The dawning of youth ministry in the 1980’s was heavily influenced by that statistic, you know the one I mean, that every week 300 young people leave the church. This week articles from
and Ali Campbell have continued the ongoing almost obsession both within and outside of the church with measuring its life or health by Sunday attendance numbers. There are many others, i am just highlighting these two because they’re the most recent. The Guardian ran the piece yesterday too. There’s a graph almost every month depending on who’s got research being produced.
Everyone knows on one hand that statistics can be presented in a number of ways – however i wonder if one of the key flaws to the traditional discussion is the use of statistics, or at least the measurement of people by numbers at all, within the consideration of the state of religion or the nations religion.
a lesson from youthwork:
Youth work, which has claimed to be an art, a Moral philosophy (Kerry Young 1999), one of its key demises as a universal service has been caused by political interference in regard to youthwork needing to justify its existence through adhering to the political ideologies of neo-liberalism. These prioritised efficiency, value for money in tendering processes and essentially young people as numbers/commodities and as clients. Because youthworkers couldn’t fight back, neither could they force young people to attend or did they want to (due to the nature of the informal voluntary relationship that youthwork consists of) the game of political neo liberalism, and this ideology implemented by new public management has led to the closure of youth services (a practice underpinned by an art) – replaced horrifically by schemes such as NCS which act in a business, outcome way and view young people more akin to a problem to solve, which may work with young people, but is far from what might be considered artistic educative youthwork.
So, why this sorry tale?
If the maxim that once some thing can be measured it then lies itself open to be managed is accurate, then might the church in determining its success by numbers be opening itself up to the same political managerial forces that have currently decimated youth services?
Maybe not – but where might the dominant ideas regarding management be coming from?
What i mean is – does the fascination with the outcomes of faith performance (ie the activities of clergy , church) in light of ‘people-as-numbers’, reduce the acts christian faith to scientific management and outcomes determined performances?
Instead – as Vanhoozer states (2014:182) – should the aim be to ‘present Christ, not extend Christendom’ and be encouraged to artistically perform creatively in contexts, produce mosaics and prosaics of liberative, flourishing acts, acts of sacrament, worship and theatre. Concern about numbers or status anxiety is probably correctly identified by vanhoozer as a “perennial threat to the church’s faithful performance ” and should it act in ways that seek to attract- use tools of the empire, or business strategies of ‘the world’ which will inevitably hinder or produce a certain type of growth or faith.
So – instead of attendance – and i reluctantly say this – what about focussing on performances of worship/church as creative and artistic, on dramatic performance. Might authentic faith follow?
Whether faith performance should be measured, and then be called to management from this perspective should hopefully be open to question.
Faith as art, might reduce faith to acts of performance, akin to the redundant art museum, but art is too static, unlike the drama of ongoing present performance, so as i urge ‘art’ i mean ‘artistic’ or art as contrast to science/numbers.
If numbers are required, why is the outcome of the action what is recorded? , In the weekly statistics on film takings, there’s two recognised, one for takings overall, and one for takings per cinema/showing. So, What about measuring numbers of performances? or variety of performances? or number of voluntary hours committed by church people in society, chaplain hours, youth ministry hours?.
If the issue is that reduction of attendance is a sign of increase secularisation, (Moynagh 2012) Then the church should adapt its performance from its actions on Sundays thus measuring aspects of church performance in decline and start to identify and produce evidence on a regular basis of the church’s good artistic and active performance in the UK society.
And if attendance is the statistic that counts, could that not include all services in churches, messy church, mothers union (the original fresh expression?!), Wednesday services and others.
The danger of numbers is that creative performance is stultified because creativity & goodness of performance is gauged through the lens of people attending church on one service on one day. As soon as performance is weighed down by ‘how many people attended it, or Sunday services only’ whether it be youth ministry, chaplaincy, messy church, toddler groups its reduced faith to people-as-numbers, rather than faith in people.
As Moynagh argues (2012), churches that put on varieties of performance do attract more people, but if its didn’t attract people would that not mean that it was appropriate.
The danger of management of churches that inherits management models that don’t reflect the values or acts of mission, but management concepts from business which deem efficiency, control and value for money as priorities, not a liberative or theological underpinning of management fit for the futuristic values of the church as faithful performance. If the old adage that going to Macdonalds doesnt make a person a hamburger, managing the church like a Macdonalds chain will not make for a healthy spiritual diet in the UK.