Statistics, or, You're Pregnant? I'll Count You Twice
I grew up in a non-denominational hippie church. Actually, it was a church plant that came out of a hippie non-denomination. What is a non-denomination? That's for another post. Anyway, my pastor's mantra was "teach the Bible." He was good at it too. He still is. I learned a ton and my faith was really formed through the years I spent there. Because of its ties to the hippie non-denomination though, record keeping, and specifically statistics were never really a big deal. In fact, I walked away with the perspective (whether it was taught or not) that focusing on "nickels and noses" was a bad practice to be in. I've come to realize that it definitely can be, but how many people you have and what they do with their money can also be a valuable metric for evaluating the health of a church. Then we have The Salvation Army. 124 countries (last time I checked), 4 US territories, 10 western divisions, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Statistics are important. Why? Because if you work at territorial headquarters in Long Beach, California and I work at the Kroc Center in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, there is no reliable way for you to judge how well I am stewarding the Army's resources in my local context without some kind of standardized measurement system that we both understand and agree on. Sure, the leaders at the territorial and divisional levels come check on us from time to time, but it's hard to get a good picture of what's going on from a visit.
So statistics. I find statistics challenging in two ways. Funny thing is, one way is due to my humility and the other way is due to my pride. First off, I find it hard to quantify the work we do. Not because we don't do quantifiable work, but because we do it all the time. For instance, one of the general categories of statistic that the territory wants is "people assisted." Well, we do that all day long, every day. The couple hundred of us that work at the Kroc Center are all about assisting people. It's who we are and it's the culture we have created. That makes it hard to quantify.
Lest I come across too holy and benign though, the second reason I have trouble with stats is that I want to look good. I am always tempted to find ways to make numbers appear greater than they are. Mr. Jones says he really liked the sermon on Sunday? What he probably meant was that he repented from his sins and decided to follow Jesus. A new salvation! That's a stat.
In all honesty though, I've never done that. But I've thought about it. The sick, twisted, Jesus-is-killing-day-by-day part of me that is my flesh has thought about manipulating stories of the saving work of Christ for personal and organizational pride. I would be surprised if I couldn't find others like me.
So when it is time to report stats, I try and ask myself two things:
- What are all the things we did? Who are all the people we served?
- Did we really do all those things? Did we really serve all those people?
Hopefully, by asking myself those questions, the statistics I keep are an accurate representation of the ministry that goes on at our corps and in our Kroc Center. I think we lean more towards the "I forget all the things that we do and our stats are a poor reflection of our ministry because we leave stuff out" rather than the "I inflate the ministry we do in order to look good," but this year I want to redouble my effort to collect accurate stats. Not so we can feel good about ourselves, but so that brothers and sisters around the country can rejoice with us in the work that God is doing in Coeur d'Alene.