Measuring Faithfulness Beyond the ABCs

17 May

The mission of the church is to restore people to unity with God and each other in Christ through prayer, worship, proclaiming the Gospel, and promoting justice, peace, and love (Catechism BCP p. 855). We know that wherever the Gospel is truly preached and the sacraments rightly administered that this bears fruit. The fruit born will vary in differing circumstances.

The ABCs of Measuring Churches
Despite what we may say (or wish), the Church as an institution counts the ABCs-attendance, buildings, and contributions. Where there are more people in worship, a new building is built, or giving is increasing, we say there is health. Where these are stagnant and declining we usually remain silent.

These measures do matter, even if they are not the only ways to look for whether a ministry is bearing fruit. The number of people in church each Sunday is measured as Average Sunday Attendance (ASA). Christ Church Cordele in Crisp County has seen steady population growth in the county and in recent years the congregation’s growth has far outpaced those numbers. Their Worship on the Water liturgy on the dock on Lake Blackshear takes the worship to the people. In addition, the faithful, sustained work of their lay persons working together with their Vicar, the Rev. Larry Williams, has led to growth in attendance from 39 in 2013 to more than 80 on an average Sunday today.

The number of baptisms in general and adult baptisms in particular are also important signs of growth. For example. while Grace Church in Waycross has an ASA of 65, they last year baptized 3 adults and 4 children, more than many larger congregations. You can see these statistics on churches and their communities at the Episcopal Churches webpage on Studying Your Congregation and Community.

Beyond These Numbers
We know that the numbers reflected in the ABCs above misses something vital. Christ Church, Augusta has 30 people in worship on a typical Sunday. The church is not only preaching the Gospel and rightly administering the Sacraments, they also feed more than 100 people a week in their soup kitchen, offer free medical check-ups on a monthly basis, and have a Clothing Ministry. If this congregation were to close, it would leave a hole in the life of its community. While attendance and giving are not increasing, that congregation is clearly bearing much fruit.The Christ Church Augusta Soup Kitchen is shown above.

Your church at its most vital?
One way to look at your church anew is rather than looking to other congregations, seeing what they offer and feeling bad about what we lack (I’m looking at you First Baptist), instead look to the gifts you do have. What makes your congregation a unique place to come worship God now? Churches have very different ways of being the Body of Christ that are life-giving, joy-filled responses to the love of God found in relationship with Jesus Christ. What is your church’s best self? How might you get there? The Rev. Canon Dedra Bell-Wolski baptizes a child at Christ Church St. Marys.

There may be reasons why your attendance and budget are not going up, as these are not the only indicators of faithfulness. But there is no reason why every congregation cannot bear fruit for the kingdom of God. To do so, a vestry needs to routinely ask, “How we are doing?” and then look at ways to go about more fully being the Body of Christ according to the gifts we have within the congregation. Discerning how we are doing and what might need to change in order to be more effective are key to remaining faithful to our mission.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary

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