I get e-mail newsletters from the company we worked with at Church of the Cross for our 501c3 application. The latest one really intrigued me. As you can see from the picture, it was all about why July 5th is one of the top days for ministers to resign their positions. The first paragraph reads:
For many pastors the Monday after July 4th is a very depressing day. That is the day when countless pastors feel the most abandoned by God and by the congregation. Though the reasoning is not clear, it seems that we pastors, from the day we say “Yes” to God’s call, associate His blessing on our life with the size of the crowd and the offering on Sundays…which is why many pastors want to quit the Monday after the fourth of July!
I get to talk to a lot of pastors. I enjoy hearing what God is doing in different parts of his family. I like being challenged to think outside of my own little box (yes, we all have them). I like to hear what’s working for people to grow disciples and what isn’t. But there’s one part I don’t like; invariably, the question always comes in some form or another: So, what are your numbers? How many people are you running?
I understand the question and why we ask it. There are some healthy reasons to periodically examine numbers. It seems reasonable that if the Word is being faithfully preached, lives are being changed, people are living as a family of learning, serving missionaries, that your “numbers” would increase, even if slowly. After all, the role of the church is to make disciples, which, by necessity, means that we should be increasing. If we are at stagnant numbers for extended periods of time, it seems reasonable to question whether or not we are truly making disciples.
But, the article and the question hint at something both deeper and darker: we have come to gauge success or failure in many churches by the “Three Bs: Butts, Buildings and Budgets.” When this becomes your gauge, your view of the number of people shifts: you no longer praise God for even a slow trickle of growing disciples, because slow trickles, slow, steady growth does not fuel the Three Bs. Far too often, churches have come to view people as a means to an end. The Three Bs are our gauge, so we need people to fuel the Three Bs, so if we’re not growing (numerically), then we’re not “successful.”
Yes, there is a tension here. Yes, we should pay attention to numbers, but I wonder if so many pastors resign on July 5th because they look at numbers wrongly. Instead of understanding the natural rhythms of life and rejoicing that our people get a chance to take a vacation, get some rest (though vacations are often not restful!), be with family and have some fun, we view ourselves as failures because there are not butts in the seats, which affects the budget, which affects the building, which means that we have failed.
There is much more to say here and I’m not the first to say any of it but I just wonder what it might look like if we abandoned the Three Bs as measures of success or failure and got back to discipleship?