The Nielsen Family is dead. And you know, it’s about time.
For decades the success of a television show has depended almost solely on the finicky taste of the Nielsen Family. A family with a few thousand members who decide more often than not if a TV show is worth it’s price, because the cost for advertising is determined by how many eyeballs are watching. [It would have killed you to watch a little more FireFly??]
Or at least, that is how it used to work.
The whole idea of the Nielsen rating is based on the idea that all eyeballs are created equal. Meaning, that reaching 8 million viewers is twice as good as reaching 4 million.
Two problems with this.
First, people are less and less inclined to watch a show at the network blessed designated time and place. The Nielsen’s will tell you that The Tonight Show is the most popular program in the 10pm slot. Well, it isn’t. The most popular program at 10pm is something you recorded on your DVR previously.
The problem gets worse when people like me are counted, or not counted as the case my be. Our family has no satellite or cable service. We watch TV on Netflix and Hulu+. So, while I happen to like the show Community a lot, I’ve never been counted as part of the official total because I watch it online.
Second problem, all people aren’t created equal. Those who take to twitter and Facebook to talk and share about the show are worth more than those who half listen while they do the dishes. So two shows might have equal number of eyeballs from the same demographic, but it’s the show that causes people to engage, discuss, and share that is actually the more valuable platform.
So, what does that have to do with you and me and a site dedicated to ministry. Basically this. Relying on a count of people in the pews is a not very smart way to measure the life of the church.
Recently a local pastor from a larger church retired. In the write up in the paper he said he has brought over 24,000 people to Christ. In fact he had a very exact number that he expected to continue to grow as he finished his last few weeks. Today, the church averages around 3-4,000 people a Sunday. So my question is, where did the other 20,000 go?
Now sure, people move, come and go. But to measure success based on the number of people at the alter, the number who pray the prayer, or the number who sit dutifully in the pew, will give you a false sense of what’s going on.
God wants disciples. God wants people who engage. God wants people who will take to twitter & Facebook, the grocery store & restaurant and share a message of grace. God wants people who will get busy doing the work of building the kingdom, and the people want flexibility on how they express their faith.
In my tradition we talk about Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service, & Witness. Two churches with equal Sunday attendance and dollars in the bank might seem the same to some. But, it is the church that really takes to heart these things, and lives them out, that is the more valuable one to me.
The challenge of the church today isn’t filling our pews, it’s filling the streets with people inspired by God and full of the Holy Spirit. It’s about embracing the expectation of flexibility as an opportunity not a threat.
It’s not about dumbing down church, it’s about being smarter in how we present and measure it.