Counting and measuring

March 24, 2014

For a couple of years, churches within the Minnesota Conference have been recording and reporting weekly statistical data for our nationwide United Methodist Vital Congregations program. United Methodist churches across the country have set goals and are intentionally tracking seven important metrics:

1. Worship attendance

2. People received into membership by profession of faith

3. Number of small groups

4. Number of people participating in small groups

5. Number of people engaged in service and outreach efforts

6. Amount of money given for mission beyond the local church

7. Total contributions for local church ministry

Thank you to all the congregations that are faithfully responding to the weekly link for data entry. For those churches that still need help getting started, please contact in the Office of Congregational Development for assistance.

Why do we bother counting such ministry functions? So that eventually we have enough data to measure the effect of our ministry. Gil Rendle, senior consultant with the Texas Methodist Foundation, makes an important distinction between counting and measuring. Counting is giving attention to numbers. When counting, the question to be answered is “how many?” Measuring is giving attention to change. When measuring, the question is not about “how many?” but rather about “how far?” Counting enables us to discern how well we’re providing resources and experiences for ministry. Measuring enables us to discern how well we’re making disciples as a result of these ministries.

Periodically, it’s helpful to reflect on how far we’ve come. When the Minnesota Conference began the denominational “VitalSigns Dashboard” reporting program in 2011, 11 percent of United Methodist churches in Minnesota were categorized as highly vital. Today, after two years of counting, we’ve moved to 32 percent! Approximately half of all annual conferences in the U.S. are participating in the VitalSigns reporting—and, curiously, those participating increased in vitality at more than twice the rate of annual conferences that are not reporting and assessing their data. I dream of the day when more than half of the United Methodist churches in Minnesota are characterized as highly vital. What power the Holy Spirit will unleash in and through us!

Another interesting thing to count is the number of Minnesota Conference churches that measured an increase in average worship attendance over the past five years. Among the Minnesota United Methodist churches that had an increase in worship attendance during that period, 78 percent have been involved in one or more intentional congregational development process. (Those processes include consultation-based vitality programs Healthy Church Initiative, Missional Journey, and Readiness 360; the launch of new ministries through Investing in Congregations grants; and tracking vitality through our denomination’s “VitalSigns” program.) Additionally, of the 32 churches that are working on implementing recommendations they received through the Healthy Church Initiative or Missional Journey programs, more than half demonstrated an increase in three or more of their seven “VitalSigns” metrics within the first two years of implementation. This isn’t to claim that there is any magic program for church revitalization, but it is to say that when we begin counting what’s important and measure our growth through the process, we influence that to which we pay attention.

As members of the United Methodist Church, we pledge to faithfully participate in ministry by our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. In turn, churches commit to providing the resources and the vehicle for fulfilling this pledge. At the core of our Wesleyan tradition is holding one another accountable to these vows in Christian love. The first step in being accountable is to secure a count to be able to know where we are and where we need to grow. Then we can start to measure the difference we’re making in the lives of individual disciples, which in turn, make a difference in the world!

Dan Johnson is now the Twin Cities District superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He used to be director of congregational development and Reach • Renew • Rejoice.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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