Annual Church Profile: ‘Numbers matter’
    September 21 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

    Americans detest filling out forms. Many groan at the thought of scribbling names, addresses and zip codes across tiny blank lines on boring black-and-white pages. The grumbling swells each year between Jan. 1 and April 15; that’s when U.S. income tax forms – the most despised of all – must be submitted. What’s worse, those tedious stacks of paperwork require math as well. It’s all too much for the average person. So many people dislike the process of filling out tax forms that for-profit filing services like H&R Block and TurboTax have become household names.
     
    Part of the distaste Americans feel for rote documentation comes from the idea that their hard work is then mailed off to faceless government agencies that mindlessly process the documents. All personhood is extracted and the information is distilled into systematic categories for the sake of government revenue. It feels meaningless to many people.
     
    There is evidence that some Southern Baptists consider a yearly statistical report submitted to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) called the Annual Church Profile (ACP) to be as unappealing as their yearly federal income tax form. Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, said in a 2012 Baptist Press report that the previous year’s ACP participation rate was the “lowest ever recorded.”
     
    Numbers have risen since 2011, and Southern Baptists retain a high response rate compared to other denominations, according to Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research. However, McConnell told SBC Life “the greatest challenge the ACP faces is keeping the response rate as high as possible each year.” Nearly 10,000 SBC congregations (approximately 20 percent) opted not to participate in the 2014 ACP.

     
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    “The percentage of North Carolina Baptist churches completing the ACP has been in steady decline for several years,” said Brian Davis, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) associate executive director-treasurer, in a 2014 Biblical Recorder column. “There is not a single explanation for ‘why’ this may be the case, but the overarching reason appears to be churches simply do not understand why completing the reports and sharing the data is important.”

     
    Overcoming ACP objections

    One obstacle for church participation in the yearly profile could be – like federal paperwork – the perception that it is meaningless.
     
    “Numbers don’t matter,” many Baptists say. Yet, according to a blog post by J.D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, “numbers represent lives, and each life matters.” Tracking attendance, giving and baptisms is biblical, and it allows churches to care for their members, according to Greear.
     
    That type of mutual care is not only possible for individuals inside a church, but also possible for cooperating churches with the help of the ACP at the local, state and national levels. “The most basic product of the ACP is an annual list of who we are as a group of churches who voluntarily cooperate with each other,” said Stetzer.
     
    “I recall in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, local associations and state conventions, with the support of national entities, were able to check on every Southern Baptist church in the affected areas. The value of our cooperation was never more evident than when we saw independent churches with no one coming to their aid.”
     
    Another objection leveled at the ACP is an alleged misuse of the data. Stetzer views the data positively, citing “statistical measures and benchmarks” as a benefit of the yearly report. “Facts are our friends,” he said, “and they help us hold ourselves accountable.”
     
    It allows for more accurate evaluation of church ministries. “Local churches are often so busy with seeking to establish new missionary and ministry efforts,” said Davis, “they do not often take time to do the difficult work of evaluating the effectiveness of current missionary and ministry efforts.”
     
    William Thornton, a Baptist blogger and Georgia pastor, took another perspective after the dip in ACP participation four years ago. He said in a blog post one of the reasons pastors refuse to lead their churches to submit their information is that “ACP data from individual churches is sometimes used as a club.
     
    “Did not baptize anyone? Wham! Did not give much through the Cooperative Program? Wham! Did not participate in the Annie Armstrong and Lottie Moon offerings? Wham, bam! Those running for state or national SBC office, or nominated for SBC entity positions can be sure their ACP will be scrutinized.”
     
    Thornton’s concern for SBC entity position candidates is not entirely unfounded. Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, told SBC Life, “As president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the ACP helped me in making appointments to various committees.
     
    “I said at the beginning of my tenure as president there were several criteria I would use for appointments,” Page continued. “One was, were they soul-winners? Well, the ACP helped me know. … Are you a Cooperative Program champion? Well, if they were, I saw it. If they weren’t, I saw it.”
     
    Greear said that scrutinizing a ministry based on numerical data isn’t biblical, though he supports record keeping. “There is a potentially disastrous illusion in such numbers,” he said. “Attendance, decisions and baptism do not equal the discipleship that ends in eternal life.”

    Stetzer said, “I am aware some pastors question why they should share their church’s information with the convention. But, I am also aware that what we measure points to what we value. 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.”
     
    In essence Stetzer values the health of the convention as a whole over the organizational aspirations of individual pastors. Page agrees. The simple act of submitting the ACP demonstrates cooperation with a broader group, Page told SBC Life. “It helps churches understand who they are as a family of Baptists. … It gives a lot of validity and affirmation of a local ministry to say we are part of a broader group and here are some statistics about that group.”
     

    Submitting the form

    Still another obstacle some churches may try to overcome to fill out the ACP is a notion that it is a long, tedious process. Russell Schwab, BSC system administrator, offered tips for navigating the ACP process. “Churches that are willing to fill out their yearly church profile can go to nc.sbcworkspace.com,” he said. To access the online form (Ask NED), churches will need a username and password that can received by contacting their respective local association office or by emailing Schwab at rschwab@ncbaptist.org.
     
    There is a printed version of the ACP as well. It too can be received – and potential questions can be addressed – by contacting the local association or Schwab. He said about the process, “Churches should try to reach out to the associational clerk or secretary first in trying to get ACP questions answered.” Then, if technical questions arise, or if more help is needed, contact him directly.
     
    Each association has their own deadline for reporting, he said, but Nov. 15 is the deadline for submitting the ACP at the state level. After churches have completed the ACP, Schwab added, “the data is shared with the local association office, the [BSC], and with [Lifeway Christian Resources] … for reporting purposes. This allows each entity to report statistical data at their level.”
     
    The reported data is important, according to Davis. He said, “your state convention staff depends on this information. The data mined from the ACP is necessary for our research and our strategic planning. This information is essential for convention staff as we fulfill the convention’s mission of assisting the churches in their divinely appointed mission. Convention staff may be able to follow-up for specific details to ensure that there are not unnecessary duplications in effort, and, where needed, additional resources can be invested in underserved areas. With more than 4,300 churches in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, it is a great task to keep up with all that God is accomplishing through the churches of the convention.”
     
    Churches that overcome each objection to the cooperative efforts of the yearly profile, and submit their information, can view up to seven years of statistical data at churchpop.ncbaptist.org.
     

    Related Stories:

    Annual Church Profile – more than the annual report card
    Annual Church Profile gives churches, SBC ‘report cards’

    9/21/2015 2:10:48 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments
    Filed under: Annual Church Profile, BSC, statistics




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