Jim Brauer pulls up a page of statistics on his computer screen that he says is the key indicator of a congregation's health -- community involvement with no hook.
"We Adventists are great at hooks," he laments. "'Oh, you had a smoking cessation program, how many baptisms did you get?'" he says, demonstrating what he says should be an antiquated management mentality.
A healthy congregation, Brauer says, sends about half of its volunteering members into the community to serve because it's the right thing to do, not just to get people to come to church. Eventually, the sincere service of members will slowly lower the resistance level of the community and may lead a community member to ask questions about faith.
Brauer, Adventist Mission director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church's
Southern Asia-Pacific Division, is helping to launch an initiative that would continually measure congregational behaviors in order to strengthen their effectiveness. The program measures 15 factors, including visitor retention, new decisions for Christ, tithe, and population growth in relation to membership growth.
Such a plan would offer a systems approach to ministry management, revealing factors that would better allow ministers to analyze why their congregations are growing or stagnating.
Still, the program's key factor is community involvement. About 50 percent of church volunteers working off church property in the community is a good ratio, Brauer says.
"Your community begins to become aware that you exist," he says. "If you're not involved in the community, that means few people are showing up and people aren't coming to check you out. Word of mouth is your best advertising."
The program is set for implementation this summer. Local leaders say they're still getting used to the idea, but will continue to follow up on implementation in local areas.
"I think with this approach we will be able to reach our target," said Alberto Gulfan, president of the church's Southern Asia-Pacific Division. "I think it will mean a lot."
The initiative quantifies effective methods of ministry that are being urged in other areas of the world. Gary Krause, Adventist Mission director at the denomination's world headquarters, called last year for similar community involvement in big cities during a day-long presentation to leaders in the denomination's Northern Asia-Pacific Division, headquartered in Ilsan, South Korea.
Krause said the goal of a church community should be to help newcomers first feel like they belong in the congregation, then ask them to make a decision
"Church itself is not just a destination, but a place to help get people to where they need to be spiritually," Krause said. "Often though, our focus is how to attract people to church instead of going out into the community to meet people where they are."