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The Only Stats that Matter

by on December 18, 2011

Around this time of year churches start taking stock of what’s happened in the year. Then we are treated to articles and reports about the ‘success stories’ in our church mags.

It’s not that numbers don’t matter: I think they matter a lot. It’s just that often the growth we boast of is the result of Christians leaving less popular churches and joining more popular ones. Why does that excite us? I can see why it might excite the receiving church. But the rest of us? Potentially the amazing success of a legend church may represent zero kingdom growth. It mean even amount to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

It’s always puzzled me how excited we get about statistics that don’t mean much. Like how much a particular church has increased in size in the year, or in two years or whatever.

So what are the statistics the matter? Here is a list of the numbers I think are most worth talking about.

1. How many ‘unchurched’ people have become involved in the church community in a significant way (spending regular time with a significant number of church members). This could be e.g. through a playgroup or hospitality, or a men’s group.  Since many in RC and orthodox traditions attend so infrequently, and some (though not all!) of their churches seem to teach a fairly distorted gospel anyway, I’m willing to include these people under the ‘unchurched’ category, to keep it simple. I’d also include here people professing Christian faith who for quite a while hadn’t been part of a church group, when they got involved with you. ‘Unchurched’ may not be a totally accurate title, but close enough.

2. How many ‘unchurched’ people have started to receive Christian instruction or take part in faith-focussed activities (attending services, bible studies, prayer groups etc). This is obviously going to be a narrower group than 1. above.

3. How many adults have been baptised. This is one of the best measures of who has been truly added to the church. However it doesn’t account for the many Europeans baptised as infants who may not wish to be re-baptised when they come to faith.

4. How many cultures/nationalities are represented in the church? This is a key one for multicultural cities like Sydney. How faithful are we being to the gospel of Jesus’ lordship which gathers all nations together?

These are 4 statistics I think are truly important for the kingdom of God.

So here’s my challenge: let’s stop talking about stats that don’t matter (congregation size, percentage growth etc) and discipline ourselves to focus on these ones instead.

We’ll try to apply this discipline ourselves, and make sure any ‘results’ we boast about here are statistics that count for the kingdom of God in Canterbury.

If there are other stats that matter, I’d love to hear about them!

From → General

  1. Susannah permalink

    To add a couple more, what about “Number of Christians persevering in difficult circumstances”, “Number of generations represented in the church community”?

    • Susannah! Wondered where you’d got to.

      Nice to know you’re still reading.

      I certainly agree with the generations thing. Definitely adding that one in.

      The perseverance one: well, it’s certainly important, I suspect a little harder to measure, but worth having a try! I think really I had in mind kind of mission statistics, or growth stats, or something, in my article. Just forgot to say that. But yes, there’s other stats that matter besides mission ones.

      AT Canterbury Community Church we all did a survey mid year, the aim being to repeat it at the year’s end. It asked questions like, do you feel close to anyone at church? Do you feel that we look after our people well in their times of crisis? These questions/answers (and perhaps yours too) can be quantified (according to our resident psych!) and are certainly worth knowing.

      Good comment, thanks!

  2. Charles Ellis permalink

    Challenging stats there Jonno. I think you guys are on the money with your method of reckoning! I particularly see the significance in the measurement of unchurched people involvement with congregational activities, however loosely. You’ve got me dusting my boots off.

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