An Alternate View of Church Engagement: THIS not THAT
Life can be a bit like a journey; time keeps moving you forward, but if you are paying attention to the wrong details, you might get stalled. The same goes for church life. If you are spending your energy and focus on the wrong things, then you might miss something huge that will hit you from out of nowhere.
When I am driving in the car by myself I stay pretty focused on the road, but I also do some serious thinking. It isn’t always deep thinking, but between focusing on those two things I might miss other details. Often the things I am not focusing on are not that important. On a cold day, I may be focused on the road and an upcoming meeting, only later to realize that I’m sitting on one of my hands and steering with the other because it’s so cold in the car. Eventually, I think… perhaps I should turn the heater on. Other things that get overlooked could be more significant. If I am focused elsewhere and not paying attention to the gas gauge, I can end up sitting on the side of the road and making an embarrassing call for someone to bring me a gas can.
I don’t think I’m the only one guilty of pointing my focus in the wrong direction time to time. One place I see this danger is in churches. Running a church is not that different from running any other organization, except that the stakes are a lot higher. If I am not paying attention to gas gauge, I could run out of gas. If a church is not focused on meaningful engagement, church members might exchange genuine discipleship for sitting in a pew and watching religious entertainment.
There are a few things that I have seen churches focus on that might not be getting to the heart of the matter.
Attendance not Participation
One of the most common metrics church leaders look at is attendance. But attendance is an output, not an outcome. Showing up to something doesn’t mean that it has made any impact in the way they live or think. You might say that it measures engagement, but in the strictest view of that, it is a very passive form of engagement and I don’t think it’s what we’re aiming for. If people are participating in the ministries and life of your church, they are doing much more than just showing up.
How are you measuring participation and not just the number of people in the room?
Giving not Ownership
Giving, in the best form, is an act of discipleship. We give to God from a place of gratitude and joy. If a church is going to keep its doors open, giving has to be a part of the mix. But what are we hoping is happening in someone’s life when they give? I think we want two things. My hope for people that give to churches is that they are giving in response to God’s goodness and that they are buying into what the funds are supporting. Do people in your church ask about how funds are used? Are people asking questions about the impact of the missions and ministries that your church participates in? Don’t think of this as intrusive suspicion. Instead, see this as an act of ownership. When a kid comes to my door to raise money for summer camp, I’ll often buy a candy bar or whatever. Mostly, my $2 is buying peace and letting me get back to what I was doing. I have no ownership of what I’m supporting. In harsh terms, I may be paying for her to go away. So transactions alone doesn’t show ownership.
How are you measuring ownership of the activities of the church and not just giving?
Growth not Spiritual Health
Growth is exciting. It can be a really good thing. Often it is an outward sign that something is working well and resonating with people. But just because lots of people are showing up, doesn’t mean that the environment is healthy or developing mature Christ followers. A carnival can draw a big crowd, but if you eat fried twinkies and funnel cakes every day, you are not going to live long. There are lots of examples of churches that experienced growth but later were revealed to be a spiritually toxic environment. It’s so common that I don’t have to name any specific church, you likely already have one in your mind. So, instead of looking at growth trends, are you measuring spiritual health? There are a few ways to measure spiritual health. What is the attrition rate in the church? Do you have lots of turnover or little? What do the people who are leaving say about your community after they are gone? Are people becoming more like Christ in their spiritual journey? How transparent is your church, and specifically your leadership? Secrets are the breeding ground for unhealth. By looking at a variety of measures, you can begin to get a picture of the overall health of your church.
In what ways are you focusing more on building a healthy community and not just a big community?