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?

20 thoughts on “What Counts in The ECO? In The NEXT Church?

  1. I wish there was a way to measure all the little day to day decisions we make that are faith influenced – I’d rather count those than conversions. . . because sometimes – at least to me – converting is the easy part – the living is the tough part. Thanks for the thoughts this provokes

    1. Somebody once suggested to me that a church ought to measure the conditions of life in its neighborhood as indicators of its faithfulness. Crime going up? Homelessness? Graduation rates?

      1. THAT is an awesome idea!!!! Because if the Life that touches you in the church doesn’t overflow and flood out the door . . . what’s the point. More and more I am convinced that the point is NOT individual salvation

  2. Good thinking, Rock. In almost every church I have ever belonged to or served, there has been an expressed sentiment concerning those “outsiders” about whom Jesus seemed to care so much. The sentiment was, “Well, they know where to find us.” In the post-Christian, or whatever the cliche-of-the-day is, a great many people do not know where the church is, nor what it is about. Unless one is a strict universalist and everyone is a child of God no matter what, then there are those who are outside of God’s covenant community, who are “lost”. It is imperative on the church to find them, as they aren’t looking for us, no matter how many drums and guitars and hipster events we host. The tension between personal salvation and community usually tilts away from personal salvation. The tension between missional and community always tilts towards community. The tension between vibrant faith and institutionalized faith always tilts towards the institution (at least for those of us IN the institution!). Those of us in leadership either lead against people’s natural inclination (like Moses) or we pander to their lowest common denominator (like Aaron with the Golden Calf). I think ECO is attempting to be more concerned with mission, reaching the lost, than in arguing the BOO relentlessly. I am hopeful that many in the PC(USA), myself included, can learn from them and bless them.

    You’re a good man, Rock, and I miss our chats together.

    1. Jim Stochl is beautiful. Nobody in the NEXT conversation wants to argue the BOO of either. But their energies seem more directed at innovative community formation efforts and less toward the kind of seeking you’re describing. I think people surely know how to find the church; many of them know all too well what our churches are about. So how do we measure what matters to us if not numbers of new people?

      1. Unfortunately, the previous comment applies not only to ECO, but to every denomination, and every flavor of church within said denominations. Every Christ follower, every Christian group, every church has alienated people from Christ, and we have done it in Christ’s name. I think it is silly to point out one group for special recognition of that. Speck-log, that sort of thing.

        To Rock’s recent point, I beg to differ that people know where to find us. When I drive around Ceres with people, and we pass the church where I am the pastor, very few of them acknowledge, ‘Hey, that’s your church!” They just don’t see it. And those that see it, have no idea what goes on there. Or in our extended community.

        As to what to count, well, you got me. It is hard to measure life-change, but we can and should celebrate those life-change events: conversion, baptism, graduation, marriage, etc. How does one measure Christian maturity? How does one weigh the fruit of the Spirit? By the pound?

        Lastly, (I gotta stop procrastinating sometime), I am not a fan of Christians nor Christian groups slamming one another. It angers me when ECO people speak about how evil the PC(USA) is (implying those who stay are, too). But it equally angers me when PC(USA) people automatically judge those jumping to ECO. Tough splits like this have often helped the cause of Christ grow in many ways, just think of the Paul and Barnabbas split in Acts 16.

        Keep up the good work, Rock. Perhaps we can see a Royals game in Arizona in March!

      2. I would see a Royals game with you in Timbuktu!
        I went through several drafts of this blog post because I didn’t want it to have a “slam” tone. All objectivity aside, the ECO split angered me and hurt me, because people left something I am committed to–something my vocation is tied up in, something that has formed my faith–and they derided and kicked it as they left, claiming to be victims all the while. So I don’t want to slam anyone. I want to understand their worldview. But I don’t share much of it, and I think it would help me and people like to me look closely at the ECO theological platform in order to rigorously examine our own.
        Jim Stochl is magic.

      1. I was mostly thinking the LGBT community. But I am pretty sure they’ve alienated most democrats, feminists, etc. It is all about welcoming those who are “in” and excluding those who are “out.” The exact opposite of what Jesus did. 😦

      2. Episcopalians believe that our worship informs our servanthood. So if I were to measure something it would be the number sharing the Eucharist together and the number participating in the six mercies. Hopefully the two numbers match.

  3. in the corporate or business world, there is a mantra “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” the church is a bit different, and there is some overlap. In my favorite book about charity efforts “The Blue Sweater” they suggest that efforts should be tied to results. If we put efforts into charity (not agape, but economic aid), we should check to see if the efforts are getting results. Does the fundraising feed the hungry (for example)?

    The church though. Jesus. That’s little different, because in this free-will world of sin, we’re gonna have a LOT of efforts that don’t have results. Should I stop telling the good news just because people stop (or never start) listening? THe measures there are not so 1-to-1. The evangelism dollar to saved soul ratio is gonna fluctuate.

    I believe that our efforts to be christians and to be the body…the bride…of Christ here and now are very similar to personal empowerment principles. ALL OUR POWER COMES FROM WITHIN. We do not need other people’s (or groups’) affirmation to know that what we are doing is right.

    Whose affirmation do we need?
    God’s. Remember Him?

    So if each of our church communities are doing what is God’s highest will for each of us, then regardless of whether it results in full pews, we are doing the highest holy work.

    Let’s find metrics for that.

  4. Oh yeah, I forgot to say. I really like this post, Rocky. We have to wrestle with these things just about constantly don’t we? I know I have to as an individual, and in the church community too.

    Being new to the Presbyians I didn’t know about this split. Those are always a sorrow. I would wish for all the people who’ve been hurt and frustrated on either side to be able to feel God’s mercy and find peace.

    I’m glad God’s working that out. I’d screw it up, I’m sure.

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