Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Effectiveness Does Not Equal Butts in the Pew

If you add more sugar - it'll be sweeter. If you add less - it will be less sweet.
If the class scores higher - the teacher is doing well; if the class scores lower - the teacher isn't doing well.
If your church doubles the number of congregants - it's effective; if it loses people - it's ineffective....

In an ideal world, the logic of adding sugar, or children's test scores, should also apply to Church effectiveness. But, we don't live in an ideal world.

Standing in a Garage Does not Make You a Car

 There's a saying - "Sitting in Church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car." (Or, something to that affect.) And, this is true.

I have been part of Church communities where the pews are packed full of people who just do not live Christian lifestyles. They believe going to Church is all they need to do, and can spend the other 6.5 days turning their backs on the poor and helpless, insulting and talking behind the backs of others, and sinning without a second thought as to their actions.

I have also been part of Church communities where there are only a few butts in the pews, but the people owning those butts spread the news of Christ through their words, and actions, and service towards all. 

Why Effectiveness Cannot be Measured by Numbers

On Facebook earlier, there was a conversation going on about how, if a Church is effectively changing people, it will equal greater numbers. Now, as I stated before, this logic does make sense... in an ideal world. If a Church has changed people to live more Christian lifestyles, one would assume these people are going out into the world and bringing more people into the Church. We are called, after all, to spread the Good News.

But logic and reality rarely meet.

There are many who are turned off by the idea of traditional Church. What appeals to me does not appeal to others. I do believe that inside each of us is a desire to know God and His love. But how we do that differs. And, of course, there are those who simply will not admit to a need to know Him. They do not believe. They do not want to believe. I could talk until I'm blue in the face, and do everything in my power (and with the power of the Holy Spirit working within me) to show these people the grace and mercy and love of Christ, and how much better my life is by knowing Him, and I still would not be able to get their butt in the pew - short of dragging them there kicking and screaming and duct taping their butts in those pews.

But, does that make the Church effective? Does having unwilling people sitting in the pew, their ears turned off to the message of Christ, make that Church effective simply because I managed to drag another body there?

I live in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota. It's a small town with a population less than what many would consider a small Church membership. And this population is divided into 5 or 6 Churches, with each Church losing numbers annually due to a dwindling town population. Do these smaller memberships, caused by the loss of a town population, equate to an ineffective Church?

Church Effectiveness Can Only Be Measured By Changed Lives

I'm sure we could find some cool mathematical formula that measures the change in people's lives due to Church, the change in Church populations, factoring in all the circumstances which could cause a growth or decline in membership, and in those members who actually willingly plant their bottoms in pews every week... and this formula would spit out that yes, an effective Church will both change lives and grow in numbers (i.e. we lost 15% due to population decrease, and 5% due to a generation who feels being a Christian does not mean having to attend a Church, but gained 5% because we're effective at reaching out to others, which actually results in a loss of members but a gain due to effectiveness...).

But, even typing that was confusing. All we truly have to go by is the people we meet within the walls of the Church - seeing how their lives have changed because of being there. You can have a congregation of 200, only 5% who have actually started living better lives; or you can have a congregation of 50, with 95% who have actually started living better lives. Which Church is more effective?

Stop Worrying about the Numbers

Don't get me wrong - it is important to have people in those pews listening to the message. It is important to reach out to others and invite them to join your faith community. But, it is more important to have a strong and effective Church - one that holds members close, changes their lives, helps them gain a closer relationship with God and with the community, helps them live differently.

When churches put too much focus on the number of butts in the pews, they lose effectiveness. When they focus on their effectiveness, they make stronger Christians. This may or may not equate to more butts in the pews, but it will equate to move loving Christ-like people.

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