discussions regarding it helped tremendously to have some facts to help steer the feelings in an appropriate way. The “dashboard” lights had been turned off and we needed to turn them back on a pay attention.
Practically, the dashboard becomes counting people, real contribution numbers, whether or not baptisms and salvations are occurring. There are other kinds of gauges on the dashboard as well.
-To Be Continued...
It is summer in Central Arkansas and that means one thing in the city I live in...VBS! Yes! Vacation Bible School. If you are unfamiliar with this concept it is where a church invites and hosts any child that wants to attend (and some offer things for adults too) to come and spend anywhere from 1 day to a week learning about God. They are usually 2 hours and include drama skits, fun upbeat songs, creative Bible lessons, games, snacks, crafts, and tons of energy. Our particular church chooses to ramp up the decorations and create an incredible prop on stage to go along with skits and then every room and walkways decorated around the overall theme. It is a cross-generational event for our church.
I remember some of my own experiences of growing up at a church and visiting other churches that hosted a VBS. The push every day was to bring your Bible and bring someone new with you. On the last day of VBS we would announce our total tally of how many came during the week and cheer. As a child I was excited about many kids coming because it meant we were able to please those in charge who pushed, I mean encouraged, us to keep bringing more and more friends. Not to mention there were typically prizes for bringing the most. As an adult I realize that the push is about something more.
As an adult and a Sr. Minister, I realize that there are deep-seated reasons we count up all those kids at VBS. And why churches post contribution numbers, attendance of Sunday assembly, baptisms, salvations, rededications, service projects completed, missionaries supported, and more.
We are keeping score. It’s plain and it’s simple. We are keeping score. Now the conversation turns. Let’s look at both sides of keeping score in church.
My blanket thesis is that keeping score in church has both pros and cons. The score whether high or low should never be the defining factor that directs the church.
I like to explore different things about theology and the life of the church. You might also find things here about me and my family.
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