The Buffett rule

Each year Warren Buffett’s letter to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway is read closely by people who want to learn the sage from Omaha’s thinking on investing and the state of American business.

As I was reading it, the following nugget got me thinking about the church.

Focus on the future productivity of the asset you are considering. If you don’t feel comfortable making a rough estimate of the asset’s future earnings, just forget it and move on. No one has the ability to evaluate every investment possibility. But omniscience isn’t necessary; you only need to understand the actions you undertake.

The comment got me thinking about congregations.

How do you gauge the “future productivity” of a congregation? The first challenge in answering that question (aside from the impulse to argue the question is meaningless for churches) is coming up with a coherent way to talk about “productivity” in the church.

Some churches appear to measure this in terms of new converts. Elevation Church has gotten some bad press recently for the way it puts this into practice, but you can certainly see that the church has clear vision about what it means to be a productive congregation.

Other churches appear to focus on “productivity” in terms of social action or mission work. Others have another definition for what it means to be a productive church. John Wesley — who did not lead a congregation — defined the productivity of his movement in terms of the spreading of scriptural holiness, which he often measured by the effect of Methodism on the social and moral life of village and towns.

Many congregations have no definition of “productivity” and no way to explain why they do what they do.

I wonder how many congregations, when looked at with a dispassionate eye, would leave the viewer unable to guess how productive they will be over the next five years. How many would be wise places for our annual conferences to invest in to advance its mission?