5 Wrong Ways to Evaluate Success – And The One Right Way for a Growing Church
How do you decide where your church should spend its time, money, and ministry effort – and where it should not? We’ve all heard that “you get what you measure,” but how do you know what to measure? What does success look like for your church?
Whether you lead a “simple church” with streamlined programs or a congregation with dozens of ministries and a rock-climbing wall in the lobby, you need a way to determine what your goals are and whether you are meeting them. There is room in the kingdom for a variety of ministry models, but there’s only one way to really measure success. Here are five wrong ways to measure success, and the one right way to evaluate whether your church is making Great Commission progress.
5 WRONG WAYS
Anecdotal Evidence. Every church leader has done it. Someone tells you Bob didn’t like the short-term mission trip or Joan loves the knitting ministry. Suddenly you’re feeling insecure about the missions program (did everyone think the trip was a mistake?) or heaping praise on your women’s ministry director. Stories are powerful, and it’s easy to justify changes, or the status quo, based on personal experiences and opinions.
However, making decisions or evaluating a “win” based on isolated anecdotes means your measurement of success is only as valid as the latest compliment (or complaint). Two couples saying the music is too loud on Sunday morning may mean it’s time to evaluate the volume in your worship services, or it may mean two couples didn’t like the songs your worship pastor chose that day! Everyone’s input should be welcome, but no one comment should drive ministry direction and determine success.
Personal Preference. Just as you shouldn’t measure your church’s success by the opinion of someone else, you shouldn’t evaluate progress based solely on your own opinion or even the preferences of your friends and key staff members. One of your elders may have once had a bad small group experience, but it doesn’t mean small groups are a bad strategy for your congregation. And although your daughter loves the Sunday morning KidZone programming, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is connecting with other children or their families.
You probably have more invested in these programs than others in your church, and you probably have more real information about how they are doing. But when you make strategic decisions based only on how you or those close to you see the situation, you risk missing the bigger picture. You risk creating a church designed only for those already in it. Insider opinions are not a great way to measure success.
Comparison. We all enjoy going to conferences, and it’s both helpful and biblical to connect with other churches in your community. A word of caution: be careful to focus on learning and encouragement during these opportunities instead of using them to compare your church to others.
If your staff attends a conference and the speaker says the standard staff size and budget for his ministry is double what you have, does that mean your approach is wrong? If another church in town starts a recovery ministry, holds a summer VBS, or launches a food pantry, should you hurry to do the same? Every church is unique, and when you focus on comparison, you risk diluting resources from what is uniquely important to you and your calling as a ministry. Comparison is a poor and possibly dangerous way to measure success.
History. It seems logical that a good way to measure how well you’re doing TODAY is to reference by comparison how you were doing YESTERDAY. Not only does this make sense on the surface, it naturally feels good to make progress and move forward.
However, this approach can be deceptive. You might conclude that “we’re better at evangelism than we used to be” because you now do Bible studies or a yearly sermon series on evangelism. This is positive progress but can easily cause you to ignore less than positive realities. Perhaps at the same time, your church attendance is flat and you have actually baptized fewer people this year than last. There’s nothing wrong with looking to the past and celebrating genuine growth, but it’s dangerous to comfort yourself with an illusion of progress in one area while ignoring the realities of another.
The Latest and Greatest. It seems like there are as many models and mantras for church as there are churches, and adopting the new flavor isn’t an indication of success – or a guarantee that it will come. For instance, “making disciples who make disciples,” is a recent strategy and mantra that has emerged in many churches. This powerful idea could lead you to conclude that deep discipleship will create a church family ready to go out and win others to Christ. This may be accurate OR it could unintentionally accelerate an inward focus and actually harm any attempts to look evangelistically outward. Instead, a better strategy might be to use ongoing evangelism strategies as a way to catalyze deep discipleship. How will you know? Certainly not by just adopting a new slogan! Don’t be tempted to implement a shallow strategy just because it’s the latest idea and thus think you are succeeding.
THE 1 RIGHT WAY
So if none of these methods work as ways to truly measure success, how should church leaders evaluate their progress? The best method is to identify where God is uniquely leading your church, what He’s called your specific church to be and do, and whether you are being faithful to growing in these areas.
A compass helps to set “true north” and lets us know if we are on course or not. The guiding “true north” for every church should be the development of its mission, values, and unique vision of the future.
The mission of the local church, no matter what language is used to express it, is the Great Commission. Values determine how you will act and behave as you go about executing your mission and accomplishing your vision. And your vision is a God-given picture of a preferred future for your church. Vision is unique for each church, in a given community, made up of a special people, and established for a certain time.
Your VISION is fundamental to prioritizing your strategies. Here is a key question to ask: Will this strategy help us accomplish our unique vision? This question will help guide you to your “true north.” It will help you truly determine success.
But this method of determining success is notably more difficult than measuring by listening to anecdotal evidence, personal preference, comparison, history, or cutting and pasting the latest idea into your ministry. After all, you have to first determine and articulate your mission, vision, and values. Next, you have to diligently align your ministry strategies to live them out. And finally, you must be rigorously honest with your evaluation of the strategies. Are they taking you toward your “true north?”
This is the only way to truly measure success in your church.
Here are some questions you and your team can grapple with in order to find your “true north” and truly determine success:
“Where does God want us to be in five years?”
“What would it look like to double our kingdom impact in our community and the world?”
“What would have to be true to in order to get there?
“What would we need to start? What would we need to stop doing or re-align?”
“What values will guide us on this journey?”
These questions will help you prioritize resources, dream bigger for the future, and monitor ministry success. Every week Intentional Churches helps church leaders do the hard work of answering these questions and identifying next steps. We would love to work with you, too. Let us know if you are up for a conversation.