One of the first things I learned about when I started CrossFit was the whiteboard. The whiteboard was exactly like it sounds a huge whiteboard hung on the wall on which we would write in the times and numbers from that days WOD and also have a place to write in our PRs on different lifts. This allowed us to see where we stacked up against other people in the box. Now my Box, Warrior Pride, has gone digital and uses Wodify. Think of the whiteboard for the Facebook age. We now line up by the computer and input our times, reps, and weight lifted into Wodify. Then we can check on an app on our phones or go online at home and check the digital whiteboard. We can now also “like” and comment on people’s performances.
The whiteboard is popular and a fun place to connect. It lets me know instantly where I rank and who was faster or stronger. It allows people to support each other with likes and support when people get a new PR or do well on a WOD. It can also bring out some negative aspects in people. It can make people focus on beating someone else instead of doing their best that day. It can also discourage people who feel like they are always on the bottom. The whiteboard can make someone feel like they aren’t changing at all or maybe all this work isn’t paying off. So I think it’s important to define what the whiteboard actually tells us and what it doesn’t tell us.
What does the whiteboard tell us: who was the fastest or who lifted more weight that specific day. That’s all.
What it doesn’t tell us: who tried the hardest, who is dealing with big challenges, whose the most improved, or how far an athlete has come from where they started.
It is entirely possible that the person who gave the most effort that day finishes at the bottom of the whiteboard. In the same way it is possible for someone who “coasted” for a workout and was on the top. The whiteboard can only show numbers such as reps, weight, or time it cannot measure effort, challenges, and heart. The whiteboard can’t tell the story of the person who started CrossFit unable to jump onto a 45 lbs weight and just finished their first Rx box jump, nor can it tell the story of the person who has a scar on their shin from and failed box jump but faced their fears and jumped again. The whiteboard doesn’t measure the improvement in health of a person who started obese and is now living a much more active lifestyle. The whiteboard doesn’t measure the early morning workouts, the changes in diet, or the financial investment we as CrossFitters make to achieve a more complete vision of fitness. The whiteboard only measures numbers and data from that one day and that one WOD. These are important measurements but they aren’t the only important measurement especially if we want to understand the whole story of what is happening in a person’s life.
One of the first things I learned as a new pastor was how to record and report numbers such as attendance and financial gifts. In the UMC we have even moved to an online system that helps us to track our church against other churches in the district and conference. I can easily find out how my church’s giving, attendance, service hours, and professions of faith measure up against any other church in the whole entire North Georgia Conference of the UMC. This system was designed to make reporting easier to help church and conference leaders find trends in the larger church and evaluate the overall health of churches, districts, and the entire conference. However, the system has also led to unhealthy competition, despair, and frustration. Pastors can go from being excited about the ministry of their church only to be dismayed that they don’t measure up well against another church in the county or across town.
The problem with church numbers like attendance, giving, and professions of faith is that they don’t always give the complete picture or tell the whole story of a church. Rev. Jeremy Smith has written about this extensively and you can read more about that here. While I believe that many of these numbers are important and when used correctly can help us access the health of a church they cannot give us all the information we need. These numbers don’t tell us about the church that has had a turn around in vision and ministry and is moving towards vitality. These numbers can’t tell us about the church that for over a decade was losing members but for the first time in a long time started welcoming new guests. These numbers can’t tell us about churches who are serving in areas where all the cards are stacked against them and yet they are faithfully sharing the Gospel in word and deed.
Maybe we in the church need to focus on what the numbers are really telling us and look for a more holistic view of what it means to be a healthy and vibrant church. Finding ways to celebrate hard wins and successes with churches that might not seem to have the right numbers but are doing important ministry and are on the road to health even if they haven’t made it to the top of the whiteboard yet.