Now Featured at the Patheos Book Club
Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure
By J.R. Briggs
Foreword by Eugene H. Peterson
Book Excerpt: The Current Metrics
The three Bs of current ministry success standards in North America are buildings, bodies and budget, marked by three questions: How many? How often? How much? This way of thinking says, "If our facilities are large (or we are undergoing a building campaign), if our attendance is up from last year and our budget is reflecting a percentage increase, then our church is successful."
What undergirds these three questions is a principle taken right out of the business management world: efficiency. The more efficiently we can address issues, tackle problems or generate numbers, the more "successful" we are. It's what develops
when we have a Bible in one hand and Forbes in the other. This focus is product oriented—and undoubtedly, money complicates this reality. There is a profound inverse correlation between progress and connection. The more efficiently we operate in ministry, the less intimacy we experience in our relationships.
In recent years the business model has been used so often by church leaders that we have forgotten there are other ways to approach ministry. The irony is that Jesus' ministry was incredibly inefficient, and yet it was significantly effective. His focus was on the kingdom—the rule and the reign of God – not on building institutions or organizations. By current success measurements, during his lifetime Jesus could have reached, healed, taught, prayed and saved more than he did. Yet even today the hopeful message of Jesus remains.
But we have swapped faithfulness and fruitfulness for progress and efficiency. We run our churches efficiently, yet we are left with an ineffective movement. We have forgotten that our primary calling is not to build a larger local church but to be active participants in the kingdom of God. Maybe our greatest failure has been placing a higher priority on the local church than on God's kingdom.
Numbers Appropriately Understood
As we discuss the metric of ministry it's important to clarify that numbers are not to be ignored or disregarded entirely. Again, large churches are not the issue; our failure to prioritize spiritual formation and discipleship is.James Bryan Smith at the Apprentice Institute said we have failed to move from the metric of ABC (attendance, buildings and cash) to D—discipleship.
Numbers are a part of the Scriptures. There is, of course, an entire book of our Bibles titled Numbers—but it is important to remember that the majority of that Old Testament book is made up of stories.Numbers can and should be a part of measuring health in a local congregation, but it is not the entire picture.
Numbers are important because they are rooted in the story of God and the stories of others. They influence the plot and bring texture, meaning and clarity. Stories are brought to life through relationships. Jesus told hopeful stories of the kingdom and renewed broken stories of people. Great stories are full of meaning, but they are rarely, if ever, efficient. The most important element of a success-faithfulness metric is whether our stories are synchronizing with God's story—and how they fit into the stories of others.
What determines great numbers is efficiency; what determines great stories is congruence.When our stories are congruent with God's grander story, we find fulfillment in knowing we are faithfully living into our calling. In John 15, Jesus directed his disciples to remain in him as he remained in them, which is a call to congruence. He followed up by saying, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (v. 5).
Numbers can help as a diagnostic tool of health, but they cannot be the final and exclusive report card from which we derive an accurate grade of ministry. The problem arises when we put an inordinate amount of emphasis on numbers and thus downplay the role of stories. When people are seen as numbers, we rob them of their personhood and worth. A success-driven mindset in the church overemphasizes technique and results, thus putting too much pressure on pastors while undermining the importance of godly character and God's sovereignty. Pastors who possess incongruent stories find themselves on a trajectory toward moral and spiritual disaster.