What Difference does St. John’s UCC make?


142 walkers came out for the Crop Hunger Walk in order to support local food banks and Church World Service hunger relief around the world.

This article by David B. Lindsey was originally published on the UCC’s Vital Signs and Statistics blog. Rev. Daniel Haas shortened it for our specific situation at St. John’s UCC

As a pastor in the United Church of Christ, I believe that the UCC makes a real difference in the world. But what difference, exactly, is that? And how do I (or any of us) know that?

For nonprofits (including the church), one way to describe the difference that you make comes from statistics. And last month, congregations across the UCC shared some basic statistics with the wider denomination. Our churches filled out annual reports about average attendance for worship last year, how many new members we received, how many children participated in faith formation, what our income and expenses were, etc.

This exercise is common to most denominations, but its capacity to give meaningful information about the health of a church or a denomination has been questioned in recent years. Are categories like “attendance” and “income” the right things to be counting? In addition to these categories, might the wider church also want to count numbers related to mission activities (e.g. how many meals did your church serve at a local homeless shelter last year)? And is counting this stuff even the best way to assess what difference the UCC (or any denomination) makes?

Church consultant Gil Rendle offers some perspective on this debate in his recent book Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness, and Metrics. In this book, Rendle advocates for a three-fold approach to assessing the health and vitality of a church. He argues that we must consider input, throughput, and output.

Input refers to the resources that the church has. This category is full of nouns: how many members do you have, how much income do you receive, what is your weekly attendance, etc. These are the kinds of things that churches can and often do count, and that frequently go into annual reports. They are also the numbers that the UCC recently asked of your local church. Rendle argues that we have to do this kind of counting. Without this information, he writes, we cannot fully assess how we’re doing.

But Rendle argues that we cannot stop there. After all, just because you have 25 people showing up for a program doesn’t inherently mean they are doing anything Christian! To contextualize input, then, Rendle suggests a second category: throughput.

Throughput refers to the activities you do with the resources you have. This category is full of verbs: how many meals we cooked, how many hours we volunteered, what new programs we created, etc. These activities can also be counted, yet congregations and denominations rarely do so. To my knowledge, the UCC has never asked its local churches to send in this information on an annual basis. Imagine what a sight it would be to see our General Minister and President going around to Conference Annual Meetings each year, joyfully celebrating the millions of volunteer hours that hundreds of thousands of UCC members gave to their congregations in any given year. And the number could be known, if churches were just asked to report such hours along with worship attendance each year!

Still, Rendle argues that we cannot stop there. After all, a group of volunteers can do an activity without it necessarily being a fruitful Christian ministry. How do we know if an activity is having any kind of vital, faithful impact in the world? According to Rendle, we need a third category to assess such vitality: output.

Output refers to the difference or change to be accomplished via input and throughput. In grammar terms, output is where you talk about purpose with phrases like “so that …” and “in order to …”. This is where, to use Rendle’s distinction, counting ends and measuring begins. Up until this point, churches can put numbers on their metrics. At this point, however, the quantitative (i.e. numerical) analysis of your church ends and the qualitative (i.e. descriptive) analysis begins.

This is the point, Rendle argues, where the church almost invariably falters. Christians of every denomination and of no particular denomination frequently do church just to do church, because “it’s what we’ve always done,” and not because there is a specific and compelling change we are pro-actively trying to make in the world. Yet to be considered a vital church, Rendle argues that we need to be able to name and claim (with vibrant, descriptive language) the difference God has called us to make in the world. And Rendle argues that any analysis of a church, a conference, or a denomination’s vitality is not truly complete until input, throughput, and output have all been assessed.

Lest this seem intimidating, let me show you how you can do this work in a single sentence. Consider the following example that you might see in a church newsletter:

“23 volunteers packed 500 meals at last Sunday’s program so that fewer children in our neighborhood will go to bed hungry this summer after the school year ends.”

