Jun 25, 2008

a quote i said amen to today

Back when I was in one of my early churches I served in professionally, I was asked to fill out my first yearly denominational report. This was the first time I ever faced the (now infamous) question, "# of conversions" (or something to that effect).

I didn't know what to do... I didn't realize I was supposed to be counting all year long. Nobody told me, and so I asked my boss. He said he didn't know his numbers either and usually made up a number. Later I heard that many other pastors did the same, which kind of made me wonder about the whole thing to begin with.

It's a funny business filling out such things. You don't mean to, but tyour humanness begins to wonder, "Will my paycheck get bigger or smaller if the number was bigger or smaller?" Because apparently this was important enough to be on a denominational report, so obviously it was important... right?

Without knowing it, that question put me on a journey of asking why we track such things - does a number really tell us anything?

  • Am I counting how many men's are raised at the end of a service or the one man who decides he's no longer going to raise a hand to his family in anger?
  • Should I keep track of the numbers that come forward for an altar call or the woman who decides that she's going to stop being forward in how she flirts with her neighbor?
  • Is there anything to be learned from a box checked on a card after service or should I be looking into whether or not those two teenagers have asked God to check their relationship with one another?

So I began bucking the system - when I was asked to state monthly how many "house calls" I'd made, I instead wrote down how many "one-on-one" conversations I'd had with people in any environment. When they asked me to state the number of people at a special event at a high school, I included anyone at the place - including the janitor who had to listen to us talk about Jesus while he waited to clean the gym. I never inflated numbers, but I definitely thought holistically about it.

This didn't always work, though. In one church I was looked at as a failure when numbers dropped during the summer that we moved out of one building and into another, even though for three months we had to meet in a backyard, under a tent, and in a building without electricity... at night. In another church, I had lots and lots of stories of life change - only they were all my stories... I wasn't raising up others to do the ministry and was doing it all myself.

Maybe that's why today when I read this I said "AMEN!"

"Stop counting conversions, because our whole approach to conversion is so, I don't know, mechanistic and consumeristic and individualistic and controlling. Instead, I'd encourage us to count conversations, because conversation implies a real relationship, and if we make our goal to establish relationships and engage conversations, I know that conversions will happen. But if we keep trying to convert people, we'll simply drive them away. They're sick of our sales pitches and our formulas." - from A New Kind Of Christian

And maybe that's why on our web site FAQ section we have this:

Q: How big is the church?

A: We honestly don't know how many people are a part of Connection Church because we intentionally don't keep count. We do this because people matter more to us than programs, and stories of life change matter more to us than mere church attendance. We kind of like doing things that promote the Almighty Name of Jesus Christ without our church ever getting any credit... because at the end of the day we're more concerned about His glory than our own.

Of course, if you pressed us on how big Connection Church is, we'd tell you that our church size is "healthy." If you pressed even further, we might disclose that we are as big as God's Church and as small as the needs right in front of us.

And if you kept pressing for a number, we'd finally tell you the
number "ONE" matters most to us... because there is always one more person to introduce to Jesus Christ, and always one more fellow Christ-follower to encourage, and always one more step we all can take with Jesus.

By the way, thanks for reading this. You are visitor number 40,107 to this web page.


Scott said...

Yea . . . but Tony how do you quantify results, set goals, have affective evaluations, gauge strategy success like Jesus did . . . wait . . . bad example . . . . . . I’ll get back to you.

Jeff Greathouse said...

great post and thanks for the smile and laugh at the end.

i was thinking of you and your family yesterday as i was sitting in the cleveland clinic

hope all is well

trace said...

your post reminds me of the song from the musical Rent...how do you measure a year? how about love? - thanks for sharing these thoughts.