Making Disciples and Taking Measurements

Last week, I talked about a survey by the Barna Group which analyzed what types of experiences Americans have in their church congregations.  The data suggest that, while Americans experience God and fellowship in church, attending church often does not change their lives.  I suggested, following comments from Taylor Burton-Edwards, that these findings may indicate that congregations have a problem with discipleship.  If so, such findings are particularly a problem for United Methodists, as their mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”.  What I want to suggest this week about these findings is that this study further supports my proposal for an alternative set of metrics to those proposed by the Call to Action (CTA).

I suggested in an earlier post that we need church metrics that measure whether or not we’re accomplishing our mission as a denomination – whether our members are becoming better disciples of Jesus Christ and whether that discipleship is leading to the transformation of the world.  I suggested that all church members should be asked on a yearly basis about their progress in discipleship, including growth in love, knowledge, and faithful service.  Ministers, DS’s, and bishops should also be asked about how their ministry has led to the transformation of the world and where the church has been successful in helping bring about the kingdom of God.

The metrics proposed by the CTA mostly measure members and money.  Specifically, the seven CTA metrics measure attendance, membership, baptism, and giving.  But it doesn’t matter how many members come through our doors if they don’t become better disciples once they’re there.  It doesn’t matter how many members we have and how much money we take in if this money and these people don’t make the world a better place in God’s eyes.  We could potentially be welcoming a lot of new members who give a lot to the church but not ultimately be fulfilling our mission if all these members don’t grow in their discipleship of Jesus after arriving in the church and do nothing for the transformation of the world.

We can only know if we’re fulfilling our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world if we ask directly about the components of our mission – discipleship and transformation.  The Barna Group report suggests that congregations may be having problems fulfilling the UMC mission, at least in some areas, but we’re not going to know more unless we ask, not about members and money, but about discipleship and transformation.   We know there are membership and financial problems in the UMC.  We can tell that with the data the church currently collects.  Nevertheless, those problems with membership and money would be insignificant if it turned out that we weren’t fulfilling our basic mission adequately.  Yet we won’t know whether or not we’re fulfilling our basic mission unless we ask questions that actual assess our progress toward that mission.

As I said in my original post about church metrics, I agree that the church needs a renewed push toward vital ministry, and proper metrics can be part of that push.  Yet what you measure determines where your focus is and where your effort goes.  The metrics proposed by the CTA put our focus on propping up an institution through members and money, not carrying out God’s mission by making disciples and transforming the world.  Using the CTA metrics, we’ll focus on increasing members and money for the support of an institution.  We may be successful, but what we’ll have is a stronger institution, not success in achieving the mission for which that institution exists.  If we’re really serious about making disciples and transforming the world, that’s what we should measure because that is where our focus will then be and that is where we will put our efforts.

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