aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

By the numbers

We were working on the Cub Pack's re-charter last night in their committee meeting. They were experiencing some confusion on when, exactly, it had to be turned in. They've been told they're already late, that it should have been done in February. When they say, well, obviously we can't do that, they're told that the "drop-dead" date is March 15. And when I told them the actual date is March 31, they didn't know what to think. Their charter expires on March 31, but the Council wants it in on March 15, so as to head off any problems. And problems are routine, and need to be fixed. If everyone brought their charters in on the last day of the month, they couldn't all be examined and fixed, and that would be bad. But there's more to it than that. The professionals are supervised on the basis of numbers, and if a unit is late, they get dinged for it. So they want everything in a month early, in order to head off problems for them.

We play the same game in the Church. Our District office demands all Charge Conference stuff two weeks before the date. I try to comply, but I note that the date is the date is the date, after all. Yes, the DS and the Administrative Asst would like to look things over before the meeting, but then the meeting itself becomes less and less necessary: we've done baked the cake beforehand. And then, when year-end statistics are due (Check Day), we get the same song and dance. I was at a District meeting last month and the Administrative Asst read a list of churches that were overdue getting their numbers in. The drop-dead date was that Thursday. The DS asked me about my church's. They're done, I said. Then why aren't they in? he asked. Because I had to come to this meeting, I replied. And I wasn't being snarky. They had just been finished over the weekend, and that Monday was when I was going to enter them -- three full days before the deadline -- but I had to drive to Linden for a 9:00 a.m. meeting first.

Beyond the issue of filing paperwork, there's the issue of performance. BSA evaluates their units on the Bronze-Silver-Gold scale. So many units do such a good job, they had to add a Platinum level in order to add more up to the system. Which is great. But when Council leaders (paid or volunteer) jump up and down, urging me to do X or Y in order to qualify for the next level, I have to ask, is that for my benefit or yours? I know what a quality program is, and we provide one. If we miss a criterion this year because of turnover or something, well, the numbers are giving us valuable info and we'll plan on how to do better next year. But the idea that it truly matters right now to hit the cutoff for the next level perplexes me.

The same is true of church numbers. I see our worship attendance numbers, and they worry me. I work at them. I see our numbers on professions of faith and baptisms, and I am more encouraged. I see our financial numbers, too. But I have never seen the wisdom in trying to cram in some special program or appeal to make the year-end cutoff on something. The numbers are what they are. Pushing extra hard to make some target this year just means you start next year in the hole. Let the numbers inform you, but don't think that making the numbers dance equals success in ministry.

Then, there's school. Teachers are now evaluated -- including paid and promoted -- on the basis of their students' test scores. That may or may not be a valid thing, but it puts the teachers and school administrators in the position of trying to get the kids to focus on test-taking for the benefit of the adults, rather than for their own benefit. Which is like saying that the coach will be paid by the number of first downs the football team racks up or by the free-throw percentage of the Freshman basketball team. Hey, do it for the team! But is the "team" the school and the adults working in it, or the student and one's peers?

Numbers are useful tools for evaluation. I don't have a problem being evaluated on the basis of numbers, and I don't have a problem with being accountable for getting them in on time. But I refuse to be tyrannized by the numbers, or to mistake my interest for that of the person screaming at me to get the numbers in. The numbers are what they are.

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