Context Matters

What if I told you about a friend of mine who leads a church, and that church has baptized 10 people over the past 3 weeks? You’d be pretty impressed but it’s not totally out of the ordinary to hear about something like that.

What if I then told you that church averages around 150 people each weekend? A bit more impressive for them to have baptized 10 people over 3 weeks?

What if you also learned that the town this church is in has a population of 1,042? Actually, true story, there was a murder two weeks ago, so it’s now 1,041. Still, that means that in 3 weeks, they have baptized about 1% of their population. Just to give that some context, that would be like Parkcrest, baptizing 4,000 people in Long Beach in 3 weeks. To even begin to comprehend that is crazy and ridiculous.

But here’s the thing that blows me away, and is one of the problems amongst Christian leaders today – no one knows about it or will hear much about it. He won’t be asked to speak at a conference, get interviewed for a major magazine or to write a book about it. But what other church are you aware of that has baptized 1% of their population over a 3 week period?

As people, and especially pastors, talk about results they’re experiencing, I’m learning to ask context questions. For churches that are rapidly growing – are they in a suburban area, a place where there is a large amount of new growth, are people coming to faith or are they changing churches? A church where all of that is true may be growing at a faster rate and percentage than one that is in an urban area with a highly post-Christian population, but the growth of the church in the second context would be a much harder to achieve growth. Context matters.

In the movement of churches that we’re a part of, they publish a list of the largest churches each year. Parkcrest has been on that list for several years…until last year and this year when I chose not to submit any information. The thing is, I couldn’t figure out why it was helpful. What does it benefit someone to see us on that list? It felt good to see my name and Parkcrest’s name there, but stroking my ego hardly seemed like reason enough to make sure we were on there. Now, most pastors and churches don’t make that same decision, and this really isn’t about whether thats right or wrong – but that to say those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

As I was asked to submit our info this year, something more than years past began to bother me – my friend’s church wouldn’t ever be on that list. Which is unfortunate, because he probably has something more significant to teach people than many of us who are on that list, if people would listen.

I’m all for tracking success and making sure that what we’re doing is moving in the right direction, but at the same time, we can’t forget that as we talk about results, context matters. Our results don’t occur in a vacuum. I wonder if some of the most significant stories have remained untold because we ignore the context and look purely at the results.

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