As I write these reflections on New Year’s Day 2009, the refrains of “Joy to the World” are muted by anxiety about the growing effects of a declining economy and the tragic escalation of violence in the Middle East. Statistics fuel this anxiety and seem to dominate our daily lives: the rise and fall of the stock market, and the number of jobs lost, mortgages foreclosed, rockets launched and war casualties. It is challenging to move beyond numbers to consider the human lives involved.
Within the life of the church, data provide one picture of our priorities and even of our vitality. It is appropriate to pay attention to worship attendance, membership—including our racial, ethnic and age diversity—average giving, and the percentage of congregations’ budgets that support mission beyond the congregation. These data, however, cannot tell the whole story. They cannot tell the story of those who come to faith through hearing the good news of Jesus Christ, the healing of relationships through the prayers and pastoral care of parishioners, or even of a congregation’s bold decision to sustain mission in the midst of a downturn.
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