By Brian Mavis
The church has a problem. The things that matter the most—spiritual growth, changed lives, ministry impact—are the toughest to measure. How are you supposed to measure things like peace, patience, kindness, a transformed heart, and kingdom impact? As the saying goes, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Our mission is to go and make disciples of Jesus; not merely decisions for Jesus (though that is a start), but disciples. Yet it seems to me there is a disconnect between our mission and what we measure. It is not enough to settle for quantitative metrics alone just because they are easier to measure. We must also measure our ministries based upon the Christlike life change that people experience, because that’s what we are after.
As I’ve said previously, this column isn’t just about what could be next in the church and culture, but what should be next. We don’t just react to changes; we can be the agents of change. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you a simple tool that can help you measure, in a way, a transformed heart, and also be used to take ministries to the next level by helping bring about life change.
Take a look at the following graph. There are two movements that make a church more life transforming over time.
1. Depth of engagement is the vertical movement from money/things to projects to people. It measures how personal a ministry is. Our hearts grow when we work more closely with people.
2. Frequency of engagement is the horizontal movement from yearly/semiyearly to quarterly/monthly to weekly/daily. This measures how often someone is involved in a ministry. Our hearts grow when we engage in ministry more often.
Measuring Ministry Impact
The simple idea is to assess a ministry (or even a person) and place it in the appropriate square. Now do the same thing for all the ministries in your department or in your church. You can see how many of your ministries are likely to be transactional and how many are likely to be transformational. Do you have a bunch of annual events seeking donations or raising money, or do you have more face-to-face ministries on a weekly/daily basis?
Now consider the chart on the left, but before I continue, let me offer a caution. Don’t conclude that it is wrong to have programs/events that appear in the bottom left corner. There are at least two reasons for this. First, this square (or the one above it) is a good place for seekers or new Christians to start in their growth. Second, there are real needs that can be met occasionally by people giving money and things. I believe it is ideal to have every square represented by at least one ministry.
The big idea, though, is to move ministries and people up and to the right. If your church filled out this chart and you saw that a majority of the dots were in the left column or bottom row, make it a goal to eventually have a majority of the dots in the right column and top row. You will become a stronger, more life-changing, kingdom-impacting church.
Improving Ministry Impact
The graph on page 60 is more than just a chart for measuring the transformational potential of ministries. It can also be used as a tool for taking your ministries to the next level. For example, each year we do a food drive at our church. People generously donate money, cereal, canned goods, etc., and all of the proceeds go to the local community food bank.
It’s a very good event, but a couple of years ago we asked ourselves how could we make it less transactional and more transformational. In other words, how could we move this annual ministry from the bottom row to the top row?
We came up with the idea of asking our folks to take four recyclable grocery bags (that the church had already purchased). We told them to fill only one bag and then to have the courage of a Girl Scout and ask three neighbors to each participate by purchasing groceries to fill a bag. The response, frankly, surprised us. They actually did it! The church members and their neighbors collected so much that we created a storage problem for the food bank. But the best part, by far, was all the relational connections our members made. The hundreds of stories that came out of approaching neighbors were funny, compassionate, encouraging, and transforming. Our people were pumped.
You can do this with any ministry. I’ve done this exercise with other churches. I’ve asked them to name existing ministries/programs they have, and I’ve asked them to brainstorm about how to move them to the right and up. The ideas they have come up with have been great—and sometimes incredibly easy.
How can your church’s heart be challenged to grow? Take the chart and plot where your ministries are. Do you have a good balance represented throughout the chart? Are any segments empty or underrepresented? How many people does each ministry represent? Now take a ministry and your staff or volunteer team and brainstorm how that ministry can transform more hearts. Take another, and do it again, and again. You will be counting what counts, and you will be moving your ministries closer to your mission.
Brian Mavis is executive director of the Externally Focused Network. He also serves as community transformation minister at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado.