May 20, 2011

disappointing numbers

The numbers game is something that we play a lot in the church.  We want to know how many baptisms and members and monies and ministries were at play in a given year.  We want to see upward trending statistics.  We believe success lies in digits... which supposedly translate into actual lives being transformed... although I am not always convinced that it is the case.

I resist the numbers game.  I don't let low numbers phase me if actual good solid God work is happening.  Our weekly communion service at the church averages about 7... it is faithful, transformative, worship... and if one week we have only three people there, it doesn't upset me.  God is going to work through the conversation and interaction those three people have.  God is being worshipped in our music whether there are a few or a few hundred. 

At the same time, when the numbers disappoint us and the people don't show up, sometimes your will to keep going starts to waver a bit.

At our recent graduate breakfast at the church we planned a celebration for the four high school graduates and two college graduates we knew about who were connected to our congregation.  We sent out the invites, we purchased gifts, we decorated the hall and prepared to celebrate.  And only the two college graduates showed up.  1/3 of our guests of honor were in attendance.  And I think that smarted a little bit for the folks who had put in the hard work to make arrangements and honor those students.

I wondered how much that was simply an issue with our church.  Did we not explain it well enough?  Did we get out the information in a timely manner?  Do we smell bad?

But then only a few days later, we had our community baccalaureate service.  Of all of the students who were invited... of all the faculty and staff who recieved invitations... of all the school board members and adnimistrators... we had a grand total of five students participate and a handful of parents, community members and of course, the six pastors of our community.

To have more pastors than students was a little frustrating.  To say we were disappointed is an understatement. 

What do you do with those numbers that are so low?

Do you focus your attention on the people that were touched? Yes.

Do you fret about what you cannot change? Of course not.

But what is the next step?  Do you redouble your efforts for the future?  Ignore the numbers and keep forging ahead as usual?  Consider it an anomaly in the statistics? Decide not to do it again?  Cancel it for now until another class, another set of parents, another group of people steps up and tells you it is important?

That is what I don't know. 

It would be a shame to lose this opportunity for community worship and celebration.  It would also be a shame to not mark this moment in our students lives for those who find faith important in their journey.

But if there is not energy and passion behind something, isn't it okay to let it go for a time? 

We'll see what happens as our community ministerial alliance gets together for future conversations... but at this time, I'm not sure what I would recommend. All I know is that I'm a little disappointed.

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