Doctors look at vital signs as indicators of how healthy or how unhealthy one’s body is. Before doing other evaluations, medical professionals check body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing.

As part of our Charge Conference this year, we will begin the Vital Congregations program. We will look at our congregation’s vital signs to evaluate our spiritual health.

It’s my understanding every bishop in each U.S. conference has agreed to participate in the Vital Congregations focus as a way to evaluate discipleship in congregations by measuring activities in which members are connected and involved.

Bishop Robert Schnase spelled out similar ideas in his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Living, which our congregation recently finished studying. Those five are: radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity. We understand congregations and Christians, who are growing in their faith, participate in activities that reflect their faith.

For example, Christians who are growing in faith attend worship regularly, participate in the mission of making and growing new disciples, strive to grow personally in discipleship, are involved in missions and give to missions.

As a congregation, we will report weekly, using a Vital Signs Dashboard on the Internet to measure: Worship attendance, professions of faith, small group participation, persons serving in mission and outreach, how much money is given to other organizations to support mission and ministry and total offerings received.

These numbers will only tell a part of our story. In 2008, General Conference approved the expansion of the UMC mission statement to say: “The mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ (then added) for the transformation of the world.”

Unless our churches bear good fruit by transforming lives, then we miss the mark.

Now, I think we all know a focus this large will have detractors. And I guess at least by some measure, I agree with them. I certainly don’t want to pastor Petersville UMC exclusively by numbers, but, while I have experience setting number-based goals as a salesperson and manager, it was for different reasons. We must realize and understand these numbers represent real lives.

It’s one thing to calculate professions of faith, but if we don’t develop and offer opportunities for “baby Christians” to grow in faith, then again, we miss the mark.

Yes, we should always work to increase worship attendance. But Christian worship is more than just having people getting together on Sunday. Christian worship happens as a congregation grows through worship. Worship is a verb, and should never be a spectator activity.

Also, just having people involved in small groups, who do lots of activities does not necessarily indicate a healthy church. The activity must produce fruit, and groups should never become cliques.

On-and-on these measures go, but there is nothing inherently magic about keeping track of numbers. After all, Methodists have long tracked numbers and statistics ad infinitum. The point is we must use the numbers to set goals that will make us stretch while still being attainable. Then, numbers become a tool for evangelism and personal growth.

I believe the Vital Congregations focus will be worthwhile if we remember the numbers we collect represent real lives. Let’s refine how we carry out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, individually and as a church.

I pray as long as we have breath, we will work to complete the mission Jesus gave us to go into all the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I pray we will constantly look for ways to introduce others to Jesus Christ.

Jerald Turner serves as pastor of Petersville UMC.