What Counts in The ECO? In The NEXT Church?

James Miller wrote on the ECO blog today that the new denomination cares about what it measures:

You’ll hear a couple of phrases floating around ECO circles. One is that you care about what you measure. If we are paying attention to something enough to document how it’s going, we probably care pretty deeply about where it ends up.

Jim describes the faith candle and baptismal pool in his church’s worship space for illustration. Every time they hear a story in worship of someone coming to faith, coming “to follow Jesus for the first time,” they light the candle. They baptize people by immersion in the pool. The candle and the pool are “tangible representations” of what matters to Jim’s church.

Jim’s church is counting conversions and initiations. Those things matter a great deal to ECO, a denomination populated by churches who could no longer stomach life in a denomination–the PC (USA)–piling up membership losses year after year. Several people I spoke with when ECO was forming shared that church growth was the thing they cared about most. Conversion and baptism are two indicators of growth, so they’re tracking them enthusiastically.

I wonder what those of us in the NEXT Church conversation are measuring. I don’t hear a lot of talk in NEXT circles about conversion, and I think that’s because NEXT folks talk about church as a community first and as a gathering of converted individuals second. We care less about people deciding to follow Jesus for the first time than we do about people experiencing belonging in Christian community, whether or not they ever profess Christian faith.  Many of us are quite comfortable including people in church who are vocally ambivalent about Christian doctrine, and moving them to convert isn’t high on our list of priorities.

Obviously, deciding to follow Jesus and experiencing belong in Christian community aren’t opposing alternatives. We want one to lead to the other (who cares which comes first?) But if we’re not inclined to count conversions, and if we’re passionate about welcoming people into an inclusive community where they experience God, what are the things we need to be measuring?

Advertisements