Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Annual Church Profile, RIP?

Well, no. It's not dead, just weathered with age and dying.

It is noteworthy that the Florida Baptist Convention reports that a significant number of their churches are not reporting data for the Annual Church Profile, that statistical summary of church attendance, finances, and other information.

An article in the Florida Baptist Witness reports that fully 15.6% of FBC churches have failed to provide such data "despite repeated efforts to collect the information."

To be frank, I came to look with some small degree of disdain at the ACP when the materials would show up in my church's mailbox each August or so. Nonetheless, I'd see to it that the information was provided, though in somewhat of a desultory manner. I confess that I got to the place where it seemed in some ways that the information was useful mainly for denominational statistical voyeurs and chest thumping ministerial braggarts who liked to see if anyone else was baptizing as many folks as they were.

Perhaps I was just a bit burned out on the thing.

Whatever the motivation or lack thereof, there is a general trend of churches tossing the ACP packet in the old garbage can and forgetting about it. It looks like 2011 will surpass 2010 and set a new record of low response rates.

Which raises some questions:

1. What will we do in associational meeting if we can't take the fresh statistics and see who's baptizing the most or who's not doing much? And, it has always been a part of evangelists' repertoire to declaim about how many SBC churches baptized no one last year. They will not know how many.

2. How will pastors searching for a new place of service know if a church that has their resume has enough money to pay them enough?

3. Great Commission Giving? Who would know? It would be extremely tedious, perhaps impossible, to go to each SBC entity and see what churches are giving directly to them.

I give credit to LifeWay and my state convention for simplifying the form and asking for less information the last few years but it looks like that will not be enough.

How about LifeWay offering a gift card to Outback Steakhouse for a completed form? That would guarantee full compliance, and quickly.

LifeWay's Ed Stetzer, our stat guru, said that the record low response rate...
"may be an indication that some churches no longer value their connection to the SBC, but I am guessing it is because many do not see how important the ACP is."

Stetzer further states that...

...“we measure points to what we value,” he added, “If we want SBC churches to grow, want new SBC churches to be added, want more individuals to be involved in Bible study and missions, and want churches to cooperate in Great Commission giving, we should be willing to measure our progress.”

Sorry, Ed, I'm not buying your second point. Filling out the ACP isn't much of an indication that we don't value growth or the progress of the Gospel. Let's go to Occam's Razor for this one. We're tired of it, or, reporting to denominational entities is not considered to have a lot of value. Stuff like that.

But even an 85% response rate is sufficient for adequate statistical analysis if we want to perform those but I might suggest that what we would really like to know is what certain individual churches and pastors are doing, or not doing.

Of course the gold standard is not the ACP, which may simply be made up numbers penciled in by whomever fills the form out in a church, but rather the state convention report of what money is actually received. Those represent real checks written to the Cooperative Program or to the various mission offerings. Attendance and baptisms, however, may or may not be real figures.

I'm a bit of a statistical junkie myself. I'd like to see full cooperation on the ACP though I fear that we will continue to set records for low compliance.

I'd take the Outback gift card, though, in an SBC triple-bypass heartbeat.


Rick Patrick said...

Love the idea of the gift card incentive. It should go to the secretary who fills it out, not the pastor!

Dave Miller said...

If it is an Outback card, it should go to the pastor. That's just right.

Jonathan said...

If our seminaries required 2 courses in classical economics, the BP headline on this would something like "The Invisible Hand of the Market Strikes Local Church Data Reporting".

The average local church has learned that the only thing that denominational agencies (SBC, state conventions, certain local associations) really care about is the checks being written by those churches.

These churches understand that unless they are a mega church or have a pastor who sits at the cool kids table at a particular seminary, no one from their membership is going to sit in a position of influence or policy making.

The "invisible hand" is seen in the actions of all of these churches who, independently, are deciding what is and what is not in their own best self-interest.

The SBC agencies leadership act in what they consider to be in their own best self-interest. We've seen this in the GCR (which demands that everyone other than SBC agencies - with the exception o the ExCom - tighten their budgets). We've seen it in how the NAMB mandating changes to how state conventions function and fund ministries. We see this in the new Great Commission Giving category (which, lets face it, is essentially an attempt to help the large churches save face for not supporting the CP for decades). We see this pretty much every time we see a blue ribbon panel "study" and issue at the SBC level.

This is fine, but if the SBC continues this top down, tone deaf management style, expect more local churches to figure out they can also make decisions in their own best self-interest.

And we should expect to see that best self-interest of the local church to be frequently at odds with the best self-interest of SBC agencies.