Trust and numbers

The Call to Action report got one thing 100% right.

The report says the United Methodist Church suffers from a profound lack of trust running up and down its connection. How true is that?

The latest evidence of this for me is on display at Jeremy Smith blog where he has called for a rebellion against the metric-based Vital Congregations initiative. Read the comments section. It is just a few people posting back and forth, but the communication and trust issues are pretty plain to see.

I’ve had my share of criticisms of the Call to Action report, mostly on the grounds that the statistics don’t add up and are poorly interpreted. The lack of theological content bothers me as well. But as a Wesleyan, I have no beef at all with the argument that one thing we are supposed to do is reach new people.

We are supposed to be the ones who believe Jesus Christ died for everyone and that everyone needs Christ. We tell our little stories about John Wesley taking to field preaching because that was the only way to reach the people.

Yes, we absolutely care about what happens after you reach out. Salvation is about more than getting a rear end in a pew. To bring in bodies and not move them on to perfection is a tragedy. Sometimes to do this, we may do things that drive a few people away. Hopefully, our systems will be nuanced enough to take such things into account.

But we care about numbers. We are Methodists for Pete’s sake.

Let us be wise in how we use numbers. Let us collect numbers that actually have some meaning. Let’s tell the stories and pay attention to things that numbers cannot tell us. But we care about numbers. Or we should. Each number is a beloved creature of God.

6 thoughts on “Trust and numbers

  1. If you read the comments, the nuanced position is that we need subjective stories alongside the objective criteria. My complaint is that we are moving towards assessment based on objective criteria alone by fewer and fewer church executives, which is because of the CTA.

    1. Jeremy,

      My apologies. I did not mean to mischaracterize your argument.

      What I found interesting were the comments that expressed lack of faith that the denominational hierarchy would use the information in productive ways. Part of the reason we all worry about numbers without nuance is that we do not trust that bishops and cabinets will use them well.

      That is the issue that I thought I saw in the post and comments. I don’t criticize people for feeling that way. I just think it does show one way that Apex was correct. … And I suppose at the end of the piece I felt like I should clarify my stance toward numbers.

      In retrospect, that was probably a bad writing choice as it muddled the focus of the post.

      1. It’s a fine blog post, John. You saw something of importance and wrote about it, don’t apologize. I think you are correct: Lack of trust does permeate the denomination, particularly in numbers without nuance.

        We agree on the problem. The disconnect between me and the CTA is that the CTA believes if we streamline and put decision-making in fewer and fewer church executives and executive committees, then the value of numbers without nuance skyrockets as it is the easiest comparative quality but not the most faithful.

        I can imagine a rural congregation sending in a request for funds for a mission project to the Advisory Committee handwritten on lined paper being beat out by an inner-city church with charts, graphs, and figures.

        It’s not solely a matter of trust: it is a pointing out of injustice. But the lack of trust is there.

  2. I read those comments, and I have a confession to make: When I read the comments of a DS who posted in the thread at Jeremy’s blog, my first gut reaction was, “Oh, a DS…of course he’s going to defend the CTR; he’s part of the machine.” My first reaction was pure distrust, before I even read his comment.

    I don’t know the man and I feel badly about my snap judgement. I want to trust the leadership of the church, but past experience tells me that it would be foolish to do so.

  3. Wow, this is good stuff!!!! Kurt, hit a nerve that everyone does want to trust the DS’ and the Bishops but the system tends to work against it as it seeks to preserve itself often at the expense of the integrity of the Pastor. On one of the anniversaries of 9/11 Pastors in the District I served in at the time were encouraged to invite an individual of another faith to lead the worship hour at 11:00 to show a willingness to be tolerant, etc. The closest Church to me had a Wiccan do the “service of the four winds” (or some such thing) in their Sanctuary. When I mentioned that this disturbed me I was told by a former DS not to “make waves.” And so it goes!!!

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