I like to measure things. Every so often I go on a diet that suggests I log my food using an online app and I do so with great zeal for the six days that I manage to eat like a bird. It’s extremely satisfying as long as I’m behaving. As a newly minted baptist in my early twenties I became accustomed to taking Sunday School attendance, participating in high attendance Sunday and following with fascination the quarterly report on number of baptisms and “transfer letter” requests. I was always happy when we were in the positive column of people in, people out. I like and understand why counting is part and parcel of assessing success whether we are talking about church or a business. But Kathy speaks about counting in language that rings my chimes. “Cultivating a community isn’t measurable. Relationships can’t be measured. Life change never happens in a snap. Slogging it out over the long haul is brutal and tries our patience. The fruit is harder to see, sometimes completely imperceptible to the un-Jesus-trained eye. The results we tend to look for as humans is sometimes elusive and to some, we often look like losers. Church building looks for quicker means, success stories, measurables, things to capitalize on to make it grow.”
And might I add – they do so for many of the right reasons! It isn’t all bad this counting and testifying – but it is not helpful and can be harmful for the people being counted, measured, and expected to succeed.
I had this guy tell me once, “All you want to do is count me, put me in leadership so that your little empire can thrive and guilt me into giving you money to make it happen.”
To which I replied with perhaps a raised voice, “We aren’t organized enough to count! I wouldn’t let you lead my dog on a walk with a leash! And we don’t even take up an offering. Haven’t you noticed?” I stomped off but managed to hear him mutter about how he guessed his daddy was right. Women preachers are a menace.
People who already see themselves as “losers” don’t need any hint of performance-based messaging or subtle hints about doing more or trying harder. They believe that is what others expect of them whether we really do or NOT! Today, this is how I count. If someone shows up, they are IN. They deserve my attention and respect whether it is the first, thousandth or only time they show up at NSC. I cannot care about TOTAL attendance because if I did, I’d probably have to quit in shame and discouragement. When you don’t count and when you teach people that you don’t track their attendance, people have this quite endearing and thoroughly non-codependent habit of failing to perform for the pastor or anyone else. They come when it suits. No one teaches you this stuff about counting but it must be said: it is both freeing and a teeny tiny bit disconcerting for a recovering evangelical big church building girl to embrace the NO COUNTING mantra. But it fits with recovery and loving large, so carry on: no counting!…to be continued…