In this one sentence, we see the entirety of Rendle’s approach to analyzing church vitality. We have the input (“23 people”), the throughput (“packed 500 meals at last Sunday’s program”), and the output (“so that fewer children in our neighborhood will go to bed hungry this summer after the school year ends”). Take note of just how specific the language of the output has to be in order to compete with the input and the throughput. To keep your church’s “eyes on the prize,” Rendle argues that you have to use vivid, detailed language that points clearly to a purpose. Otherwise, folks will just get hung up on the numbers (“hey, last year we only had 19 people at that event!”) instead of seeing how your congregation lives out the gospel (“whatever you did for one of the least of these children, you did for me.”)

Numbers matter, but so do stories. In order to truly see where there is vitality within the UCC, we need to look for both signs and statistics. When we do so, we are able, with God’s grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to accurately assess exactly what difference the UCC makes. The more fully we can articulate that difference, the more fully God can grow our denomination in both size and spirit to serve a world that is aching for transformation.

Rev. Dr. David Lindsey currently serves as the Senior Pastor of Little River United Church of Christ in Annandale, Virginia, in the Central Atlantic Conference.

Autism Awareness Month and the Church


I was wearing all blue last week because it was the beginning of Autism Awareness Month. As a church we need to keep in mind that faith is a very important part of life for so many families in the autism community. Many of these families often feel held back from becoming a part of a religious community because of their child’s diagnosis. They might feel excluded, or just assume that they won’t be supported or accepted.

Autism Speaks hopes that all families affected by autism may be welcomed in their house of worship, and able to become active participants in their faith community. They have put together a list of resources that families and faith leaders may find helpful. As part of their resource guide they share The Beatitudes of the Exceptional Child by Andre Masse, CSE, that were first published in the NAMR Quarterly, 1968.

The Beatitudes of the Exceptional Child
• Blessed are you who take time to listen to difficult speech for you help us to know that if we persevere we can be understood.
• Blessed are you who walk with us in public places, and ignore the stares of strangers, for in your companionship we find havens of relaxation.
• Blessed are you who never bid us to “hurry up” and more blessed you who do not snatch our tasks from our hands to do them for us, for often we need time rather than help.
• Bless are you who stand beside us as we enter new and untried ventures, for our failures will be outweighed by the time when we surprise ourselves and you.
• Blessed are you who ask for our help, for our greatest need is to be needed.
• Blessed are you who help us with the graciousness of Christ Who did not bruise the reed and quench the flax, for often we need the help we cannot ask for.
• Blessed are you when by all these things you assure us that the thing that makes us individuals is not in our peculiar muscles, not in our wounded nervous system, not in our difficulties in learning but in the God-given self which no infirmity can confine.
• Rejoice and be exceedingly glad and know that you give us reassurances that could never be spoken in words, for you deal with us as Christ deals with all of His Children.
• Blessed are you! Indeed!

Walk against Hunger


Thoughts and prayers are not good enough! When in comes to human suffering action is needed. And you have a great opportunity to act in two distinct ways: You can walk and donate! The CROP Walk has raised awareness of hunger in our communities since 1969. By joining the West Fort Bend County CROP Walk you make our voice bigger and louder. The more people join the walk the harder it is to ignore hungry children in our communities. Please come out to George Ranch Historical Park, 10215 FM 762 in Richmond, Texas. Registration is on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. and the walk begins at 8:00 a.m. It is a short, easy walk.

Besides your feet, you may also bring your wallet. Funds raised benefit Helping Hands, Needville Food Pantry and hunger projects around the world through Church World Service. Together, we can help end hunger in our community and around the world! You may donate even if you can’t make it on Saturday. Please donate online here.

Over the last 36 years St. John’s United Church of Christ has consistently been among the top fundraisers. This year let’s also be among the largest walking groups! In recent years we had extra support from Boy Scout Troop 309. This year Physical Therapy in Richmond has pledged to bring additional walkers. Join our team and give hunger no chance!

Our Holy Week Schedule


Please join us for our services this week:
Maundy Thursday Service will be on March 29 beginning at 6:00 p.m. It is an open potluck where everyone is invited to bring whatever they like to share. The theme of Jesus’s Last Supper will be present when we celebrate Holy Communion as part of our meal. Also this evening will have playful elements to it like a murder mystery dinner.
Good Friday Service will be on March 30 with lunch being served at 11:15 a.m. and our service beginning at noon.
Easter Sunday begins with a breakfast at 9:00 a.m. with an egg hunt for our children at 9:30 a.m. and the worship service at 10:00 a.m. in which Holy Communion will be observed.

