Saturday, January 31, 2009

Heisenberg and EOY Reports

In quantum physics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that the values of certain pairs of conjugate variables cannot both be known with arbitrary precision. In other words, you really can't know both position and momentum at the same time -- the more precisely one variable is known, the less precisely the other is known. If you know WHERE you are to the nth degree, it's very very hard to know how fast you are going or even the direction in which you are going. This isn't about the limitations of our ability to measure particular things in a system, but rather about the nature of the system itself.

Today, I was filling out my EOY reports, finding that missing twenty cents for one church and the missing twenty dollars for the second and I realized that with these reports you can tell "where" the church is financially. And by looking to where they were last year we can make some suppositions to where they might be next year and a few educated guesses about direction and speed. However are these really that good as predictors?

I know how people protest against these reports because they "reduce us all down to numbers" and by doing so de-humanizes and de-mystifies this very human and mysterious experience of the Divine. There is some validity to this argument, especially as it seems to remove the Incarnate from this very Incarnational activity of God.

I believe my argument using the Heisenberg Uncertanity Priciple rings true as well however...

The Church is not a Chinese Room thought experiment. These numbers do not paint a complete picture, but are merely a hint -- a whiff -- of location, direction and speed. We don't see enough of the "system" at this point. Maybe I should say "subject" -- we can't see enough of the subject to really form an opinion. True, it is the only way we can make more objective a very subjective thing. The numbers DO paint pictures of churches -- and more importantly, they paint a picture of what we call our "connection."

I think some protest because they think (rightly or wrongly) that the picture is not "flattering." I ask -- do we really need to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the events these numbers very well could be point toward? We have decline in our denomination. We have a large and cumbersome connection -- but it's working on multiple levels. We could just look at these numbers and celebrate at how well we are doing; or we could accept the bad with the good. We could look at churches that show "health" (how to define that health is another thing...) and see if we can implement those healthy attitudes/activities into churches who are not so very healthy.

And on the other hand, are these numbers really what we need to measure "health" or "decline?" They are so very impersonal that all the personal stories; the triumphs and defeats of the individuals are lost in this gloss of numbers. There are times where the numbers appear to tell of defeat, but the real story is one of human love and ingenuity -- as a "death" is counted as a loss of membership, but that number cannot tell the story of the witness of a life -- and the rally of a church's spirit at a funeral. To the numbers, it's just a loss.

So the question become, how do we look at the numbers that we collect and measure "health?" What is a healthy church? Is it growing in some numbers and dropping in others? Shouldn't we look at the health/disease of the surrounding communities? Shouldn't we take in account the decline of our economy? How can we use these numbers in a way that builds rather than tear down? What other report could we "report" that would be a real measure of a congregation?

edited: This is as clear as mud. I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. It was so very clear in my mind!

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