"Nickels and noses" euphemistically refers to the number of people attending a worship service and the amount of money received in the offering plate. A local pastor once admitted that local churches tend to value the ABCs: "Attendance, Buildings, and Cash.” This way of talking about what counts, especially attendance numbers, has also been highlighted in the 2010 Religious Membership and Congregations Study conducted by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.
Furthermore, the data can be used for comparisons between religious groups as well as comparing affiliated and unclaimed populations in a particular geographic area. These data are a good starting point in order to discover religious identities in certain locations of the United States. But several questions are begging to be asked. How are these individual adherents tracked in teh transient society found in north America? What of the numerous non-denominational Christian churches emerging in the last few decades? What if people do not identify themselves as belonging to the Christian churches that they most identify with spiritually?
The preponderance of "soul liberty" remains a central tenet within the American psyche since the Baptist Roger Williams left the Puritan-governed Massachusetts Bay Colony to found the religiously open colony of Rhode Island. What happens when persons considered themselves Christian but do not affiliate with any religious group? What if someone considers himself or herself part of a church but the church does not? The numerical data is something but not everything. True, the numbers tell a story. There is a narrative behind every number. The numbers begin to answer some questions but also give rise to many more.
Returning to the original question from Part 1: What really counts in church? What do these numbers show about not only who is present in a community but also what the churches and its members do as part of a community? What is there to say about the relative importance and intentionality of their activities within the context of the larger community? It could be these numbers only tell us who is attracted to particular churches and religious groups in certain areas but not much about what happens once they get there.
Next, "On a Mission from God": What Really Counts?, Part 3