Is it only about the butts?


Many families have it. It is usually on a wall, a door or the inside of a closet. It is a place in our homes where we measure our children as they grow. Our sacred spot is the inside of a closet door in our basement. The door is covered in black felt pen, marking our children’s progress. Each mark is dated and connected to each child’s development. They love to measure their new growth and so do we. Where would be without measuring things. We measure our height to know our size, we measure our feet to find our shoes. We measure sports figures by their stats and we measure our figures for more than sport. We measure our age, our speed and our incomes. Measuring is a large part of life.

What we measure matters. What we measure tells us what is important to us and directs us. What we do not measure indicates what is less important to us. When it comes to spiritual community, what we measure matters too. What we measure in relationship to church or spiritual community tells us how we define spirituality. The first question often asked to a person or pastor after “where does your church meet?” is usually,”How big is your church?”. Somewhere implied in that question is ‘are you growing in numbers’. The answer to that question seems to indicate to the asker whether the church is thriving. Joseph Myers says, …”if we concentrate only on numbers we’ll miss what is really happening.” The greatest metric for measuring church is often called the three Bs – butts [in seats] (attendance), budgets (resources) and buildings (facilities). What does that really measure though? Does it measure spirituality and health? Does it measure growth and life change? We all need to have some idea of how we are doing. Measuring is a way to give us a level of feedback on how we are doing. For churches the feedback loop often comes in attendance, resources and facilities. But should it be this way? Are we measuring the right things? Have we not cornered ourselves into a confusing reality and something that has little to do with measuring spirituality. Can numbers alone tell an organic story?

We need a new metric. Especially if much of our gathering doesn’t resemble church meetings. Joseph Myers says, “We are talking about measuring life, community, relationships and health when it comes spiritual communities. Reducing living organisms to a census count demeans the way we were created. Is the quantity of our life measured in years or experiences? Is a brief life necessarily less full? A long life more so? Story is the measurement of community. Story emerges from life.” When we are home with our family or out at a coffee shop with friends how we talk about our day and its value is often in story.

Story involves connecting to spontaneous experiences in our life. Spontaneity, which is large ingredient for feeling like we are alive in the world, is not measured by numbers of encounters. It is measured by the quality of the encounters, the story. We don’t come home at the end of our day and try to describe our day by saying we had 5 spontaneous experiences. We come home and tell the story of the interesting encounter at the grocery store, the story of the great lunch we had with a friend and of the new person we met at the gym where we had so much in common. Myers says, “When we collect these stories we measure life, the life of the community we share in. Community cannot exist without story. Stories, share and shape, inform and instruct, motivate and memorialize. Community is story. Stories enable leaders to form a better picture of the health of a community than numbers alone ever could.” Without knowing the stories, sharing the stories and collecting the stories we have no idea how to measure a spiritual community. Numbers do not tell the whole story but hearing the stories might tell what matters.

What do you measure when it comes to spiritual community?

Todd Rutkowski

~ by blueporch on April 23, 2010.

One Response to “Is it only about the butts?”

  1. So we got to much into the details of church…. I will back off and talk about more relevant stuff to comment on….

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