Every time you visit your doctor, you first meet with a nurse who takes your vital signs. Those vital signs are often your pulse rate, blood pressure, temperature, weight and sometimes O2 levels. They’re taken because they are standards by which to measure health. When your doctor walks through the door, she/he begins asking questions about your health, getting you to tell stories about how you feel, what your body is doing, etc. Both are important in determining one’s health.
In the United Methodist Church, vital signs are a measure of discipleship as reflected in the activities in which the members of your church are engaged. Disciples of Jesus Christ regularly participate in certain activities that reflect their faith and devotion. Disciples worship. Disciples make new disciples. Disciples engage in growing as a disciple. Disciples engage in mission. Disciples give to the mission. Taking one’s vital signs in the church means counting the number of people in worship, in small groups, engaged in mission as well as giving and professions of faith.
But why is it important to take vital signs in a church? Because they tell us how we are doing. If attendance is down, we can start asking the question why? Is worship not as meaningful as it once was? Are guests not returning? Why? Have our outreach events not been effective? What’s happening and what do we need to do differently to take corrective action? If worship is up, we ask different questions: What is working so well? How can we build upon that? How can we praise God for this exciting happening? If giving is up, we celebrate and affirm the direction we are going. If it’s down, we ask why? And then we seek to address the why by implementing a strategy to increase giving. Take Professions of Faith – if we have just a few it means we may not be reaching new people for Jesus and raises the question, what can we do to more effectively reach new people for Jesus? If it’s up, we celebrate that people are out there sharing their faith, witnessing to others, and inviting people to worship.
Statistics don’t say everything. They do give a glimpse of health but the anecdotal stories help us see, even more clearly, the health of a church. It’s one thing to say 25 people showed up. It’s another to say there was laughter and joy when, in the past, it was boring. It’s one thing to say the same old people are doing everything but now new people, who just started attending, are actually the ones getting involved! Stories matter as they help us look deeper into the health of a church.
I would invite you to share your vital signs and stories at every leadership team or Ad Board meeting. Use them to think about the health of your church strategically. Ask “Why” questions. Use them to celebrate or to develop strategy. These vital signs are meant to be used by you to celebrate or recalibrate, whichever is necessary. Some people feel they are used against churches and pastors. I hope you’ll see beyond this to see that they are meant to help you be an effective leader and to ask questions that can bring even greater health to your church. Sure, district superintendents look at them, because we, too, care about the health of the church(es) you are serving. If you’re struggling, ask for help. Maybe we can bring a coach in to assist. Maybe Journey Renewal or MCCI is an option to help you.
Let me invite you, each week, to gather the vital signs your church deems most valuable. At the very least this includes worship attendance, giving and professions of faith. You can record your vital signs through the Dakotas Conference vital signs dashboard. Then use them with your leadership team to celebrate or recalibrate so that your church is giving its best to the mission of making new disciples for the transformation of the world.