Numbers, Numbers, Numbers!

Tax Day only serves to remind us that so much of our work and life is made up of numbers. For example, I have a small notepad in my car on which I track my mileage for both business and charitable purposes. It’s just a series of numbers–dates and 5-digit numbers–that translate into something else, deductions. Another number.

In this era of “big data,” here’s the question: What are the numbers that tell the story of your success? Your failure?

  • 21 = years in Catholic schools (from primary through graduate schools)
  • 2 = marriages (one failed, one very successful!)
  • 540 = students I taught in 4 years of high school religion classes
  • 2 = qualifying exams I failed (AP German and the LSAT)
  • 7,815 = days living in my current hometown

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers. But numbers only tell a first-level story. Take a look at my “21.” In that number are a bunch of stories each with meaning and purpose–a grade I loved and hated at the same time, 18 months in public school that I’d prefer to forget, 4 years at the only high school I wanted to attend and loved, 4 years at a University I never expected I’d cherish, then 2 graduate degrees–one that took 7 years of “a class here, a class there” and the other that was 20 months of intensive work. Each segment a very different story. Each story contributed in a unique way to who I have become.

For those of you have attended the Mid-Atlantic Congress, you may have completed one of our Congress evaluations and noticed that we ask our questions in a very specific way–we ask about your expectations and your level of satisfaction.

In the end, isn’t that what we really want to know? We want to know how well we fulfilled the expectations that were set. The key is setting the expectations to begin with.

If you’re largely evaluating your ministry based on numbers–how many children in religious education, how many confirmations, how many parishioners–try adding a few other criteria to your list. What are the five things you want each child in each grade to know at the end of the year and how are you going to measure that? What ministries or leadership roles do you expect your confirmandi to take on once they have completed the sacrament? Who welcomes each new parishioner and how many times does the parish make contact in that first year?

Numbers are, after all, just numbers. Until we assign them meaning. Without meaning, they are just numbers.

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