Measuring ministry

Measuring ministry effectiveness objectively

How do pastors determine success? How should they?

Thomas C. Fillinger, DMin, ThM, is senior pastor of the SouthEast Community Church, Columbia, South Carolina, United States.

Paul describes, in vital and strong language, a portrait of the church in 1 Timothy. He uses imagery of architecture and zealously impresses upon the reader the importance of the church as the citadel of truth absolute, the living testimony of the self-revealing God. “[Y]ou will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).1

I would like to suggest that the church currently applies a flawed metric—an erroneous standard in determining ministry effectiveness. With its current focus primarily, if not exclusively, upon the numerical (a one-dimensional aspect of ministry), we find ourselves in a precipitous and deadly decline.2 Furthermore, with this assessment process flawed, the results contribute to a continuing decline in our effectiveness, evidenced by the growing segment of our culture that regards the church as irrelevant and unnecessary.3

The standard

What standard does the church apply in evaluating ministry? Remember, at this juncture, we are not identifying what standard should be applied, but the standard that most frequently is applied.

This formula is sometimes referred to as the ABCs of ministry. Do you recognize it?

A = Attendance
B = Baptisms
C = Cash

Biblical mandate

The past 50 years provide evidence of an alarming distortion in the way the church determines effectiveness: numbers. More is always better. How many? How much? How often? Denominational reports focus on numbers. Military chaplain appointments are based on the number of members reported by the denomination. The size of a church assigns status to pastorates. Pastors often answer the call to a new assignment because the compensation package totals are higher at a larger assembly. But, if we pull back the curtain and view actual attendance and active growing and maturing disciples as compared to actual membership, the discrepancy is glaring.4 Numbers represent people, therefore, numbers are important. However, if we apply only a numerical standard, we deceive ourselves with this worst form of deception, which dishonors the Lord of Glory (see 2 Cor. 10:12).5 The biblical mandate for effectiveness is transformation: “ ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’ ” (Matt. 28:19, 20); “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

Perhaps a recent statement by the pastors of a well-known and influential ministry has captured the most compelling evidence of the more-is-better syndrome for determining effectiveness in the church. “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”6

Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, recently addressed the issue of measuring ministry effectiveness: “Most churches love their traditions more than they love the lost. We lock ourselves into a self-affirming subculture.”7

Is there a solution? Can the church be rescued from this self-imposed and deadly bondage? Yes. But this will require two absolutely critical elements: courageous leadership and a clearly defined organizational and personal transformation process.8

No such thing as a quick fix exists. Genuine transformation continues as a process, not an event, and is a journey that requires persistence and endurance. This dilemma does not yield to mere programs or fads. This is for the courageous leader who understands the principle given to Israel as it prepared to enter the land of Canaan—God is the One who gives us the victory! “ ‘Hear O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory’ ” (Deut. 20:3, 4).

Journey to effectiveness

King Asa provides a profile of a courageous leader. I offer five simple observations concerning the circumstances Asa faced and the leadership he exercised.

1. Asa faced perilous and difficult circumstances (2 Chron. 15:4–6).

2. Asa listened to the prophet Azariah, an outside voice (vv. 2, 8).

3. Asa took courage, which equipped and moved him to act to create the “culture of obedience” necessary to bring reform and blessing to the nation (vv.

8–11).

4. Asa established a covenant that required wholehearted participation by the people. They embraced a common purpose and pursued that purpose with singleness of heart, unity, and passion with all halfheartedness excluded (v. 15).

5. Asa removed opposition to reformation and genuine God-honoring worship (v. 16).

Transforming a local church into a vibrant, healthy, and obedient body that brings consistent measureable change to God’s people becomes a marathon, not a sprint. The process that follows is credible, has been proven in numerous ministry venues, is principles based, and may be applied in churches of various sizes and cultural settings.

Process

To accomplish health and vitality in a local church is, in part, a theological pursuit—the fruit of sound exegesis. Those responsible for leading out in change should apply the Word of God with precision and compassion to every aspect of ministry. Every ministry venue must contribute to accomplishing the church’s stated purpose. The church needs a sweeping movement of God that leads to the removal of the “ ‘famine of hearing of the words of the LORD’ ” (Amos 8:11). That, in and of itself, brings transformation.

