In 2010 I was pastoring my first church. It was a church revitalization effort with plenty of challenges and opportunities. This church, which had previously averaged over 200 in attendance, was now averaging 30. As the new pastor, I was inexperienced, but excited.
After a couple of years, we had made significant progress. No, we weren’t busting at the seams, but we were growing numerically and spiritually; we had more community impact, were involved in missions, and were updating our facilities. We were not where I wanted us to be, but we were on our way to getting there.
I remember attending several pastor’s fellowship meetings during those years. As I would talk with pastors and tell them where I pastored, I would always be asked the same questions. “How many are you running?” “What’s your attendance?” “What’s your budget?”
I’m sure some asked these questions with genuine curiosity, but I wondered why these questions were always the focus. The sad reality is that far too often, attendance and budget end up being the gauges of success or health in a church. I believe that is the wrong perspective.
In church revitalization, trajectory is more important than your current reality.
Your current trajectory is more important than your current position or situation. Where are you headed? Are you on the right track? Are you taking steps in the right direction in all aspects of your ministry?
Here are three reasons that trajectory trumps position.
It Keeps Your Perspective on The Big Picture.
It’s easy to focus on your current reality, and I’m not suggesting we ignore that. However, I am encouraging us to view church health in light of where we were vs. where we are going. In a church revitalization effort, progress can be made in many areas that are never part of church health metrics. There are so many things that may need to be done before there is ever a change in attendance or budget.
If you are only focused on where you are, you will be tempted to compare that position to the position of others. However, if you are focused on the big picture, you will constantly be reminded of how far you have come and where you are going.
It Helps You Focus on The Next Right Decision.
When you are only focused on your position instead of your trajectory, you can be tempted to make decisions that lead to a quick boost in numbers with no real, lasting impact.
Focusing on trajectory helps us simply make the next right decision. One right decision at a time will always lead us to the correct destination. There are reasons to celebrate the small victories that come from making the right small decisions. No, these decisions are not noticed by the church down the street, and they will not immediately double your attendance, but they will keep you focused on your destination and small daily decisions that will help you get there.
It Can Help Prevent You from Getting Sucked into the Numbers Game.
Looking at attendance and budget numbers ignores so many of the other challenges we face or the progress we make. Raw numbers ignore most of what contributes to or influences those numbers. It’s static information that shouldn’t be overlooked but shouldn’t be the sole gauge of health. The numbers game and the comparison game can be discouraging. Focusing on trajectory helps you avoid that frustration.
Attendance and budget should not be ignored, but it is possible to make progress and not see a change in numbers. It is possible to become healthier without there being an increase in budget. What is needed is one right decision at a time. Focus more on your trajectory than your current position. It is a more accurate gauge of progress and health than static numbers.