Developing an Assessment Culture that Provides Truth Today and Direction Tomorrow

I hate bad stats. They undermine the credibility of Christians and can confuse the issues. (I’ve written on the issue in Christianity Today.) But when we apply stats wisely, they can be of great benefit.

So while I often say “facts are our friends,” they aren’t always friendly. For example, in 2009, LifeWay Research found that 55% of church attendees believed they had grown spiritually over the last year, while only 3.5% of those displayed any measurable growth. That’s not a very warm and fuzzy stat, but it’s an honest one.

Sometimes, though, churches tend to be more hopeful than honest when they look at their situation. That can be good—we are a people of faith. However, bad information undermines good strategy. I believe that churches must have the right information to make that right decisions.

That takes intellegent self assessment.

When we speak of the need for an assessment culture, we want churches and Christians to avoid making claims that are unsubstantiated. We, above all others, need to be trustworthy, and we can do that with accurate assessment of where we are as individuals and a church.

Churches need honesty as much as they need to have hope.

Assessments are a great way to examine the truth about today and provide a direction for tomorrow. And an assessment culture within a church provides a way forward in thinking about where we are and how to go forward in making disciples.

For so long, churches have claimed success because their focus was on bodies, budgets, and buildings. Other areas, where the picture was not as pretty, were ignored. Creating a true assessment culture is about changing the scorecard. Attention is given to the factors that really lead to biblical growth and transformation within a church across cultural contexts and regardless of the size.

In Transformational Church, Thom Rainer and I examine the research to determine and explain the factors that were common to those churches across the spectrum who were experiencing true transformation. It’s why we developed our Transformational Church Assessment Tool. Instead of targeting areas that had been traditional measuring sticks for discipleship, we evaluated a broad spectrum of churches that were seeing transformation take place. They made disciples. By investigating what was taking place there, we proposed a new scorecard to assess the actual health of a church.

I’m not concerned so much that you use our LifeWay Research assessment tools—though I believe in it because the methods are verified statistically and repeatable in any church setting—I just want you to be engaged in assessing your ministry and doing so in a way that gives you an accurate portrayal of your success or lack thereof.

An assessment culture helps you take a realistic look at what your priority areas should be and evaluate how you are making progress in those. Too often we allow ourselves to slip into a false comfort from anecdotal progress that is not really indicative of what is happening.

I want your church to be transformational, and I know you do as well. We need churches that are being transformed by their dynamic relationship with Christ and, as a result, transforming their members and their surrounding neighborhood. Establishing an assessment culture can help you find and address the areas where you are not seeing that occur as well and as often as it could.

Later in this series on creating an assessment culture, I will be talking about why it is you need it, what are some wrong ways to do it, and two of the factors that must be a part of any church assessment culture.

While “creating an assessment culture” may not sound like the most intriguing topic, I believe it is vital to the health of your church. It enables and empowers you to not just think you are making disciples on a consistent basis, but to know that your church is regularly fulfilling the Great Commission.

Part One of a four-part series. Read part Two here.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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Is Your Church Concerned About and Measuring the Right Things?

Last year, Caroline Inglis was on the verge of an historic feat. No high school golfer, male or female, had ever captured the Oregon state title four consecutive years. Inglis won the class 5A state tournament her freshman, sophomore, and junior years. There seemed very little doubt that she would win the title again as a senior.

On the course, Caroline dominated the rest of the field­—finishing with a 3-under 69, nine shots better than any other golfer. On the last hole, with victory assured, she scored her first bogey of the day. That would not have been an issue, except for the fact that her playing partner wrote down she had made a par. Caroline signed her scorecard and turned it in, believing she had just accomplished an Oregon first. In reality, she had just disqualified herself.

In golf, turning in an incorrect scorecard results in a disqualification. Because she had signed and submitted the wrong score, Caroline forfeited the win even though her actual score was still much better than anyone else. Having the wrong scorecard can make all the difference in the world.

