Opinion

We need a new set of metrics for the spiritual life – Baptist News Global

I recently found this photo of my mom standing with my sisters and me on an Easter Sunday morning around 1964. Aside from my stunning fashion statement, I want to point out the Bible firmly grasped in my right hand. I assure you that stuck in those pages was my weekly offering envelope. On that envelope was a grid that was to be filled out each week indicating how many of the 6-point record keeping metrics I had accomplished during that week.

This envelope was our scorecard. It helped us know if we were doing what made for success as a church and as a Christian. Keeping score was important, and trying to hit 100% was a true test of our worth to God and to the kingdom of God. Church involvement was about being a worker bee who did my share of the work and thus proved my value to God.

The ingredients of the scorecard:

  • Present: 20%
  • On time: 10%
  • Bible: 10%
  • Offering: 10%
  • Lesson: 30%
  • Preaching: 20%

Interesting, isn’t it that “preaching” was the way worship was referred to. These quaint measurements remind us of a simpler day when attendance at both Sunday school and “big church” were givens. The competition from culture was minimal (thank you, Blue Laws!) and the assumption was that “good people go to church on Sundays.”

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This was such a given that perfect attendance awards were a regular part of the landscape in nearly every tradition. It’s no wonder some of our parishoners long for those golden days, is it?

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“These quaint measurements remind us of a simpler day when attendance at both Sunday school and ‘big church’ were givens.”

Here we are in 2021, gradually emerging from the COVID-19 church stupor, wondering what our landscape will look like as we stumble out of our home bunkers. Will people show up who have been hunkered down at home, or have they grown accustomed to worshiping virtually? Are the predictions that one-third of our attenders will not be back accurate? How do we recalibrate our measures of effectiveness, which have been needing a refresh for several years?

I’m wondering what are our six points for 2021? What standard would we use to assess our effectiveness in a world where attractional metrics no longer are the only measure of our success?

Here are a few I’ve come up with, and I’d invite you to take your turn at devising metrics that do not simply count our numbers but genuinely measure our impact.

  • Have you engaged in re-creation of your heart and soul this week?
  • Have you worshipped your Creator daily this week?
  • Have you engaged in a meaningful gospel conversation with someone outside the faith this week?
  • Have you eaten something so delicious it made you exclaim loudly this week?
  • Are you engaged in a life of abundance thinking or do you still practice scarcity thinking?
  • Have you engaged in a significant spiritual practice in the last seven days?
  • Are you growing something as a practice of spiritual discipline?
  • Have you done something creative this week?
  • Have you wondered this week?
  • Have you wandered this week?
  • Have you risked something big for something good this week?
  • Have you engaged in an online group?
  • Have you invested in and sacrificed for a friend this week?
  • Have you loved someone unconditionally this week?
  • Have you done something fun every day of this week?
  • Have you made the world a better, brighter, more sustainable place this week?
  • Have you offered heartfelt encouragement to someone this week?
  • Have you offered a healing comment to someone who has been judged by others this week?
  • Have you cared enough to act to alleviate an injustice this week?
  • Have you read Scripture and let it speak to your soul this week?
  • Have you listened to God in the midst of the rain, the sun, the birds, the wind, the surf, the traffic, the family, the game this week?
  • Have you watched a toddler toddle or listened to a young child explain something this week?
  • Have you had a belly laugh each day this week?
  • Have you hugged your spouse/child/parent/friend/stranger this week?

You get the idea. What we measure depends upon what we think is of supreme importance. If simply attending Sunday school for 45 minutes one day a week, and maybe “preaching” as well, is the full measure of our faith, then the old envelope system will suffice.

However, if you want to measure something more substantial, like how much of the gospel you actually have heard and heeded, then we need a new set of metrics. I’m not sure just what your metrics need to be, but I’m willing to bet they will be more substantial than simply counting attendance on Sunday mornings.

 

Bill Wilson serves as director of The Center for Healthy Churches in Winston-Salem, N.C., and is a member of the Baptist News Global board of directors.

Related articles:

What will become of Sunday school? | Opinion by Mark Wingfield

More churches plan reopenings cautiously, joyfully and with flexibility

Church leaders, please don’t waste your transition crisis | Opinion by Bill Wilson

Your church after COVID: Restart, refresh or relaunch? | Opinion by Bill Wilson

What if they don’t all come back to church? | Opinion by Jason Koon

 

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