I have been back and forth on the new/old emphasis on metrics in the UMC. It’s “new/old” because Wesley himself was a meticulous recordkeeper and valued empirical evidence of God’s work among people. Wesley called the purpose of metrics “sanctification.” However, a friend and collegaue in the South Carolina Conference has just written one of the most insightful cautions about the use or misuse of metrics. He says things that need to be said about the Call to Action Report that I need to hear. Maybe you will feel the same. Give all of it a read! Please! You’ll find the letter in its entirety here. Here are a few excerpts:
Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings. I decided to send you this email rather than engage this discussion via Facebook. I realize that my musings about the State of the Church and how to fix it may be as superfluous as a tail on a watermelon, but the Holy Spirit continues to prod me to share some very personal thoughts and experiences with you.
I have several questions about the CTA itself, as well as its findings and suggestions.
1. It seems to heavily favor numbers as the truest indicator of congregational vitality and pastoral effectiveness. But quantity is not a good indicator of quality. Take, for instance, Joel Osteen’s and his mega-church in Houston… For now, my gut reaction is that using these metrics to determine congregational vitality and pastoral effectiveness is no different than the slippery notion that paying 100% of apportionments does the same.
2. I’m confused by the lack of biblical or theological underpinning, as well as the outright exclusion of some critically important (and I would’ve thought obvious) spiritual ingredients.
3. I was left wondering then, as I am left wondering now, with the release of the CTA report, “what is the ultimate goal of catching all these fish we’re supposed to be fishing for?” My Granddaddy taught me that eating was the ultimate goal of our fishing. Theologically speaking, I would submit that the ultimate goal of our ecclesiastical fishing is found in the Great Commission. I’m not sure anyone—from Councils of Bishops, to popes, to Towers-Watson, to fat, bald-headed, liturgically inclined preachers in the middle of Anywhere, South Carolina—could ever improve on that. And yet, instead of the call to action issued by Jesus (which is very specific and overtly evangelical), we’ve opted for a nebulous, numbers-based “call to attraction” that insists that we attract more people to our churches, but leaves why we’re doing it and what to do with them once they’re there largely undefined.
4. It also, in my reading of the report, says nothing about geographical location, demographics, economics, or the spiritual condition of the church prior to the pastor’s appointment. For instance, where is there any real measurement that speaks to the issue of congregations that actually resist change? What about those congregations which, much like the church that I’m serving right now, refuse to admit that they’re not the healthy churches they think themselves to be, when the truth is that they’re in full-on decline? What then?
Recently, I heard a sermon in which the preacher gave some bullet points about the “average United Methodist.” He said, “The average United Methodist…
-believes “good people” go to heaven;
-believes more in “works righteousness” than “salvation by grace through faith;”
-believes God loves us all “just as we are;”
-believes that if the preacher talks too much about sin, he or she is a fundamentalist, but if he or she talks too much about sharing what we have to meet the needs of others, they are a socialist;
-believes that homosexuality is the greatest of all sins, but thinks abortion and pornography are private matters, drug addiction and alcoholism are medical issues, and that divorce, adultery and premarital sex are not matters preachers should “meddle” in;
-gives less than 2% of their income to the church, but wants to dictate ministry;
-gives more, in terms of time, service and income, to civic clubs, fraternal organizations and sports booster clubs than to their church;
-demands the same level of pastoral quality, care and attention as Presbyterians, Baptists and Episcopalians, but pay far less in terms of salary, benefits, and provisions for continuing education, and times of renewal;
-attends worship only one half to three quarters of the time;
-attends Sunday School less than 50% of the time;
-does not attend a Bible study or a Wesleyan small group;
-does not regularly attend meetings of the committees to which they are assigned, yet insist on “running the church;”
-doesn’t regularly read the Bible and can’t name the books of the Bible;
-can’t list (let alone explain) the core doctrines of Methodism;
-has never read the Articles of Religion or the Confession of Faith;
-can’t give a reasonable history of the theological reasons for the founding or spread of Methodism, or a reasonable biography of the Wesleys, Whitefield, Coke or Asbury, and will act as if they have never heard the names Otterbein, Albright or Boehm;
-can’t speak with authority about the theological differences between United Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, or any other denomination;
-doesn’t understand Communion, but will not come to church on Communion Sundays;
-knows the Apostles’ Creed by heart, but disagrees strongly with several of its points;
-is uncomfortable talking to others about their spiritual state, salvation, eternity, or even their relationship with Jesus, yet wonders why their local church is dying.”