Math Wars: Jesus v UMC?

As I’ve noted in previous posts, the new buzzword in The United Methodist Church is “effectiveness.”  We apparently live close enough to Business Schools that we want tools and formulas by which such effectiveness can be measured (or perhaps we have just all  Good to Great).

Rather than being opposed to effectiveness (though Romans 5:8 seems to me a strong argument against to strict a focus on it), I would like to challenge some prevailing assumptions about it.

Let’s first look at effectiveness in terms of simple math. Who’s math is used to determine effectiveness?  Effectiveness for what?

Most things I read lately devise a variety of ways to say, basically, this: more people means more effective.  Big churches, especially the really big churches, are clearly more effective than the others. Right?

So, what do we do with Jesus, who, God Incarnate, Immanuel himself, three years into a mission (a church-plant?) had accumulated 12 leading followers, one of whom betrayed him at the opportune moment.  The other 11, as my brother Richard reminded me earlier this week, ran and hid as soon as Jesus faced trouble.

Sure, Jesus soon had a megachurch on his hands – 3,000 added their first day (Acts 2:41). But the whole death and resurrection thing makes Jesus’ particular model of ministry risky to reproduce.

Before anyone thinks or infers that I am number-averse; I am not.  The mission of The United Methodist Church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  The mere fact that disciples here is plural sides with, not against, emphasizing numbers.

What we have got to find meaningful ways to measure, however, is not butts-in-pews or dollars-donated or even professions of faith.  What we ought to be finding ways to measure is transformation of the world.

More than 2 years ago now Willow Creek in greater Chicago released results of  a self-study that shook the megachurch world.

The study shows that while Willow has been successfully meeting the spiritual needs of those who describe themselves as “exploring Christianity” or “growing in Christ,” it has been less successful at doing so with those who self-report as being “close to Christ” or “Christ-centered.” In fact, one-fourth of the last two groups say that they are either “stalled” in their spiritual growth and/or “dissatisfied” with the church.

Great at getting people in the door of the church, both physically and spiritually, but falling short on the transformation part.

As we pursue effectiveness in ministry, as we indeed move toward making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, let us continue to include death and resurrection in the math by which we measure.

5 thoughts on “Math Wars: Jesus v UMC?

  1. Kudos on making effectiveness and business model connection. I find that as a minister I am hit on all sides to be ‘effective’ but the fact of the matter is I do not want to be effective. For some reason in my brain effective is equated with being efficient and both of those ideas are not things I associate with God.

    I am not sure God is very effective. If God were effective then the 40 years of wandering would not have happened as people would have ‘gotten it’. Jesus would not have to be killed as people would have ‘gotten it’. And so on and so on. I am not sure God is very effective.

    Additionally I am not sure God is very efficient. If Grace is passed out by efficiencies then the parable of the Prodigal Son makes no sense as well as the parables of the lost sheep and coin. And so on and so on.

    While I am unsure God is effective or efficient I do know that God is meaningful. When I experience God (regardless how) it is always meaningful. It is rarely effective at capturing others and it is rarely efficient – but it is always meaningful.

    What would it be like to stop working toward effectiveness and embrace a meaningful call?

  2. Steve,

    Very insightful! Are you the same guy I knew at Asbury???

    I so agree with everything you have written in this blog. I think many pastors and most UMC church-goers have fallen into the “bigger must be better” thinking. I susbscribed to OUTREACH Magazine, but have let it go because they (and other trade publications) seem to perpetuate that te mega-church is the effective church and the small and mid-sized churches are ineffective.

    That said, let’s talk about ineffective pastors…


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