How do we evaluate and assess a church? This is an increasingly urgent question in our time of decline, when many churches are falling into unviability and facing closure. How do we determine whether a church’s mission is effective and faithful, and hence worth supporting?
According to the model we are now thankfully abandoning, churches were evaluated in terms of what some derisively call the “3-B’s”: butts, bucks, and bricks (membership/attendance, money, and buildings). We have painfully discovered that this is a woefully inadequate and inaccurate set of standards by which to assess a church. Churches can register high numbers in all three of these areas and still not be doing effective or faithful mission. At the same time, churches can register quite low on these scales, and yet communicate the good news to people quite effectively.
We now accept that the 3-B’s are simply imported from the prevailing economic order. They only tell us how successful a church is in terms of an ideology that holds growth and economic sustainability as primary values. But these metrics have nothing whatever to do with the mission of the church, which is based on the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament.
This mission, as variously articulated in the New Testament, always has to do with touching people in some way with the good news of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ. I suggest that a more accurate and instructive way of assessing a church’s missional effectiveness is by looking at the “lives touched” by its ministry, both quantitatively and qualitatively. That is, how are individuals being touched by the grace of God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, in and through the work of a particular gathering of disciples?
Once we start thinking in these terms, it becomes apparent that there are different ways and degrees to which people are touched by the good news. Some are more intense, personal, and intentional than others. Certainly a person who attends worship regularly is impacted far more strongly by the message of the good news than someone who drives by the church and merely reads the message board. Although certainly both are “touched” by that church’s mission.
So I suggest four levels of intensity in the way a church touches people with the good news of Jesus Christ.
1. Primary. These are people who participate regularly and consistently in the worship and other ministries of the congregation.
· -- They support the church with their time, talents, and money.
· -- They serve on church boards and hold offices.
· -- They engage in spiritual practices.
· -- They participate in educational opportunities.
· -- They may be equipped to teach, lead worship, pray publicly, give pastoral care, and even preach.
· -- They understand themselves to have a personal calling from God to do specific mission in the community.
· -- They are often elected to positions of leadership.
2. Secondary. These are people who attend and participate in the mission of a particular church more sporadically and situationally.
-- They attend worship, but infrequently and irregularly.
· -- They may come to some church programs like educational classes, mission and service efforts, and enroll their children in church school/confirmation.
· -- They may contribute financially, though usually at a lower level.
· -- They may be family-members of others who participate in the church.
3. Indirect. These are people who are touched by the church’s mission but would not consider themselves to be a part of the church.
-- They participate in activities hosted in the church’s building (eg. AA, a daily nursery school, a counseling service).
-- They may lead or benefit from mission activities funded by the church, whether in the area of social services or evangelism.
-- They may choose to receive the church’s outreach in social media (Facebook friends and likers, Twitter followers, etc.)
-- They may be members of other groups served or supported (eg. people visited in nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, or members of other faith communities).
-- They may attend church events for the public (eg. concerts, art exhibits, lectures).
-- They may have attended a wedding or a funeral in the church, or performed by the pastor.
-- They may participate in another congregation with which the church is denominationally or otherwise affiliated.
4. Incidental. These are people who are touched by the mission of the church in very small ways.
· -- They read the sign board as they drive by.
· -- They might see the church’s name in newspapers, receive mass mailings, have friends or acquaintances in one of the other 3 categories, etc.
· -- They may simply be neighbors of the church or the pastor.
· -- They have been made aware that the church is there, and not much more than that… but they do have that connection.
It seems to me that these would be more instructive – and yet still quantitative – categories for measuring the effectiveness of a church’s mission in terms of lives touched. The model clearly needs more development. Stay tuned.