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When I was in grade school, I had a subject called "Arithmetic." I found spelling the word, "Arithmetic," harder than working the problems. I learned to spell "Arithmetic" after someone taught me a silly sentence: "A rat in the house may eat the ice cream." To this day, I can only spell "arithmetic" correctly by saying that sentence to myself and using the first letter of each word as my guide.
Somewhere along the line, we stopped having Arithmetic as a school subject. It all became Math. Math is more complex than Arithmetic and takes more critical thinking skills. We still do Arithmetic in Math, but Math is a "bigger" subject.
I mention that NOT because I am advocating that we go "back to basics" in schools, but because I think Churches often do arithmetic when we should be doing something else. I don't think Math will provide the answers we need either.
We like to count things in Churches. We do a lot of Arithmetic in Churches. Numbers isn't just a book in the Bible, it's one of the forces that can drive our priorities. We count what counts and what we count will start to count.
We should be counting the offering every week and how many people are in a worship service. But those two metrics won't answer some of our most important questions.
Is attendance up or down? How is the giving? How do this week's (month's, year's) numbers compare to last week, month, or year? Those things matter, but how much?
Let me offer a little disclaimer. The Church where I serve saw worship attendance go up 11% from 2013 to 2014 and 10% from 2014 to 2015. That is good news for our congregation and I feel much better about those increases than I would if the trend had been reversed. I'm also convinced that we need to look at more than how many seats are filled in our sanctuary on Sunday morning.
I wouldn't propose a sophisticated new formula for Churches to use to assess their health. I think the real key is people telling their stories to someone who is listening.
Telling our stories (the real ones!) is much more difficult than counting and listening (really listening) is hard work. I think it's worth it and will give us important information about what's really important.
What's really important can't be counted, averaged, or plotted on a graph. What's really important is God at work in the lives of people and His love in Jesus Christ working through people to touch the world.
So, how is God at work in and through you? Where do you see His grace in your life? How is Jesus connecting to people through and around you? Feel free to use the comment section below to tell your story. I really want to hear it.
Pastor Dan Czaplewski