Monday, September 14, 2009

How do we measure success for the church?

Fruit is always about reproduction. The true fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but more apple trees. Within the fruit is found the seed of the next generation. Christ in us is the seed of the next generation. We all carry within us the seed of future generations of the church, and we are to take that seed and plant it wherever the King leads us.

The difference this can leave in the soil of a people group is significant. Our backward approach of the past would leave behind churches that govern God’s people. Perhaps if we put Christ and His kingdom first we would leave behind agents under submission to the reign of their King. The body of Christ would then be under submission to the Head as it always should have been.

Our mission is to find and develop Christ followers rather than church members. There is a big difference in these two outcomes. The difference is seen in transformed lives that bring change to neighborhoods and nations. Simply gathering a group of people who subscribe to a common set of beliefs is not worthy of Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us.

We must shift from an institutional manner of measuring to an influential manner. Instead of the number question, we must look for the personal influence of the real church—the people. Many ask for benchmarks to measure success of the organization, as if that is measuring the church. It is not. The church is not the building, the organization, the programs or the event. You can measure all those things and still not measure the success or failure of the church, because the church is something else entirely. Church is not a “what” but a “who”. The church is disciples in relation together on a mission—following Jesus into influence in the world. Once you factor that simple shift into the mix the entire equation changes. How do you measure influence of a person in relation to other people? That is a far better barometer of how we are doing as a church or a movement. As I said in Organic Church:

“Church attendance is not the barometer of how Christianity is doing. Ultimately, transformation is the product of the Gospel. It is not enough to fill our churches; we must transform our world. Society and culture should change if the church has been truly effective. Is the church reaching out and seeing lives changed by the Good News of the Kingdom of God? Surely the numbers of Christians will increase once this happens, but filling seats one day a week is not what the Kingdom is all about. We do Jesus an injustice by reducing His life and ministry to such a sad story as church attendance and membership roles. The measure of the church’s influence is found in society—on the streets, not in the pews.”


Glen Peterson said...

I have said that it is better to measure the right thing poorly than to measure the wrong thing well. We often settle for measures of success that measure something just because it is easy to measure. I like what you say here thanks.

Josh Hunt said...

if we don't measure church attendance, what do we measure, if anything?

Anonymous said...

This illustration may be a little off, but it helps me in terms of what we're to measure...

What do (well, should) doctors measure as an indication of success? From a purely business perspective, it's how many patients he sees and how many dollars are rolling in. But we all know a doctor's true success isn't in his patient caseload or how nice his offices are. It's the health of his patients. Are sick people getting well? Are well people staying well? The real "measurements" of success would be found in the little things: lab results, lost weight, improved health, etc., not his patient case load. If most of a doctor's patients are really getting well, it's a pretty good indication he's a failure as a doctor.

Now make the jump. We've been measuring the wrong things for a long time. It doesn't matter if a church numbers 10 or 10,000+. If people aren't "getting well", the church has failed to be on mission with Jesus. True significance isn't in the number of people, it's in their spiritual health. And if they're spiritually healthy--they're reproducing followers of Jesus and living the life he's called them to live--the numbers will eventually come. Thus I see the problem: we're not producing reproducing disciples (and having to rely on quirky "marketing" to bring people in, most of whom are coming from other churches).

Hope that makes sense.

Neil Cole said...

Great analogy, thanks Aaron!

Stan53 said...

Josh has raised a good question. What, if anything do we measure?
The short answer? Nothing.
Better still the question as to what Christ wants us to do.

Tagbo {grimtraveller} said...

I agree with alot of what Neil said and Aaron's analogy is a useful one, certainly a thought provoking one. There is, however, a part of me that feels that we would be better off not measuring because in some ways, therein lies much of our problem. It's as though we simply cannot live in Christ with all that that entails. I have noticed increasingly what seems to me to be a need for validation amongst us. It takes different forms at different times, but it's there nonetheless. Leave the measurements to God because he really does measure on a different scale to us. Both in the OT & NT, we see numerous examples of God applying a different measuring scale to the one we would. I'd be willing to bet that most of us, had we been around at Stephen's death would not have thought positively, especially given that persecution, serious jail time, disruption and evacuation were the immediate results. Yet, out of this, Saul came onto the scene and ultimately met the Lord in one of history's great collision courses, some of the jailed saints doubtlessly learned in a really tangible way to let their Lord be Lord in any circumstance, the apostles had to start all over again in Jerusalem and went on to guide a strong church and the gospel spread out both nationally and internationally. All of which have ramifications to the present day.
I can see lots of holes in my own argument { !! } and the raising of many questions, but in the same way that the scripture writers tell us of the positive way in which God thought of David, despite many of his actions to the contrary, I think his measuring stick is different to ours, much of the time.