By Dave Ferguson
Growing up in Chicago, I remember a couple famous scoreboards. There was a scoreboard at the old Comiskey Park where my White Sox played when I was a kid—I loved it! Every time someone hit a home run, the scoreboard would explode with fireworks. And then there is the scoreboard at Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs. It’s one of two remaining scoreboards that are still hand-turned. It was installed in 1937 and is still waiting for its first World Series win!
Another scoreboard I remember is the one on the sanctuary wall of the little rural church my grandpa and grandma attended in Farber, Missouri. That scoreboard, like the other scoreboards, was there to tell us if the home team was winning. Winning, according to that church scoreboard, came down to a couple key measurements: attendance this week versus last week, and offering this Sunday versus last Sunday. As long as both were increasing, then the church was winning.
Here’s my observation—most churches are still using a scoreboard similar to the one found in my grandparent’s church. Now, I doubt your church is still using the wooden “register of offering and attendance”; instead, the information is on a program passed out on the weekends, or plotted out on an Excel spreadsheet or accessible on the church website.
But what most churches are measuring is still the same: how many nickels and how many noses; attendance and offering. I think in Comiskey Park fashion we need to explode the old scoreboard! Why?
EXPLODING THE OLD SCOREBOARD
There are at least two problems with the current scoreboard:
1. It is entirely possible for a church’s attendance to be growing while the kingdom of God is shrinking! Right now there are more people attending church on any given weekend in the United States than ever before! We could conclude that church attendance in the U.S. is growing, and therefore we must be winning, right? Wrong!
While there are more people attending church than ever before, a smaller percentage of the total population in every state is attending church than ever before! If we are content with that, we will never accomplish the mission of Jesus.
2. It is entirely possible for a church’s attendance to be growing while the impact of the church is shrinking. The second problem is that even if church attendance were increasing faster than our country is growing, it completely ignores other vital statistics of interest to God. I believe God is interested in a neighborhood’s crime rate, the percentage of people living below poverty level, the high school graduation rate, home ownership, and more!
Church attendance says nothing about the social metrics of the communities our churches are in. And church attendance says nothing qualitative about the lives of the people in our churches. A growing church attendance does not promise that people are growing spiritually. An attendance graph that is up and to the right does not guarantee that people are faithful in following Jesus and displaying the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
Missiologist Ed Stetzer put it this way, “We must start counting more than baptisms, butts, and bucks!” I absolutely agree, and I’m ready to light the stick of dynamite under the scoreboard of any church that measures only attendance and offering. We can do better than that, and we must!
COUNT PEOPLE CAUSE PEOPLE COUNT
Don’t misunderstand me—while the existing scoreboard needs demolishing, just playing for fun and not keeping score doesn’t work. The Bible’s writers obviously didn’t shy away from counting. For example:
7—the number of days it took for creation, including one day to enjoy it.
40—the number of days and nights it rained during the flood.
500—the number of years Noah lived before he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
3,000—the number who accepted the message and were baptized on the Day of Pentecost.
There are all kinds of statistics in the Bible. There is even a whole book called Numbers. Since the Bible doesn’t shy away from statistics, counting, or numbers, neither should we. And since people count, we should count people. But that still leaves us with the question: If we think the existing scoreboard of attendance and offering needs to be exploded and that faithfulness ultimately matters, what do we count? How should a church faithfully keep score?
A NEW KIND OF SCOREBOARD
My friend and futurist Reggie McNeal describes a new scoreboard and three shifts that are taking place in forward-thinking churches.
1. Shift from internal to an external focus
McNeal says, “First, we must move from an internal to an external focus. The church does not exist for itself. When it thinks it does, we’ve created a church-centric world. Our perception of reality is skewed. By external focus of ministry, I mean we radically reorient to understand that we exist primarily to do ministry beyond ourselves.”
One of Community Christian Church’s newer sites is in the diverse neighborhood of Edgewater on the far north side of Chicago. This location understands what it means to be externally focused.
For more than a year, before ever having a celebration service, Rich and Dori Gorman and their team volunteered every week in the local elementary school and at the alderman’s office. When we had the first celebration service at Swift Elementary School, the place was packed with people who were a part of Community Christian, but also people who were part of several other not-for-profits that we honored.
For the year-plus leading up to the launch, the Gormans and others built relationships with Swift Elementary School, Eco-Andersonville, Peterson Garden Project, Organization of the Northeast, Care For Real, and Alderman Harry Osterman’s office. All of those partnerships were a part of our grand opening, with booths set up in the hospitality area so that the organizations could recruit volunteers. This new site of Community Christian was both “in” and “for” the Edgewater community from the very beginning.
There are now a number of creative metrics being used by churches that have made the shift from an internal to an external focus. They are measuring the number of hours that volunteers from their church are investing in the community. These volunteers are working in the local park districts, YMCAs, Habitat for Humanity, food banks, nursing home, hospice, mentoring students through the local school, and more.
