A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Do We Assess Vitality in the Church?

This week I am teaching a Doctor of Ministry intensive at Ashland Theological Seminary on "Leadership in the Twenty-First Century," subtitled, "Theology and Ministry in a Postmodern World." One of the discussions we have had is on how we assess a vital church.

One of the questions that has been raised is whether or not pastors and congregations are too focused on Sunday morning worship attendance as the major indicator of vitality. Shouldn't we also look at Sunday School (which I think is actually a more significant indicator)? How about the Bible studies during the week, the ministry in the community, and the time individual parishioners volunteer in various ministries?

The point is not that worship attendance is unimportant, but are we too focused on it? I suspect that I am like most pastors-- on a Sunday when attendance is down, I am down about it. The next Sunday when attendance is great, I am quite pleased. But without suggesting that worship attendance is irrelevant, is it really the be all and end all of assessing the vitality of an individual congregation?

What do you think?


John Meunier said...

I suspect many will respond with the same answer here: Of course it is not the be all and end all, but it is an important indicator.

I'm told there was a day when people attended Sunday School and skipped worship. That does not happen now. Regular worship attendance is just about the ceiling on how many active members you might have in other areas. There are exceptions, no doubt.

Worship is also among the fundamental things that the church does as the church. Indeed, many people define church in terms of worship - where the word is truly preached and the sacraments are duly administered.

If I could only use one data point, I'd have a hard time coming up with a better one than worship attendance, but that would be like judging my health by just asking me how much I weigh. You need to know more to get a full picture.

Anonymous said...

I think we need to consider more than just worship attendance. However, if people are active in other areas of the church and not attending worship regularly, we need to ask why. For example, they may be engaged in mission in order to serve, and not understand that worship and growth through Bible study, etc. is also important; they may not be actual believers. Or they may attend Bible study, but not find the worship service meaningful to them, not their style. In which case making some changes or offering other types of worship should be considered.

Mike said...

I appreciate the post/discussion. Too often, I think those of us in the Church have been influenced by the business world where numbers = success. I believe this is a huge mistake. As everyone knows, numbers can be skewed in a multitude of ways.

If the Church is truly about discipleship, shouldn't that be the measure? In other words, take individuals or a group and measure their signs of faith before and after. Of course this will take much more time than counting heads. But if spiritual growth is taking place won't the numbers at worship take care of themselves?

I also appreciate what you say about ministry in the community. I would also include opportunities for accountability in the measure of discipleship.

revjimparsons said...

I agree it is not the end all be all and that it is a great indicator. I what makes it easy to obsess about is that it is very tangible. It is right there every week for ALL to see. Other key indicators, (small groups, Bible Studies, mission teams, outreach ministries) I think are only seen by those involved. It is harder for ALL to 'see' them on a weekly basis. Yes, you can look back at the end of the year or after the fact and say look at what we have done, but where would we demonstrate those? Probably worship.

Great question.

PamBG said...

Here is my discontent with 'church', which is born from my British experience where the general public thinks that Christians are a bit strange and where the general public has little time for 'religion'. It's not a point of view from the Ohio perspective where 'everyone' seems to believe in God and 'almost everyone' either actually attends a place of worship or considers themselves affiliated with a place of worship.

An assembly is a vital Christian assembly when people attend it in order to support and encourage one another to go out into the world and 'be a blessing' to everyone they meet - both Christians and non-Christians. I put no stipulation on how we 'be' that blessing. Some are gifted at actually evangelizing (and I wish that there were more people who could do this in a way that is authentic rather than cliched, hackneyed and Christian-exclusive) and others are gifted at serving in the physical realm (feeding, clothing, healing, etc.)

Worship and Sunday School can too often be social clubs. Measuring the attendance of neither is an indicator of vitality, IMO.

The problem is that you can't really measure how people are going out and being a blessing, so we encourage the clubbiness of our congregations instead.

I do not exempt myself from this critique!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good question. I think the morning service should be a catalyst of God to awaken the dead (I'll include myself among them) and get God's people on their feet. But of course the whole counsel of God in Jesus is needed for that, and therefore a good Sunday morning service, or whenever the gathering is, I think is vital. But if that doesn't play out in faith exercised in works of service somehow, then the gathering is not resulting in what God intends. Something the pastors and church leaders need to consider as a top priority in their oversight. And of course an openness is needed as to how God's people will live that out, but good works of some kind need to become evident.