Our Church Calendar of Events May 2018.
Our Church Calendar of Events May 2018.
For a couple of weeks we had some major construction going on at church. The men’s bathroom was remodeled and the main entrance was scaffolded because limestone was crumbling down. The church needed fixing. That is typical. Every building needs maintenance and replacements. The church is no different. It is constantly under construction. And that is not only true for the church building but maybe even more so for the congregation.
The construction that is going on in the congregation may not require scaffolding. But it still requires maintenance and hard labor. Two programs have recently collapsed: We used to have an Adult Sunday School that met right before church. After change in leadership the program just withered away. Multiple attempts at regular Bible Studies started with great enthusiasm but did not prove sustainable. The church needs fixing. Where are the opportunities for spiritual formation that we allow our people to participate in? Faith needs maintenance and hard labor just like a building. Spirituality can break, needs restoration, requires regular updates, should be remodeled to match new challenges. It is not enough to just apply another coat of pious paint. In order for your faith to remain or become meaningful you need to move walls and open up new spaces. Let’s make sure that we remain “under construction”, not just physically but also spiritually.
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.
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.
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!
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!