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Attempting to Untie the Gordian Knot of Metrics

This week I have been at Bishops’ Conference (formerly Bishops’ Week) on Mt. Sequoyah in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  With Gil Rendle’s leadership, we have continued Extended Cabinet work on the theme “Leading in a Radically Changing Church.” Among many items, we are wrestling with the role of metrics in helping both congregations and pastors in faithfulness and fruitfulness. Some clear learnings about the role of metrics (measurements) are emerging:
  • A system gets what it measures!
  • If we don’t know what we produce (outcomes), we don’t know how to measure it.
  • If we don’t know what we want, we measure the wrong things.
  • Non-profits (including churches!!) often don’t know what they produce (outcomes); therefore, they measure resources (inputs) and activities (throughputs). (Deming, Collins, et. al.).
  • Outcome = what will be different (changed) in 3 to 5 years if we are fruitful.
  • Systems are built backwards; without an outcome you can’t build the system.                                               
The huge change we (both in the Central Texas Conference and in the UMC at large) are going through is a change from membership to discipleship!  We are working at reclaiming our core purpose handed on from the Wesleys’ and the original Methodist movement.  We have been clear for a number of years that our mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  We are making the tough transition to recover the original Wesleyan church culture.  (Put crudely, instead of focusing on taking care of congregations and clergy, we are trying to recover a culture of discipleship.)  This is a natural outgrowth of the church responding to a culture that has changed from a Christendom focus to a post-Christendom mentality.  (Therefore, no one is to blame!  This change is an outgrowth of living in the American culture and mission field.)  Metrics don’t tell the whole story.  But, they do tell an important story and must be used!  We will engage in using the 5 basic metrics I’ve lifted up in previous blogs and Wilderness Way articles – worship attendance, professions of faith, number of people engaged in hands on mission work, number of people involved in spiritual formation through prayer and study, missional giving.  These parallel the 5 practices of fruitful congregations.  This is basic crucial data that must be known and shared.  Yet, metrics really don’t tell the whole story!  Therefore, sharing a narrative is vital!  We need to share the story of the mission.  Attention must be paid to how God is at work in the particular mission field of a congregation. What is unique in your particular context?  Where and how is the Holy Spirit leading you?   Gil Rendle has taught us to cut the knot by adding a reference point to the narrative.  If you can’t measure it, at least you must describe it!  A way of getting at this is to ask and answer three questions.
  • What have we done?
  • What are we working on?
  • What do we still have to do?
As we move forward we will engage in both metrics and narrative as ways of inviting Spirit-led reflection and ministry engagement for both congregations and clergy.