What “counts” is an English colloquialism for noting what activities and events matter and how to evaluate intentional participation in these activities. For example, the “Monthly Stats” page of a district website in the Church of the Nazarene offers fields for pastors to include average attendance numbers for Sunday School, Morning Worship, and Responsibility List. This is not an attempt to belittle this district, which itself acknowledges the dubious nature of the task in reference to the quote about statistics and lies, often attributed to Mark Twain and many others. The district asks churches to report what is expected by the denomination.
This is no surprise to worship service attendees perusing worship bulletin inserts distributed by district offices every quarter showing average Sunday School and worship attendance numbers for all of the local organized churches listed by zones or mission areas. Sometimes, a column is given that shows how these numbers have increased or decreased from the previous installment. At the end of the church year, the District Assembly gathers these numbers into a district journal offering proof of who was in church on Sundays. Nazarenes are not alone in giving value to attendance numbers. We are also not immune to the deep scars these numbers may cause.
A few years ago, Methodist Robert Linthicum, a three-decade veteran of urban ministry, lamented that the process of gathering attendance numbers for the small church pastor. “I know of no instrument created by our denomination that gives city pastors a greater sense of failure and of little worth than this annual book of statistics… driving home to the city pastor how ‘little’ he or she has accomplished…the previous year.” This commentary on counting attendance was published over twenty years ago. Over the next two decades, little has changed in the value denominations still attribute to attendance numbers.
Next Sunday, ushers will continue to collect the offering and take account of who is where in the church building during Sunday morning worship services. From the hard-to-believe-if-it-didn’t-happen-to-me file, there is a local church in a city not to be named that had created a peep hole in the flat stone wall behind the pulpit to allow the church secretary to have a direct view of every pew and in order to count who was really there.
Most church leaders are expected to track attendance in small groups, midweek activities, worship services, and fellowship events from the local church to the district auxiliaries. Just a few weeks ago, a big deal was made in a nearby local church about the number of teenagers participating in an all-night youth lock-in in which students went sledding, played basketball and video games, and consumed large amounts of caffeine. It makes one wonder about the significance of this accounting and if it truly holds churches accountable to its primary purpose and mission in the world: To make Christlike disciples in the nations. So, what really counts in church?
Coming Soon: Part 2--Nickels and Noses
 Robert Linthicum, City of God, City of Satan: A Biblical Theology of the Urban Context (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 292.