Why Churches Are Infatuated with Metrics

Another pastor asked me today why the church loves “measurability” so much. The question got me to thinking. My first thought turned to Jerry Muller’s book, The Tyranny of Metrics. (If you like other formats, you can listen to Russ Roberts’ interview with Muller on Econtalk.) I had other thoughts as well:

A few thoughts on why we love metrics:

  1. Metrics are used to measure or number things. That’s a biblical practice even before the Book of NUMBERS.
  2. Church is, among other things, a teleological phenomenon. We have a calling that we can engage with more or less poorly. When we wonder how well we’re doing, we measure.
  3. We are in an age that loves to talk about accountability. Some of this is driven by our strong sense of having a mission to accomplish. Too often unacknowledged is the fact that we’re cheap and want to know if we’re “getting our money’s worth.”
  4. We assume measurement leads to knowledge and our modern commitment to the centrality of epistemology entices us toward over reliance on metrics.
  5. Metrics have the veneer of objectivity, so in a disputatious age we can take them to be something we won’t fight over.
  6. Like the joke about the drunk guy looking for his wallet where the light is (rather than where he lost them), they seem ready to hand when more important things are not.
  7. We feel like numbers are something under our control, something we can engineer. If they are, then we can be held accountable for them and appropriately rewarded (if they’re good) or punished (if it’s someone else we’re holding accountable or need to feel some guilt).
  8. We lack a clear sense of what church is for, so the numbers (dollars and people present) are a ready substitute.

What are some other reasons you think of?

This entry was posted in Culture, Discipleship, Ecclesiology, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

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