Leaders who apply this first principle with integrity and a determination to accurately assess effectiveness will be rewarded. They will be equipped to measure an effective ministry shaped by sound exegesis and designed to produce transformation in God’s people, which secures God’s blessing. God uses surrendered (Luke 9:23) leaders in His church to initiate and direct this process.

Assessment is the process of intentional, systematic, objective, and repeated evaluation of the current reality of your church. By completing a Readiness Inventory,9 the leaders and the people began the transformation process with a reliable portrait of their current reality and can deal with the Stockdale Paradox, 10 which Jim Collins describes in his book Good to Great. An important formula is introduced at this juncture and applied throughout the process—PIE. Prayer. Information. Encouragement.

Character is the core of personhood and leadership, and becomes a crucial element for those leading the transformation process in the church. In this phase, the pastor and key leaders complete the Servant Shepherd Leadership Inventory.11 The character profile this produces serves as a virtual strategic pathway for the pastor and other leaders to follow in becoming more effective transformational leaders.12 They are equipped to improve their leadership based on objective data drawn from historical ministry activity.

Team building is the process of leading your church to minister in a collegial, transparent, and interdependent ministry structure. Tragically, many pastors conduct their ministry alone—in other words, they can do it alone. The New Testament model calls for a plurality of leaders in each local church. Don’t do the work of 20 people. Recruit and train 20 people to do the work (see Eph. 4:12–16). Those included on these ministry teams accept ministry opportunities based upon ministry skills and their desire to serve in a given area. Leadership selection and development is a key component of this process with this team responsible for adopting and applying the Effectiveness Criteria13 designed to bring continuous renewal to a local church. The members of the congregation provide the data for this ongoing assessment.

Structure in ministry is the establishment, organization, integration, resourcing, and execution of ministry initiatives shaped by a common purpose. In the transformation process, change values before changing ministry structures and recognize the importance of this procedure. Values drive behavior. During this period, the people begin to engage an intentional Spiritual Formation Process.14 This provides the metric for personal transformation just as the Effectiveness Criteria provides for corporate transformation. This process leads to changed values. The three previous components of this process are allotted one year. This phase usually requires 12 to 18 months. Leaders prepare the congregation for the changes ahead, providing both the what and why that make change necessary. The individual member and the body as a whole are evaluated using objective biblical definitions of obedience and health. The church begins to embrace their faith and ministry as life in community.15

Engagement is the continuous process of your church, as the body of Christ, being salt and light, confronting culture with compassion and resurrection power. This phase is ongoing. The principles of objective evaluation conducted on a quarterly basis produce a biblical ministry model that thrives. Progress, while not always constant, is consistent.

This process provides a valid and beneficial platform upon which those who desire an objective evaluation of ministry may stand. This requires continuous evaluation of what takes place in ministry and the culture in which it is conducted. Frequent assessment and incorporation of essential changes keep ministry fresh, vital, and effective with numerous resources available for those who find the courage to lead God’s people on this journey.16

Conclusion

Pastor, do you measure your ministry by the ABC formula mentioned earlier? Or do you base your ministry on biblical criteria drawn from the text of Scripture by prayerful, diligent exegesis? Are the evaluations you conduct based on credible, objective standards? The transformation of God’s people and applying a reliable assessment of their growth is fundamental to orthodox biblical theism (Col. 1:28).17 The good news is that God delights in blessing courageous leadership shaped by biblical purpose and measured by objective biblical standards. The challenge includes changing the church’s DNA to reshape the values of the people you shepherd. The process described by design requires three, four, or even five years. There are very real risks involved. The process requires wisdom, courage, and endurance with tenacity.18

We must measure ministry by transformation, not mere activity. You can be a leader who measures ministry with objective and credible data. God provides the courage. You must provide the leadership.