Not too long ago, Bill Hybels and Willow Creek were honest enough to admit it—they had been using the wrong scorecard. An assessment demonstrated their members were not moving into maturity. “Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much,” Hybels said. “Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.”

While they were roundly criticized for their mistakes and everyone latched on to their remarks as a moment to say, “I told you so,” they are not the only church making similar mistakes. The things that Willow Creek found were problems in their congregation are problems in all kinds of churches. I believe most churches have been operating off the wrong scorecard for years.

Few churches use any system of accountability today. Many often judge their success based on anecdotes of temporary successes, with those frequently having long since lost any relevance to the current ministry taking place. Anecdotes can be great illustrations of statistical truths. They can also be misleading and hide the reality of the situation.

For those who actually use some means to analyze their ministry, most churches use the same three measuring sticks: bodies, budgets, and buildings. The old numbers-driven scorecard focuses exclusively on the number of people attending, the number of dollars being spent, and the number of square feet being used for church purposes. This is based on a brick-and-mortar mentality that reinforces an emphasis on the campus instead of encouraging people to be moved out into the field.

These three have served as the metrics for how the church is progressing. I’m not against those. I just don’t think they are enough. They don’t go far enough and don’t always capture the truth of the situation. Willow Creek was successful based on those standards, but an assessment showed they had missed the mark on discipleship.

Part of creating an assessment culture is being concerned about the right things. Builders don’t measure the nails to see if the lumber will fit them. They measure the lumber. No one measures a light switch and plans the construction around it. You have to measure the right things. In the church, when we spend our time only measuring the outlying issues we will miss the core mission of God.

I believe that measurements matter for the church. I don’t think we should eliminate them, but I do think we need a new scorecard. We need to key on factors that facilitate more people becoming Christ followers, more believers growing in their faith, and more churches making an impact on their communities. Our scorecards must include an emphasis on things like accountability, discipleship, and spiritual maturity.

That’s what Thom Rainer and I outlined in Transformational Church and what is at the center of the Transformational Church Assessment Tool. We need to find the right scorecard and begin evaluating and valuing the right things. Bodies and budgets may (and even should) be included, but they cannot be the only factors discussed. Find a tool, whether it is ours or not, that is valuing the right things and begin to implement a culture of assessment in your church.

In the final post of this series, I want to highlight two of the central issues that should be considered when a church sets about creating an assessment culture.

Part Three of a four-part series; read Part Four here.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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Inspecting What You Expect for Greater Church Health

It’s common knowledge that men are far less likely to go to the doctor than women. While that may not be very shocking, one of the justifications for their reluctance to schedule a check-up is intriguing. Many men don’t go to the doctor because they don’t want to find out something is wrong. This idea of “what I don’t know can’t hurt me,” is part of the reason women’s life expectancy has long outpaced men. The average US woman lives to be 81.3, while a man’s average life span is 76.2 years.

One of the most fascinating pieces of information from that study, however, is that men are closing the gap. From 1989 to 2009, the gulf shrank from seven years to just over five. The reason? Males were living healthier lifestyles and had become more vigilant in with cardiovascular concerns. Instead of ignoring problems, men began to actively and intentionally evaluate and assess their physical health, which resulted in a 4.6 year predicted lifespan growth.

This perfectly illustrates the need for a culture of assessment in churches, since the Bible refers to the church as the body of Christ. That’s not a metaphor, but a description. Paul doesn’t say the church is like a body, but the church is a body. Just like with our bodies, it is important that we evaluate and assess the overall health of the church. Undiscovered problems under the surface can be deadly.

Some may point out that you can’t measure everything. That is obviously true. You can’t really measure enthusiasm. Clearly, you can’t analytically measure the supernatural and providential move of God. You can, however, measure effects.

When we studied transformational churches, we found commonalities between them that stretched across cultural and ecclesiological differences. For example, some had over 80% of their people in small groups and over 70% ministering to one another in, through and beyond church. These were churches that were seeing conversions and were filled with vibrancy and life.

