By Jim Estep
Our lives are inundated with metrics. We wake up to a weather report that shares high and low temperatures, barometric pressure, and likelihood of precipitation. The car dashboard provides information about speed, RPM, battery and oil conditions, temperature, navigation advice, and flashes any number of other indicators. At the medical office, a nurse takes our weight, height, blood pressure, temperature, and sometimes even our oxygen level before we even see a doctor. At work, our job description typically comes with written expectations and measurable performance targets so that our efforts can be charted and evaluated. Why? Because we need to measure what matters!
As elders we also measure what matters. However, far too often leaders and congregations move forward without any kind of dashboard. We glide into the future with little or no instrumentation; we make decisions based on little or no information. It’s a simple principle: We measure what is important to us!
Consider that the typical church uses two metrics to gauge health: worship service attendance and offering. Are the numbers up and are the bills paid? Is that really all that matters to us? I’d hope not. But perhaps we unintentionally signal this to others when that’s all we talk about.
What should be important to us? What should we be measuring?
The Elder’s Spiritual Vitality
If our relationship with Jesus Christ is important, we should have some items on our individual dashboards related to it. An example might include frequency of practicing the spiritual disciplines such as prayer, devotion, fasting, and solitude. Do we practice these disciplines faithfully and frequently? The only real way to know is to make them part of our spiritual dashboard.
We can lead others to spiritual maturity only after we ourselves have experienced it. That’s why providing some assessment to our spiritual lives is essential for elders. Committing to applying such a metric to our spiritual lives is the only way to really know how we are doing. Short of this, it’s like trying to lose weight without ever stepping on a scale.
The Elder Team’s Service
Engaging in self-reflection and assessment is crucial to keeping ourselves on track and improving our service as elders to the flock. No one is perfect, and we all have room for improvement. Setting some personal leadership benchmarks and measuring them leads to becoming more effective in our service without necessarily having to commit more time and energy. As the cliché contends, work smarter, not harder.
One may want to commit more time to service or add to their own responsibilities as an elder, but how do we make sure we are not overloading ourselves? If our ministry as an elder is important, we will want to apply some metrics to check our progress. That’s not unlike paying attention to the car’s fuel gauge on a long trip; otherwise you might find yourself pointed in the right direction but sitting on the side of the road, out of fuel.
The elder team should have a dashboard too. Our leadership as a team is essential for the health of the congregation. This can happen only if an elder team measures the level of mission-commitment and relational bonding the team possesses. Elder team members need to openly and candidly share with one another and provide valuable feedback. The e2 book Answer His Call (2013) provides a guide for providing feedback to one another. Without a frequent assessment of a team’s cohesion, friction and discord can grow, and the team can degenerate into an unhealthy clique over time.
The Church’s Mission-Focus and Ministry
Elders are the guardians of the church’s mission. A checklist ensures mission-focus is maintained, providing continuity to the team’s decisions and direction. Without a dashboard that facilitates mission-focus and aids in an assessment of decisions previously made about ministries, mission-drift occurs. Subtle, minute changes in an elder team’s focus will over time take them away from the mission, away from having an outward focus toward the lost; these changes will cause the team to become ingrown in their focus and the elders can begin to inadvertently mistake managing ministries for leading the church on a mission. (See www.e2elders.org for an inventory on mission-focus.)
As was mentioned, most churches look at two metrics: attendance and money. Neither of these is really all that important to assessing a church’s health. Some suggest we measure the Ns (noses, numbers, and notches) or the ABCs (attendance, budget, and conversions). Numerous other metrics should be employed on a regular basis, such as participation in small groups, Bible studies, or Sunday school; new members by transfer or baptism; number of volunteers; and a myriad of others. The data should be reviewed weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually; compare this information with the previous year’s data to provide perspective.
We measure what is important. What’s important to you?