Other churches have placed a priority on counting not only the volunteer hours, but also measuring the number of partnerships they have with local not-for-profits. The first shift we have to make is from internal to external.
2. Shift from program development to people development
“We need to move from a program-driven agenda to a people development agenda,” McNeal continues. “Over time, the North American church has largely become a collection of programs run by staff or lay leaders. While we will certainly continue to have programs, I believe a new, people development agenda will base its sense of accomplishment on how well its people are doing, not its programs. If you start with people, the programs then serve the people, not the other way around.”
It is my conviction that the best kind of people development happens through apprenticeship—a life-on-life relationship where one person invests in another. At Community we have used “the 5-steps” for developing people and leaders with tremendous success. This is simple, reproducible, and can be used with any leader at any level. Here are the steps:
1. I do. You watch. We talk.
2. I do. You help. We talk.
3. You do. I help. We talk.
4. You do. I watch. We talk.
5. You do. Someone else watches.
If you want more on this phenomenal people development tool, Jon Ferguson and I talk in depth about reproducing leaders in chapter 4 of our book, Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement. Because of our commitment to people development and leadership development, we keep track and report every month how many apprenticeships are taking place and what percentage of our leaders have apprentices.
The Paterson Center offers an outstanding people development resource called a Life Plan, and some churches have started counting the number of people who are going through it. I’ve gone through it and found it to be a tremendous gift that helped me better understand how I should best use my time here on earth to make a difference.
While it can be expensive and isn’t something every person in your church could do, other churches like Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, California, use a coaching process called “Real Talk” that makes use of five questions to grow and develop their people. “Real Talk” is a guided conversation the leaders (pastors and lay leaders) have with several hundred of their church members, including teenagers, that use the following five questions:
1. “What do you enjoy?”
2. “Where do you see God at work right now?”
3. “What would you like to see God do in your life over the next six to 12 months? How can we help?”
4. “How would you like to serve other people? How can we help?”
5. “How can we pray for you?”
This simple and amazing tool has both revealed people’s passion and empowered them to make a difference in an area of enthusiasm and giftedness. In chapter 5 of Missional Renaissance, McNeal can give you more information on “Real Talk.”
3. Shift from church-based to kingdom-based leadership
McNeal explains the third shift by saying,
It is really a leadership response to the other two. It will require that leaders move from a maintenance or institutional model of leadership to a “movement model” of leadership. Leading a movement is very different from leading an organization. Christianity was largely a street movement in its early days, when it turned the world on its head. Once we institutionalized it and put it into the hands of the clergy to run, then we lost the virility of that movement. It became all about institutional management. We have to return to the kind of leadership that’s required in leading a street movement, if we’re going to recapture that energy.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus gave his team of apprentices a final challenge: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Jesus was describing a movement that would start with this small band of brothers and sisters, and would move from Jerusalem across Judea, into Samaria, and ultimately around the globe. Jesus was casting a vision for a movement that would accomplish his mission.
Church-based leaders see only the four walls and the programs of the building from which they lead. Kingdom-based leaders see north, south, east, and west and look for people in whom they can invest themselves to accelerate the movement of Jesus to the far-reaching parts of the world.
At Community, we have exploded the old scoreboard of counting only nickels and noses, and are now keeping track of what we call the “family tree.” Each campus, on an annual basis, is asked to account for the attendance of not just their campus, but of all the campuses and churches they have helped plant and reproduced.
A great example is our campus in Montgomery. This campus has a 1960s church building that was given to us and seats almost 200 people. Every weekend, the campus has one Saturday night service and two Sunday services; total average attendance is about 450. But if you look at the “family tree” metric, its average outreach is more than 1,200 weekly because of two local campuses it has launched, along with a church it planted in Boston.
So, let’s blow up the old way of keeping score! And the motivation to destroy and explode the old scoreboard is all about accomplishing the mission of Jesus. And to accomplish the mission of Jesus (not just where you live, but globally, as Jesus describes in Acts 1:8), there must be movement!
Dave Ferguson serves as lead pastor with Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois, and provides visionary leadership for NewThing. This article is adapted from a chapter in his book Keeping Score. Download it free at www.exponential.org/resource-ebooks/keeping-score/.
Some Things Will Always Count
As you are deciding on your own stats for your scoreboard, here are a couple suggestions. First, in most cases you should continue counting attendance at your weekend celebration services. Attendance should not be the only measurement (that is the old scoreboard), but it might be one measurement. You may decide it is not as important as you once thought, but this is not a time to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Be wise.
Likewise, if I were having a one-on-one consultation with you and your church, I doubt I would tell you to quit keeping track of your offerings. Again, this should not be one of the only measurements, but it most likely needs to be a measurement. Most models of churches are still relying on financial sustainability to be effective. If your church needs money to effectively operate and accomplish its mission, you better have a budget and keep track of income.