Can Ministry Effectiveness Be Measured?

February 25, 2018 by  
Filed under A Monday AM BLOG

How do you measure effectiveness in ministry? Among church leaders, the gauge has shifted in the last 20 years.

In the early 1980s, when I began observing ministry closely and editing a journal for church leaders, the prevailing assumption was that effectiveness equaled attracting a crowd. Leaders would downplay the eternal significance of counting “nickels and noses,” but increased attendance and offerings were seen as evidence of success.

“A healthy church is a growing church,” we heard repeatedly.

In the last 20 years, however, we’ve witnessed plenty of ministries that touch lots of people but leave no discernible mark upon them. Some pastors have confessed, “We can attract a crowd but not know what to do with them, other than invite them to come back next week.”

More recently, church leaders have been seeking better ways to gauge whether their ministry is faithful and effective.

ARE LIVES BEING CHANGED?

The most obvious indicator is lives that are transformed.

In a recent Christianity Today column (“A Healthy Cult”), Charles Colson provides a snapshot of effectiveness, in this case, in a prison ministry. Most prisons, he writes, are dirty, depressing places. “Men and women shuffle around listlessly with vacant expressions and their heads down. Anger, bitterness, and corruption are prevalent; one seldom hears laughter or sees signs of mirth.”

But in a prison in Newton, Iowa, the environment is different. There, after several years of Christian ministry, inmates “have a sense of purpose — people are busy with work or classes from early morning to lights out. There is little time for TV or lying around on bunks. They are building community, helping one another, and willingly obeying the rules.”

It’s a case of a culture being transformed. “The process begins when the believers band together in a loving fellowship, a “church,” really. Then they evangelize … Though in the minority at first, the Christian prisoners take biblical teaching to heart and boldly live it out. Others begin to follow their example and soon they reach a critical mass.”

In time the whole group, almost unconsciously, adopts different standards. Thus, Colson concludes, “we tend to evaluate churches by the classic marks: preaching, the sacraments, and discipline. But a fourth might be added: its impact on culture.”

Colson’s vision of ministry changing an entire culture is breathtaking in its scope. On a more modest scale, how can individual congregations monitor their progress toward that kind of impact, even if their entire city or county isn’t totally transformed within a few years?

DISCIPLESHIP BY THE NUMBERS

Here are vital signs that pastors are monitoring (measured in percentages):

  1. Pre-Christians in worship services and outreach events (start with a goal of 15 percent and work up).
  2. Church members trained in sharing their faith (25 percent and up).
  3. Worship attenders who are part of a small group for prayer/Bible study (60 percent and up).
  4. Church members who have identified their spiritual gifts and are exercising them in some way for God’s kingdom (aim for 60 percent and up). Such “by the numbers” approaches to measuring effectiveness are helpful, but some harder-to-quantify intangibles also help describe a church’s fitness.

HEALTHY ATMOSPHERIC CONDITIONS

Recently Leith Anderson, in a Leadership article (“7 Ways to Rate Your Church”), listed several tests of a healthy church atmosphere:

  1. Do people sense the presence of God here? “Experiencing the supernatural dwarfs everything else in rating a church’s atmosphere,” says Anderson.
  2. Is the church others-centered? Are people interested in new people, in what they need, and how they can help?
  3. Will guests see someone “who looks like me”? The more diversity of race, income level, and age, the more accessible the congregation will be to a range of seekers.
  4. Does the church manage conflict? What makes a healthy church is not the absence of problems but how problems are handled.
  5. Is there a sense of expectancy? Listen to how people describe the church. Is the primary verb tense past, present, or future? Healthy churches don’t focus on what God “used to do” around here, but on what God is doing, and on dreams for the future.

Ultimately, of course, we won’t know until we hear God’s “well done, good and faithful servant.”

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