Check Yourself – Part 1

When we talk about mission, specifically related to church, there seems to always be this running tension between offering grace and seeing effectiveness. Usually people don’t want to have those harder conversations regarding someone’s effectiveness at what they’re doing. Whether that thing be leading a small group, leading worship, inviting others to follow Jesus, or even pastoring a church. Part of the reason for this lack is that as leader’s we don’t have the “Check Yourself” mentality for our own lives, much less for the lives of those we lead. The average median church size in the US is roughly 75 people. 90% of all church’s in the US run 400 or less. Now 400 is a good size, but when you take population growth into account, what this really means is that we aren’t keeping up. So what do we do about this performance issue?

What I usually see is that we don’t do anything. We don’t look at the numbers or other externals and let them speak, and adjust what we’re doing. We usually look at those and then say things like “well, it must be God’s will” or “maybe the church is intended to be small”, etc. We make excuses, myself included, for our poor performance rather than taking responsibility and changing the things we can control. The interesting this is that we’re allowed to. Because we misinterpret grace something that happens when we don’t deal with failures rather than something to give when dealing with failures we lower the standard until it’s completely removed, thereby creating organizations where there is no need to offer grace.

Let me put this more simply: When we don’t hold people accountable to a standard, we make organizations that lack a need for grace.

If we did this in business, then we’d have issues staying afloat. Now the push-back to that previous statement is that “we aren’t a business, we’re the church.” Exactly. I agree totally. Our mission and message is sooo much more important than any business. Yet here we are making excuses that wouldn’t fly in other organizations whose message and mission is far less vital. (I also find it a bit odd that some of us who would give push-back toward this with the church will make that same argument towards the government.)

Here’s the point: our effectiveness matters, our message matters, we have the greatest message in the world but if it isn’t affecting our culture in a major way then what good is it?

Paul would make a similar argument in Romans 10:8-16 . He knew that it has to get to the ears of those around us in a way that the Holy Spirit can move and people’s lives can change.

Craig Groeschel, is a great example of looking at his own effectiveness and his church’s. In his church’s vision, he argues that they aren’t a mega-church. They’re a micro-church with a mega vision. He goes onto explain, that his church of 20,000 is in Oklahoma city with a population of 591,967. By his own words “that’s not even a dent”. This reminds me of the Kevin Costner movie The Guardian. There’s a scene where he finally tells one of his students how many people he’s saved. But he doesn’t give the student the number of saves, he gives him the number he’s lost. I’ve noticed a trend that with the most effective, longest lasting leaders, that’s the number they’re obsessed with. They always seem to be asking “Who’s not here?” Do you know the population of your city? Do you know how many aren’t in a church? (that’s not even a guarantee that they know Jesus) That number, which represents people’s lives, should haunt us.

What we’re looking for as the church is nothing less that society transforming revival. 

The problem with changing how we do things based on the stats we’re seeing is two-part.

  1. We don’t have an effective way to measure success so we relegate to numbers as our metric, get discouraged, and begin to ignore our results.
  2. Changing takes a level of courage that I’m concerned we don’t have as church leaders.

The other push-back that I usually get here is that there’s no great metric for success in spiritual growth since you can’t know the state of a person’s internal life. I agree. I also don’t think that’s a reason not to attempt. Especially because of my first point up above, that we’ll relegate to numbers. Another reason I don’t think that’s a great reason is that I have seen where having a culture that has a high value on discipleship addresses this concern on some level. This is particularly true when you realize that externals (word and deed) often point to an inward heart reality. You see this in James 2:17 Where the point is that belief affects action. So there are some ways to gauge, the issue, then becomes scaling that across an entire church that is growing. I’ll cover this in more detail on a later post.

We are beginning to look at effectiveness and attempt to change things so that we see greater results in the particular ministry I lead. I’ll tell more of that story next week. In the meantime, I want to hear your thoughts. What do you think? Are you effective in ministry? Do you have a way to gauge effectiveness without simply relegating to numbers?