Before my children were school aged I started playfully acknowledging that they were growing. Each night as I tucked them into bed I would reach from the tops of their heads to their toes and show them how far it was. This was no fish story. I would keep my arms spread as close to the original measurement as I could and back away with a "Wow! I think you really are bigger! How did you do that?"
Like most parents when we begin to marvel at how our children grow we are almost always focused on physical characteristics.
No one needs to feel bad about this. This is how it works around the world. But eventually we start to notice other ways that growth manifests itself. The first time a child is generous without being prodded almost always gets attention. Whenever a piercing question is asked we marvel then, too.
Somehow though it is still the physical measures that get to go first. Maturity or intelligence or compassion wait to be seen.
In the Episcopal Church we have our own fixations on "gross measures." Calculating the Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) is the current practice. Each Sunday, usually during the readings I'm counting heads. Most Sundays I like the numbers. I'll admit that some Sundays I want to fudge a little.
Our ASA is growing. That's a fact. We are now averaging more than 80 per Sunday morning. I've joked that our 8:00am service is the fastest growing in the diocese having doubled in ASA in the five years I've been serving. We've gone from 8-10 to 16-20.
Just like our wanting our children to grow in compassion, intelligence or maturity we want to be able to measure our lives in ministry and service by more than just the numbers.
But it needs to be said plainly and clearly, when our numbers are good we can count ON so much more. Another way to say it is that ASA is more symptom than fact, more lens than a thing to be looked at.
I cannot point at any one thing and say that is why the numbers are good. I can say that we are as compassionate and generous as we have ever been. I can say that we are as careful in our discernment and decision making as we have ever been. I can say that we as welcoming and collaborative as we have ever been.
I can say that we are growing. We are growing into a more mature practice of our faith that makes all these others ways of growing possible. Our ASA is a bonus.
Here's another bonus that comes with these ways of growing. Nothing of what we were before needs to be punished or criticized. You wouldn't pick on your own child for being "small for her age," would you?
Instead what we do is to marvel and wonder and celebrate that we have grown. And we give thanks that God has loved us through it all.