Knowing what has actually led to making disciples can help you and your church know what steps you need to take to improve your health, which some in your church may already know. Often times when the assessment culture has been developed and implemented, it will confirm the thoughts of your involved members.

Right before I turned 40, I sent out an evaluation form to 15 people with whom I had a work relationship. I wanted them to evaluate my ministry, my leadership, and let me know what they saw as my strengths and weaknesses. I made it anonymous so they could be completely honest. Two things came back consistently (and, to me, surprisingly). They said I was too sarcastic and I didn’t listen well. When I asked my wife about those areas, she looked at me puzzled and expressed surprise that I wasn’t aware of those issues. She knew me best and knew those were areas where I could improve.

That allowed me to open a conversation about how I could work on those. The same is true for your church. We want you to have the knowledge about potential health problems that can encourage the extension of your church’s lifespan. This is not always easy to face or use as a means for improvement. Growing from an assessment requires a certain level of awareness, transparency and courage. Unfortunately, churches and denominations often have a current of denial propping up ineffective traditions and ecclesiological structures.

Several years ago, I did consulting work for a national retailer. They set up a phone survey to determine from employees how they felt about their job, coworkers and supervisors. When all of this data was compiled, we saw issues that were recurring at the bottom 10% of stores. I helped to train a team that would go to those locations and work to correct the problems.

Secular businesses put significant effort into evaluating their effectiveness, while churches frequently do nothing. I happen to think that the work of the church is much more important than any retail store. Having happier employees and increasing sales is beneficial to those businesses, but making disciples is of eternal consequence to the kingdom.

Like American men have done more in the past few years, churches need to start taking their health more seriously. You can only expect what you inspect. Churches that value and welcome assessments can expect health and growth. The facts you discover may not be friendly, but they will enable your church to become better at making disciples.

To accomplish this we need to do things right. In a future post, I’ll outline some wrong ways to implement an assessment culture. It all comes down to the measuring sticks we choose.

Part Two of a four-part series; read Part 3 here.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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bruceherwig — 07/07/14 11:37 am

I couldn't agree more...Don’t fall into the trap of assuming people know what they are doing…or that they heard you correctly just because they are nodding their head in agreement. http://bruceherwig.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/inspect-what-you-expect/

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Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
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Clarity Process

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Laypeople and the Mission of God, Part 6

Today I conclude my series on laypeople and the mission of God. I hope you have been challenged to rethink how you do church– there are far too many spectators and not enough participants in the mission of God. Through the series, I’ve shared many thoughts and ideas about the problem and how to address it.

I hope you will reconsider how you communicate and what you celebrate. And at least reconsider how you might be underutilizing God’s most precious resource – the people sitting right under your nose next Sunday. Here are the final two ideas for changing your church culture.

 

3. Affirmation– Clear, ongoing affirmation of what people do is vital to changing culture. You celebrate what you value, and that must become part of your culture. Now, how do you do that? If you want to build a culture of ministry involvement, you need to do many things, but you certainly must affirm people and their ministry and mission involvement. For example, some of the best churches have 70-80% of their church family involved in meaningful ministry and mission.

In most churches it is not unusual to have the “announcement guy,” pastor, or speaker give a passionate, “Thank you so much to our worship team! What a song!” But the worship team gets the most thanks of anybody. So your platform culture needs to include those guys and integrated that example naturally for other ministries and teams, too. How are you celebrating the people of God all throughout your church in that way?

For example: You could say, “Most of you were handed an information brochure (program or bulletin) today when you walked in the door to help you navigate your experience with us. A volunteer handed you that brochure. Also volunteers came here this week to copy and fold that brochure. Say thank you to them when you come back next week. We value volunteers and invite you to become one as well. You will love it. You can find more information by stopping by our welcome center or checking out our website.” That’s less than two minutes, and it makes a difference in shaping and reshaping your church culture. Be creative and naturally mention different volunteers each week from the platform. Tell their stories in your e-newsletters. What you celebrate, you become. What you celebrate gets done!

