Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Results-oriented ministry

In the business community (the marketplace), results are the "bottom line." This is appropriate if the business knows what results it should be striving for. The "results" it aims to achieve are not simply to have a full schedule, or frequent meetings, or develop consumer awareness of their product through advertising. These are means to achieving the results, but are not the results themselves. Therefore it behooves that business to know exactly what results it wants.

Church has both similarities to and differences from the marketplace that make it a unique animal. Being results oriented can be positive, but striving for the wrong results can be quite negative. It's a precarious dance you step to be ambitious with the Gospel, pursuing the kingdom of God with reckless abandon. You have ideas in your head that suggest God wants his mission to the world chased after in full throttle. You envision a ministry that celebrates the glory of God with orthodox, yet culturally relevant worship; that sends out teams of people every week to evangelize the community and follow up with church visitors; that trains new leaders to carry the work of the Church vocationally and otherwise; that plants new churches regularly to ensure the duplicating expansion of the Church; that develops people into fully mature disciples of Jesus Christ.

You envision all these things, but to put a numeric figure on it seems too sold out to American ambition. I don't know. It doesn't "feel" right. I read the vision statements of some highly "successful" churches recently. Their pastors gave sermons that included the envisioning of 10,000 members, or 20,000 attendees to weekend services. I'm uncomfortable setting a figure for two reasons:

1. Setting a number goal smacks of ambition that seems to migrate subtly from healthy zeal for the Gospel to unhealthy "success-ism." Where is the line where one crosses from one realm into the other? I'm not sure. At this point I just know that I've witnessed extreme examples on both ends of the spectrum. I've witnessed those churches that have no zeal for the expansion of the Church at all. They are absent any ambition. The missio Dei seems quite foreign. The "holy huddle" is entrenched, and will never think outside that box for the sake of the Great Commission. On the other hand, I've also witnessed those churches that seemed to so fully indulge their ambitions that governing values, dignity of the Church or operational convictions seem completely negotiable. Great size had been achieved, but at too high a price.

2. Setting a large number goal contradicts both the advantages I've seen in moderate sized congregations and the critiques I've offered of mega-churches. At some point, when the church gets too large, it ever more easily looses any personal feel. Business oriented operations become more standard, and rhetoric describing the church as a "family" sounds ever more empty. This perhaps is simply my projecting of my own comfort zone onto the church. Therefore, if God wanted to grow a church where I serve as the pastor to a size of 10,000, a great deal of change would have had to occur in me. At the present time, I can envision large church, but not as easily envision myself as the senior pastor of one.

These are relevant because our church just held an outreach event to the community, welcoming much of the community to our doorstep through an event partnering with the local Fire department's ladies auxiliary. Already I'm being asked if we've seen "results" from the event. What "results" would that be? 10 new people? 20 new people? How quick we are to assume that "results" means numbers. Could not "results" also mean a good witness with the Fate Fire Ladies Auxiliary? Or increased awareness of our church's existence in the community? Or the cooperative working with the FFLA that might spawn greater good will between our church and local municipalities? Or simply the sharing of God's grace with Fire Dept and residential visitors alike to our church's property?

"Results" is such a loaded term. It must be defined before that question "Are we seeing results?" can be safely asked. If a ministry is results-oriented (and I'm not saying it shouldn't be), then we had better be careful about what are the "results" we're looking for. I've already seen many wonderful "results" come out of our most recent event, but I may be looking at different things that those merely checking attendance on Sunday morning.

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