I love the smell of Data in the morning

This is a link to a WSJ article about the population of NY based on the 2010 census. (The data is starting to roll out and the reports are being updated.) Now I’m a pure geek when it comes to numbers. I love this type of info. There is one big temptation/problem with that as a pastor: looking at specific flesh and blood people not in themselves but as parts of a statistical grouping. That data in itself rarely tells you anything. What it can do is lead to insight. The insight is the narrative or story you put on the data; how you read it. When interacting with an individual you have to be able to set aside that statistical story because individuals have quirks.

But back to the article. It states, “Not since the 1970s have so many people left New York. Only three other states—Illinois, Louisiana and Michigan—saw such steep total losses, the study found.” If you exclude Louisiana which can be explained by Katrina displacing much of the city of New Orleans, the common tie is high taxes and cold weather. People vote with their feet. Getting more local the article also includes, “Larger upstate counties, like Monroe, Erie and Onondaga, also lost thousands of residents.”

How does this have any impact on a church, especially a local one? Aren’t you falling into the temptation you described? This article isn’t detailed enough (or local enough data) to really tell a story, but if you dig deeper in the census data (and other sources) you can tell a better story. That story can help you think about missions and direction. Is your direction going the opposite of prevailing winds? (i.e. are you predicting 25% growth rates in an environment that is shrinking or stable). Is your mission and message addressing concerns that might be felt? (i.e. NY families that are spread out and at a distance). What is a mission that a local church could do to help those who do not have family real local because of movement? How is the church a family? The balancing force not making the numbers worse is immigration. Those immigrating in are not the same as those immigrating out. Is that effecting your area? Are you able to see it if it is? The missions a congregation chooses to do are still their choice (although not being in mission is not a choice). The individuals you meet are still individuals. But it is time the church started being as wise as serpents (Matt 10:16) in some things.