You can celebrate people serving one another, serving the poor, engaging in evangelism, and a hundred other things. At Grace Church, we give out a monthly award (trophy and all) to a couple of our team members. We try to mention partners regularly in our worship and community.

It matters– if the pastor and the worship team are the only ones getting mentioned then they are the only ones that people believe you value. That just reinforces the clergy / laity caste system that we need to kill.

Scripture guides us here:

“Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God activates each gift in each person. A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial…

So the body is not one part but many…

But even more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary. And those parts of the body that we think to be less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor, and our unpresentable parts have a better presentation. (1 Corinthians 12: 4-7, 14, 22-23)

When was the last time you celebrated those parts of the body that receive less honor? If it was not recently, start now!

4. Assessment– People who discover their spiritual gifts are mobilized more effectively. I am not totally convinced the specifics of spiritual gifts are always the key– people need more than knowledge of their gifts. Raising awareness of gifts raises people’s awareness of God and His will for their lives, but they need something more.

People will not serve the church effectively long term simply because they know their gifts. In today’s crazy two career, step-family, multiple ballpark and music lesson culture, people can easily know, but never use, their gifts.

However, awareness of gifts can help Christ-followers become aware of their personal responsibility to God. Gifts help people to know God has called them and given them the ability to respond to that call and to be used by God. But, that is just a start.

For example, if they came from unchurched backgrounds, they can be easily intimidated by standing at the door every week saying “hello” as people walk in. They need to be aware that the power of effective ministry comes from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The need to know of their gifts (knowledge) but must walk in the power of the One who gifts (empowerment).

Peter addressed the subject of spiritual gifts: “Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). Don’t use that passage as a way to manipulate– but use it as a way to liberate. And what you say in your sermons creates culture in the same way as what the announcement guy says about the parking team before the sermon does.

Then Peter continued, “If anyone speaks, let him speak of the oracles of God. If anyone serves, let him serve from the strength God provides, so that in everything God may be glorified. To Him belong the glory and the honor, forever and ever, amen” (1 Peter 4:11). This passage says that– two broad categories of gifts, speaking and serving– both talk about the power of the Holy Spirit. And so the necessity of reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit is key in that process.

As you assess your ministry effectiveness asking the right questions is critical. Here is a good one. The late Peter Drucker, the famous business guru and consultant, provided a gift with this question: “If we were starting this again, would we do it the way we’re doing it now?” Drucker suggested the answer will almost always be “no.” The safest and best place to start your assessments is to bring the leaders into that conversation and be courageous enough to erase the board. Start all over again and be a part of something much bigger than you are now. Leverage a resource that you have undervalued– the people sitting right under your nose. The people God has sent you– which you are now responsible to send on!

Bill Hybels expressed his heart for every day Christians in his book The Volunteer Revolution: Unleashing the Power of Everybody.

The desire to be a world changer is planted in the heart of every human being, and that desire comes directly from the heart of God. We can suffocate that desire in selfishness, silence it with the chatter of competing demands, or bypass on the fast track to personal achievement. But it’s still there. (p. 13-14)
If God has really put that in the heart of people our obsession should be to draw it out of them for the sake of the gospel and to the glory of God.

If you are a pastor, this is central to your job description. You are called to “equip God’s people for works of ministry to build up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:10). Yet, today, we have spectators, not equipped believers, and the body of Christ is weak and not built up.

For some, the answer is to abandon the structures of church and move to a simpler model (like “house” or “organic church”). I am OK with that, but I don’t think it is God’s call for all– and I want all churches to engage all God’s people in mission. Yet, we can rethink our structures and approaches that produce passive spectators rather than active participants in the mission of God.

What do you think? One last thing which I almost forgot– I declare the term “laypeople” officially dead on my blog. Let’s just call everyone “God’s people.” Some are pastors, some are not, but all are called to the ministry (1 Peter 4:10) and sent on mission (John 20:21). The only questions are to where, among whom, and doing what.

Let’s build our ministries around the idea that people would say what Isaiah said: “Here I am Lord, send me.”

To begin this series, go here.

Read more from Ed here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.