I’ll never understand why the two main metrics churches use to measure their success is attendance in worship and how much money comes in.
Maybe part of my not understanding why these are the primary metrics is because of a difference in seeing what the purpose of a church is.
If the church is just another institution, or a social club, whose main purpose is to continue to exist, then I guess measuring attendance and money makes sense. It’s about maintaining what exists – nothing more, nothing less.
But if the purpose of the church is about making disciples, participating in the transformation of lives, communities, and the world, serving our neighbors, and being an example of radical love that rejects the values of the world, then I don’t see how measuring attendance and income helps us to know if we are fulfilling our purpose. Those things don’t hurt of course, but they don’t tell the whole story. Mostly because attendance and income are lagging indicators.
If you want a successful institution by the world’s standards, here’s the formula:
First off don’t preach anything controversial. Don’t make anyone uncomfortable. Ignore injustice. Run away from anything that could possibly be considered political. Don’t talk about poverty in real terms – like the poverty that probably exists right outside the doors of the church. Keep those discussions in the abstract and distant so that there is no direct impact on the people in the pews.
Don’t touch violence and the means of violence that we rely on for our supposed peace and order.
Don’t talk about systems, just focus on personal piety that has no impact on anyone at all over anything.
Give a message about how you can be good so that when your funeral comes around the pastor can talk about how good you were – grace would be unnecessary, you had your crap in order after all.
Stay away from transformation of people, communities, and the world.
Preach more about self-help rather than being being helpless and needed God. You’ll probably find willing listeners if you preach Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism (yes, I going to force you to look it up).
You can draw a large crowd if what you preach as the kingdom of heaven looks awfully similar to what already exists and requires little to no imagination of a possible future that is transformed and where people receive justice – especially people who have been oppressed and who look differently from ourselves.
Just remember, you’ll want to gloss over or ignore the inconvenient parts of Scripture, or spin them away. You’ll want to avoid talking about how Jesus ticked off the religious authorities who worked in and with exploitative and oppressive systems and governments. You’ll want to avoid Scripture that showed Jesus being political through the titles that he had which were in direct conflict with the religious authorities and the secular authorities and empire.
You’ll want to avoid talking about the false gospels that the world embraces and expects everyone to get on board with – things like might makes right, the strong survive, us versus them, and the ends justify the means. You’ll want to avoid talk about allegiances.
In other words, you can have a large church with lots of attendance and lots of money if you just proclaim pretty much anything other than Jesus is Lord and what that means.