The Necessity and The Challenge
By The Rev. Ken Howard
In this time when faith communities are becoming increasingly uncertain about their prospects for the future, evaluating congregational vitality and sustainability has become a critical necessity for congregations and the denominational organizations (dioceses, districts, associations) that support them.
Vitality vs. Sustainability
Unfortunately, with currently-available denominational annual reporting tools, measuring congregational vitality and sustainability is not an easy or straightforward task.
They simply do not ask the right questions.
Let’s face it: It is well known that annual congregational reports – with their static, point-in-time, rear-view mirror measures of membership and attendance – do not measure vitality, at least not directly. And there’s the additional problem of what some call the “B.S. Factor”: the strong incentive to estimate to the high side on attendance and to be lax in culling membership rosters. One or two denominations (ELCA for example) are beginning to formulate and test questions to assess the former. But these are not yet in final form or in widespread use
And annual congregational reports don’t really measure sustainability at all, even indirectly. No denominations are currently measuring sustainability.
So when we were challenged by the Episcopal Church’s staff officer for church starts and redevelopment to find a way to gauge congregational vitality and sustainability using only currently available data, we were aware of the magnitude of the task. But we were also excited about how useful such a tool would be if we could meet the challenge.
And after months of researching correlations and developing algorithms, and another month or so of designing, rapid prototyping, refining, and beta testing, we have developed two new map layers for MapDash for Faith Communities: a Congregational Vitality Index and a Congregational Sustainability Index.
Here’s how we did it…