1. Unless otherwise noted, scriptures are quoted from the
New International Version of the Bible.

2. Crosswalk editorial staff, “Britain ‘No Longer Christian,’
Says Influential Liberal Think Tank,” Crosswalk.com, www
.crosswalk.com/news/religiontoday/11558689/, accessed
November 6, 2007. The authors of the report say that “the
traditional pillars of British identity have now vanished or
been greatly weakened
.” Emphasis added.

3. Albert Mohler, “America’s Vanishing Protestant Majority—
What Does It Mean?” www.albertmohler.com,
www.albertmohler.com/?cat=Commentary&cdate
=2004-08-09
, August 9, 2004.

4. Joel Belz, “Locked From the Inside,” World, October 29,
2005, www.worldmag.com/articles/11200.

5. Dan Gilgoff, quoted in Warren Cole Smith, “Numbers
Racket,” World, December 1, 2007, 26, 27. Dan Gilgoff,
who covers the evangelical movement for U.S. News &
World Report, stated, “[M]egachurch pastors ‘notoriously
inflate membership.’ ”

6. Pastor Bill Hybels, quoted in Bob Burney, “A Shocking
‘Confession’ From Willow Creek Community Church,”
Crosswalk.com, October 30, 2007, http://www.crosswalk
.com/pastors/11558438/
.

7. Ed Stetzer, quoted in Gary Myers, “Stetzer Highlights Keys
to Church Revitalization,” Baptist Courier, November 2,
2007, http://www.baptistcourier.com/2057.article.

8. Visit www.igniteus.net/tools/video-downloads to
review a video series that includes an overview of
the transformation process. The Web site also offers
testimonies of pastors currently on the journey through
this process.

9. An online instrument (www.igniteus.net /tools/readinessinventory)
consisting of two parts. Section I measures
the church’s readiness to embrace the change process.
Section II measures the pastor’s readiness to lead that
church through the transformation process.

10. In the Stockdale Paradox, “you must retain faith that you
will prevail in the end [regardless of the difficulties] and
[at the same time] you must also confront the most brutal
facts of your current reality,” whatever they may be. Jim
Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the
Leap . . . and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness,
2001), 86.

11. An online 360 process that includes 12–14 people: pastor,
superiors, peers, subordinates, staff, board members, and
people from the congregation. Results are delivered in a
45-page report. Go to www.boothco.com to view a sample
of this instrument.

12. Jim Herrington, Mike Bonem, and James H. Furr,
Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the
Transformational Journey (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,
2000), 96, 97. It provides a beneficial comparison of
transactional and transformational leadership.

13. The fourteen Effectiveness Criteria: This is a guided metric.
Each ministry area is assigned a “guided” objective Likert
scale score of 0–5. The criteria include worship, leadership
selection, leadership development, evangelism, church
discipline, and so forth.

14. Titled Measuring What Matters Most, it places
participants in one of four discipleship phases. It includes
specific phase objectives and a curriculum to accomplish
those objectives. Each participant evaluates themselves
quarterly and has two accountability partners. All terms
and concepts are clearly and biblically defined. This model
is principle based and lends itself to modification for
application in a variety of ministry cultures.

15. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (San Francisco: Harper,
1954).

16. Mark Dever, 9 Marks of A Healthy Church (Wheaton, IL:
Crossway Books, 2004); Donald J. McNair and Esther L.
Meek, The Practices of a Healthy Church: Biblical Strategies
for Vibrant Church Life and Ministry (Phillipsburg, NJ: P &
R Publishing, 1999).

17. “Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably
Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without
discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York:
MacMillan, 1963), 62, 63.

18. Claire Markwardt is an Ohio high school runner who
broke her leg 45 feet from the finish line. She crawled the
remaining distance to finish (1 Cor. 9:24–27). Why? She
did not want to let her team down. That is persistence
and tenacity with a purpose greater than self. Wayne
Drehs, “High School Runner Breaks Leg in Meet, Crawls
to Finish Anyway,” ESPN, http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/
highschool/news/story?id=311847
.

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Thomas C. Fillinger, DMin, ThM, is senior pastor of the SouthEast Community Church, Columbia, South Carolina, United States.

November 2009

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