Please invite family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers to attend services with you.

HELPER for April 2018

Please find your monthly newsletter here.

Not signed up yet?

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required



View previous campaigns.


An Easter People’s Lamentation of Hope

In his Easter Message, United Church of Christ General Minister and President the Rev. John C. Dorhauer invites all in the wider church to celebrate the hope of Easter.

We are an Easter people.

Shaped by the experiences of death, the wells of our enduring faith spring up and speak to us of the eternal.

This fundament, this bedrock, it grounds us.

And, as Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians – we therefore do not grieve as those who have no hope.

I can’t tell you how many times over the last year and a half I have had to remind myself that we are, in the end, an Easter people.

No death we experience will be allowed to offer the last word.

Hope will always abide in the shadows that come with grief and loss.

Let us, then, speak of grief and loss – the collective ennui we share with a suffering planet that is smeared with our toil.

We see tens of millions of refugees swarming the globe. We see decades of advances in social justice being erased by a global shift to the political fringes. We watch nations and their leaders play war games with big and very destructive weapons. We know children are being trafficked, women are being violated, and black and brown bodies are continuously treated with disdain by whites.

My mood has shifted and I am not alone. Say what you want about the current political climate in America, but something has happened to our shared narrative.

Immigrants are enemies.

Unarmed black bodies are gunned down with impunity.

Women’s bodies are trivialized as solely the object of men’s passions and desires.

Fascism is on the rise, creeping into the light after decades lurking in the shadows.

Children go through ‘code red’ exercises that have them rehearsing live shooter drills, wondering not if, but when.

We talk without shame about arming teachers.

I’m looking for my Easter hope.

I’m asking if this is the dying beyond which God has nothing more to say.

And…

God is not silent.

God’s speech resonates not from beyond the madness, but from within it.

On a street corner in St. Louis, a woman preaches at the opening of a child wellbeing center. The preacher has an Easter story to tell. She was left abandoned on that very street corner when she was 9 months old.

In a sanctuary in Madbury, New Hampshire the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ celebrates 14 years of shared life and ministry. They have their own Easter story to tell. Many in the room just weeks ago were detained and threatened with deportation. One pastor’s intervention and dogged determination affected their release. On this Sunday, much more than an anniversary is celebrated as families are re-united.

In the aftermath of one of the most violent and ugly chapters of our collective narrative, teenagers produce their own Easter hope by calling a nation to recognize that our love affair with gun violence is destroying the hope of children. Their fierce resistance has an entire nation marching for our lives.

The tomb is empty.

Oh, to be sure, death has its sting.

There was a body. But the body rises.

God speaks, and beyond the seemingly impenetrable tomb a new word is heard.

Let those who have ears to hear, hear.

May the joy of an embodied resurrection call you to see through grief, listen beyond lamentation, and know beyond a shadow of doubt, Jesus lives.

We do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our grief is altered by Easter.

Jesus is risen.

He is risen indeed.

The 10 most popular Baptismal Verses

Baptism marks the beginning of the Christian life. I usually have the parents pick a Bible verse for their baby. Grownups obviously get to pick their own. For many years taufspruch.de has helped German speakers to find a verse that matches their life situation. Here are the 10 most popular Baptismal Verses:

1: For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. (Psalm 91:11)

2: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

3: You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power. (Psalm 139:5)

4: for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; prudence will watch over you; and understanding will guard you. (Proverbs 2:10-11)

5: for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)

6: I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:2)

7: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

8: I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. (Psalm 139:14)

9: Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:8)

10: God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:16b)

Do you remember the verse you were given? Or can you find it on your baptism certificate? A lot of times, people share with me how it has served as a meaningful motto that has carried them through their lives.

Daylight Savings Time

This is a reminder that Daylight Savings Time begins at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 11th.  Be sure to set your clocks forward one hour before going to bed Saturday night.