Thursday, February 23, 2012

Return on Investment

I recently purchased a new squeegee at the dollar store to replace one I had used in my shower for several years.  This new one had a sleek design, much wider, covering more territory each swipe and it was only one dollar!  So I exchanged it in the shower and threw my old one away.  But the next morning after my shower when I used the new squeegee on the glass, it did an absolutely pathetic job of removing the water. The thing was not sturdy enough to effectively squeegee anything and left streaks of water on both sides.  I threw it away and had to dig my old squeegee out of the trash.  

Yeah, you're right, I should have known that you get what you pay for.  What I don't understand is why someone would produce something that doesn't work.  I guess the bottom line is profit not function and amazingly in our world today, those two don't always go hand in hand.  

It got me to thinking, (which is dangerous) about our churches today and how many are like this squeegee.  They look good and attract people and yet they do not do what they were designed to do.  The consequences of this are considerably more than losing a small amount of change.  

So, what is the true measure of success in a church?  Is it the number of people you have in worship on Sunday?  Dallas Willard says that instead of counting Christians, we need to weigh them.  Neil Cole states that true success is not the seating capacity of the church but the sending capacity.  What is the goal, what does success look like in the church?  Here are  some universal marks of success that all churches should attempt to reach.  Let's look at three broad areas:  input, output, and impact.  
Input results are what most churches have focused on over the ages, the "ABC's" (attendance, buildings and cash) of success.  If you are my age you'll probably remember the wooden display on the wall next to the pulpit with the attendance and tithe numbers for the previous week.  These are the easiest to measure and are how most churches gauge their success.  
Output results are the actual transformation or life-changes of those who are involved in the church.  A church's ability to evangelize and disciple those who come should be of critical importance and a measure of true success.  Is there a way to help your members share their faith?  If a family attends your church for an average of five years, where would you want that family to be spiritually when they leave your church?  Do you have a process for taking a new believer from the infant stage to maturity?  How do you measure output, discipleship beyond the number of baptisms?  
Impact results are perhaps the hardest to measure of all.  Impact results are the effect the church and the members have on their neighborhood, their city, and the world.  A church might ask what would be the result in the surrounding neighborhood or community if their church closed their doors and ceased to exist.  Would their neighbors even know the difference except for the lack of traffic on Sunday?  

All three are important. However, pastors, elders, deacons and church members often determine the success or failure of the church on the input results alone.  A pastor's worth is so often tied to the ABC's that the church will concentrate all their efforts on these and sacrifice everything else in order to get more people and more money.  It's the easiest to measure and will undoubtedly draw the most attention but these numbers don't give you the real picture of success.  

The real measure of success should be whether a church is making disciples, transforming lives and making an impact in the world.   The problem is that not only are the output and impact results difficult to measure, they require more work, planning, volunteers, and pastoral leadership to accomplish.  There is not a large percentage of pastors and ministry leaders willing to push to the next level.  And there is often a perception that spending money and resources on the output and impact results somehow jeopardizes input results.  I believe it is possible to be successful in all three.  They can and often do go hand in hand.

I know from experience the difficulty of trying to put in place new ideas and discipleship models when the leadership's perception was that this would somehow jeopardize the Sunday School numbers.  Or times when missions was pushed aside because of a lack of funds or a fear that money would be directed away from the budget.  
How effective do you think our churches are today?  Are they doing what they are designed to do? Is it possible to be successful in all three?  How do we change the culture of church today to understand the true purpose and success of church?

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