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Something is not adding up...

Let me begin with a little joke:

Two pastors were talking one day in a restaurant about their churches and one of them asked the other, "well how many did you have this past Sunday?'  The other puffed out his chest and said "We had 500 ministerially about you?"  The other pastor puffed out his chest and said, "Well we had 700 ministerially speaking..."

Then the pastor spoke and asked, "how many got saved?"  The other pastor replied, "we had 50 decisions, ministerially about you?"  "Oh, that's great", the other pastor replied, "but we had 75 ministerially speaking"

Finally the waitress walked up to take their order, who had been hearing them boast back and forth this entire time and asked, "What would you like to order?"  One of the pastor's asked, "how big is your small fries that come with the burger?"  The young waitress, thought she would be funny and replied, "well it's about two plate fulls, ministerially speaking..."  The pastor thought for a moment and said, "you better make that a large..."

One of the tragedies that has occurred in the western church is the lack of integrity in numbers that are recorded.  Now please understand that I am all for counting people.  Counts help us to know progression, trends, and can become easy indicators to help make decisions.  It was the number of people that were not being ministered to that brought about the issue to create deacons to serve.  Peter recorded 3000 people coming to Christ.

What happens though if we aren't careful is that we get so caught up in the numbers that we miss the stories of transformation.  Numbers count though because people count.  Now here's a question though that I believe every pastor or minister will deal with at some time in their ministry:  what do I do if I come to a church where accurate numbers were NOT being recorded?

This is a tough question and a tough situation.  Why?  Think about if you entered into a double counting situation.  People that look (and trust me people look) may see on paper a church body that is running 3000 in attendance, but when the actual figures are examined, the reality is that only 1500 are in attendance.  Or let me bring that on home a little bit more for some.  We may be a in a church context that says on paper that we are running 300 in attendance when in all reality the actual figure is closer to 150.  Then once the figures get exposed or decisions are made to deal with trying to correct the church to operate on the 150 level instead of the 300, then questions are going to be raised.

You do not want to question anyone's integrity, but it does make you wonder, why?  Why was this such a concern?  What pressure came about from whom to bolster numbers that weren't true?  Let me give you some quick ways to help bring a church out of the number curse and on the right path.

1. Be transparent.  Yes, this means that we may have to eat crow, but share how previous counting was not correct, and be prepared to show how it was not correct.

2. Be prepared.  Have a plan in place to show how this is not going to happen again.  Whether it is creating a spreadsheet or by using your church's management system, whatever it is, put the measurements in place correctly that are going to be the guide.

3. Limit access, but publicize.  What do I mean by this?  Limit who has access to putting in the information.  There needs to be at least two people with maximum access to any report with numbers, that way they can hold each other accountable.  This guards the integrity of the information, but once again feel comfortable in publicizing the information of counts.

4. Build evidence.  There is going to come a day when you are going to make a decision that may change a direction for the church.  Having empirical evidence that is tested and true will help you to make that move or at least to start the conversation.  Building evidence though means that you take the time to collect accurate information.  When you make a correction and you see the next week that you are running an 80% worship attendance, do not run to your leadership and say, see it's time to make another service.  Make sure that you see it consistently over a longer period of time to know exactly how the church is trending with accurate information.

Correcting counting can be a long process, but doing anything with character is not easy.  It requires us to see the problems and be willing to correct them.


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