Why Gather Statistics
by Richard Houseal and Dale Jones
In chapters 2 and 3 in the book of Revelation, the Apostle John records God’s assessment of seven churches. The church in Ephesus gets good marks for hard work, perseverance, intolerance of wicked people, and rightly discerning those who are false apostles. They are also praised for hating “the practices of the Nicolaitans,” but they receive a poor mark for having “forsaken the love [they] had at first.”

And so it goes—Smyrna is praised for its afflictions and poverty. Pergamum is praised for remaining true to God, but criticized because some still hold to the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. Thyatira is commended for its deeds, love, and faith, but criticized for tolerating Jezebel. Sardis only has “a few people…who have not soiled their clothes,” but most are evaluated as being “dead.” The church in Philadelphia has kept God’s command to endure patiently. Interestingly, the church in Laodicea has done a poor job of assessing itself.

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17).

I’m going to assume these assessments are valid because they generally start with the phrase, “These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” So we might reasonably conclude a few things about assessing local churches:

    Assessments are beneficial to local church identity, ministry, and seeking the will of God.
    Assessments will often include both positive and negative aspects.
    God expects some level of local church self-assessment given the fact that God himself has set the example.

Of course, the big difference between the above assessments by God and our ability to assess our local churches is that God has all the information needed for a completely accurate assessment, while our knowledge and resources are limited. But given our limitations, what should we measure or know in order to assess our local churches as accurately as possible?

In the Church of the Nazarene, the single best source of information for all our churches comes from the Annual Pastor’s Report (APR). Looking at that form can give us an idea of what the global church considers important.

Are we adding people to the Kingdom?
Every church is asked to give counts of the people committed to and involved in the congregation. Just in the past year, 167,000 conversions were reported in our churches. Since we are concerned with making disciples, we also ask about whether people are committing more than a verbal agreement to the Kingdom.

Are people committed to the Kingdom?
One means of showing such commitment is by joining a local church. Last year, 157,000 new Nazarenes were received into membership. Today, nearly 2 million people are now full members of the Church of the Nazarene. Adding associate members brings our total membership to over 2.1 million. These are people who have committed themselves to live and proclaim the message of holiness and hope in our world.

Are people growing spiritually?
Membership is not the same as discipleship, so we ask about discipleship, too. More than 1.5 million people are being regularly discipled globally through our local churches, with more than 1 million of them participating in a typical week. And 1.4 million participate in Nazarene worship services each week.

What are effective methods of outreach and discipleship?
By asking about Sunday School and small groups, we gain insights into which methods are effective for making disciples. With membership and participation statistics, we can locate particularly effective congregations and ask their leaders about how God works in their churches. For instance, 15,000 churches use Sunday School as a discipleship tool and 9,000 use small groups. (Many churches use both, of course.) If we discover growing churches that don’t report these methods, we will be able to contact them and perhaps discover new methods for 21st century disciple-making.

Where are our treasures?
Part of discipleship is stewardship of time, talents, and treasure. By asking each local church for an accounting of its finances, we can determine how economic conditions affect the local church and whether a church is overextended financially. During the recent economic downturn, we discovered that churches in Canada and the U.S. lost about $300 million (USD) in property values over the course of three years. Since 75 percent of these churches paid down their indebtedness during that time, the overall equity in church properties remains above 80 percent in these countries.

Questions like these can only give an indication of the spiritual vitality of any congregation, but remember, God has all the information needed for a completely accurate assessment. One pastor summed up the difficulty of assessing his ministry this way, “No awards, no banners, just faith that God called and until He says otherwise, I’m here to stay. How do you put that into a report? Maybe it’s good enough that it’s recorded in heaven.”

–Compiled by Dale Jones, director of Research for the Church of the Nazarene and RIch Houseal Research services manager.

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