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. There is also 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 all 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 used in my grandparents’ church. Now, I doubt your church is still using the wooden “register of offering and attendance,” but maybe it lives on a program passed out on the weekends, or is plotted out on an Excel spreadsheet, or is accessible on the church website. What most churches are measuring is still the same: How many nickels and how many noses—offering and attendance. In Comiskey Park fashion, we need to explode the old scoreboard! Why?
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 U.S. church attendance 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 in the country 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, but the impact of the church is shrinking.
The second problem is that, even if church attendance numbers were increasing faster than our country is growing, that stat completely ignores other vital statistics in which God is interested. 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 our communities. 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 only measures attendance and offering. We can do better than that and we must!
Excerpt from the recently released Keeping Score: How To Know If Your Church Is Winning, a FREE ebook by Dave Ferguson