Virginia Apgar gave nurses a way to rate the health of babies at delivery: “Ten points meant a child born in perfect condition. Four points or less meant a blue, limp baby.”
This simple score, devised by an unlikely person—she had never delivered a baby, as a doctor or even as a mother—”turned an intangible and impressionistic clinical concept—the condition of new babies—into numbers that people could collect and compare.”
And doctors, being both compassionate and competitive, wanted to boost Apgar scores for their newborns. So they began giving babies oxygen or warming them. They switched from giving mothers general anesthesia to spinals or epidurals. They began using prenatal ultrasounds and fetal heart monitors. And what a change: instead of one in every thirty babies dying at birth, today it’s one in every five hundred. Virginia Apgar’s score is saving the lives of over 100,000 American babies every year.
We need an Apgar score for the church. As pastors, we care deeply about the health and vitality of our congregations. But how can we grasp congregational health? To use Gawande’s words, it’s “an intangible and impressionistic” concept. We need a measure that’s simple, clear, and life-giving.
That’s Kevin Miller writing in Christianity Today’s LeadershipJournal.net. His is not a brief blog post. Take a look.
What to measure? Membership we know has its problems. Attendance has hung on but does it measure vitality and mission? Membership and attendance celebrate bigness — is that what we intend? These are Miller’s questions.
Size matters, but focusing only size makes us marketers. Doctors responded to being measured. As the church we respond to measuring ourselves by size — but that’s not all good. Whether you agree with Miller’s proposed scoring system the concept is something to think about: how should we be measuring ourselves? Something tells me we could look at our baptismal covenant.