This blog post first appeared on Medium.com. Re-published with permission.

How can what we measure encourage good practice? And, what are some aspects of our common life that are worth measuring that might encourage individual and community growth in the midst of these disorienting times?

For whatever reason, church leaders have become more obsessed with numbers during the pandemic than they were before. Is it a craving for tangible, familiar things in a world filled with such uncertainty? Is it a desire to make meaning of this moment when we are at our wit’s end and exhausted? Is it because we have been told by denominational execs to track these numbers in the past?

Every week I find myself in conversation with church leaders who want to make sense of this moment through numbers, and it always starts with attendance. Translated to this moment, the fixation has shifted from people in pews to online views.

The Sunday service that once had 12 people on a high week may now have 70 views. But what do these numbers mean?

These numbers provide us with some data. But is it the right information? What purpose does it serve? What—if anything—do the data we collect tell us about the health, vitality, and potential of our congregations in engaging God’s work in the world?

If viewership is the only thing we are measuring, then I’m worried.

There are folks who are much more experienced in online services who will tell you that this measurement is fraught. If we just look at the number of views without digging into back end analytics, we will miss information on where our viewers are coming from how they are engaging, how long they’re staying, how many people are repeat or unique viewers, and so on.

Even with these pieces of the puzzle, Google Analytics won’t tell you anything about the health of your community: the vitality of its spiritual life, the strength of its relationships, about its engagement with its neighbours, or service in the world.

What we measure tells us something about what we value. If all we measure are Sunday statistics, all we’re going to get are Sunday answers. But the work of the church ought to take place well beyond the 60–90 minutes people are present in worship, however valuable this time is to our formation.

So, how can what we measure encourage good practice? And, what are some aspects of our common life that are worth measuring that might encourage individual and community growth in our practice of discipleship in these disorienting times?

Here are five questions I’d ask my congregation to encourage them to reflect on ways the pandemic has shaped key aspects of their personal and community discipleship.

Question 1: How has the pandemic shaped your personal prayer practice?

  • How often did you pray before the pandemic? (2+ Times Per Day, Daily, Several Times Per Week, Weekly, Occasionally, Rarely, Never)
  • How often do you pray now? (2+ Times Per Day, Daily, Several Times Per Week, Weekly, Occasionally, Rarely, Never)
  • How would you describe the effect of the pandemic on your personal prayer practice?

Question 2: How has the pandemic shaped your engagement with scripture?

  • How often did you read scripture on your own before the pandemic? (2+ Times Per Day, Daily, Several Times Per Week, Weekly, Occasionally, Rarely, Never)
  • How often do you read scripture on your own now? (Daily, More than Once Per Week, Weekly, Occasionally, Rarely)
  • How would you describe the effect of the pandemic on your engagement with scripture?

Question 3: How has the pandemic shaped your participation in Christian community?

  • How often did you connect with other members of the church community outside of Sunday Services before the pandemic? (2+ Times Per Day, Daily, Several Times Per Week, Weekly, Occasionally, Rarely, Never)
  • How often do you connect with other members of the church community outside of Sunday Services now? (2+ Times Per Day, Daily, Several Times Per Week, Weekly, Occasionally, Rarely, Never)
  • How would you describe the effect of the pandemic on your participation in Christian community?

Question 4: How has the pandemic shaped your willingness to speak with friends, neighbours, and acquaintances, about Christian faith or spiritual matters?

  • How often did you speak with others about your Christian faith, or spiritual matters before the pandemic? (2+ Times Per Day, Daily, Several Times Per Week, Weekly, Occasionally, Rarely, Never)
  • How often do you speak with others about Christian faith spiritual matters now? (2+ Times Per Day, Daily, Several Times Per Week, Weekly, Occasionally, Rarely, Never)
  • How would you describe the effect of the pandemic on your willingness to speak with friends, neighbours, and acquaintances about spiritual matters?

Question 5: How has the pandemic shaped your participation in acts of service in the community?

  • How often did you engage in acts of service before the pandemic? (2+ Times Per Day, Daily, Several Times Per Week, Weekly, Occasionally, Rarely, Never)
  • How often do you engage in acts of service now? (2+ Times Per Day, Daily, Several Times Per Week, Weekly, Occasionally, Rarely, Never)
  • How would you describe the effect of the pandemic on your participation in acts of service in the community?

The Christian life is embodied, and it is lived 168 hours per week. If we are only interested in what happens for the 60–90minutes that (we hope!) members of our congregation are attending or viewing our services, we will not have a window into what is going on for them during the remaining 167 hours.

By asking these questions, we open up the doorway to reflection, a spark for conversation with members of the community as they note their responses before the pandemic and in the current moment, and take time to reflect on them. Going deeper in conversation with members of our communities, we have the chance to explore where God is present, how God is being revealed, and how God is knitting the community together to participate in God’s mission for the world.

This moment is inviting us into a time of self-reflection. It is shuffling priorities, and calling us to attention.

How might we emerge from this time more aware of the ways in which Holy Spirit is present in our midst, and calling us to journey with Jesus as those who embody gospel wherever we live?