I recently attended a retreat located a two-hours drive from Williams Lake where there was no cell service and very unreliable Wi-Fi (gasp!). Although I never really got over the digital withdrawal twitches, it was very conducive to creating room for unhurried and uninterrupted conversation.
One of the reasons I was there was to learn how multiplication “works” in rural and northern communities. As I dialogued with the gathered church leaders, inevitably the topic of measuring success in our churches was discussed. What is a successful church? How do I know if I’m being successful in ministry? Is it just about the numbers? What are the metrics we should use for measuring success?
This topic has been hotly debated for as long as I’ve been in ministry – and, in my opinion, no one has really come up with a definitive answer. I don’t pretend to have this figured out, but as the conversation took a philosophical turn (should we even be concerned about success?) and then a theological detour (how does God define success?) I had an “ah-ha!” moment: What if we were more concerned about measuring effectiveness instead of obsessing over success?
I believe we react negatively to measuring success because those metrics are based on external comparisons: how is my church performing compared to the church down the street / online / in another community? We’re caught comparing our church to what we think we know about the other church, but let’s be honest: what we “know” is usually based on anecdotal evidence, impressions, assumptions and even rumours. Success metrics are very reactive and can feed our insecurities or puff up our pride.
Effectiveness, on the other hand, uses internal measurements instead of external comparisons. A pastor who chooses to examine effectiveness is being proactive by determining which metrics really matter in their context. Those metrics should include the traditional records of attendance and finances but can also focus on other meaningful measurements. Some questions to ask may be:
Are our values evident in each one of our ministries?
Do we have a discipleship process and is it making disciples?
Do we have small groups and is there growing participation?
How many baptisms did we do in the last 12 months?
Are more people serving in ministry than at this time last year?
Are our people actively engaged in the community?
How many people fill out guest cards each Sunday?
How many local guests “stick”?
Does our congregation reflect our community demographics?