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Recognizing Problems That Arise In Church Planting

I am writing about church planting…still. It is one of my favorite subjects. But I need to tell you something: though there is great pleasure and satisfaction in starting something new, it does not happen without sacrifices and challenges.

Even the most enthusiastic and optimistic church planter will have to, at some point, recognize and deal with the problems that arise in church planting.

So what would some of those problems be? Well, let’s start by looking back at the early church—the church plant of all church plants! With both physical growth and increasing diversity, the first apostles certainly experienced some start-up-like growth issues. For example:

  • Tensions between Jews and Gentiles (Acts 6:1-7)
  • Disagreement about circumcision (Acts 15:1-2)
  • Disputes about responding to political leaders (Romans 13:1-7)
  • Controversy about dietary choices (Romans 14:1-4)
  • Lawsuits between believers (1 Corinthians 6:1-7)
  • Twisting the Gospel (Galatians 1:6-10) 
  • Disunity between believers (Philippians 2:1-4)

These alone don’t paint the full picture of what a church planter might have to face, but the personal experience of the apostles as the original church planters (see 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10), might cause some to rethink before agreeing to the job and embracing the call! 

Putting aside the topic of modern-day apostleship for now, what we can say is this: the nature of church planting is apostolic. Without a clear sense of calling, both the sacrifices and challenges required of the task might end up overwhelming any would-be church planter. 

Church planting is very exciting, but it has to be more than a good idea. It has to be a God-idea that speaks of His destiny and purpose for your life as well as for others.

Growing Problems

And so, we can see from the early church planter’s experiences there are inevitable problems and challenges in church planting. Some will be the same as those others faced, some will be unique to your particular situation and circumstances.

However, here’s what you need to remember: there are going to be good problems and there are going to be bad problems. Good problems are about growing. Bad problems are about growing, too. Often, the only difference is how you see them, and ultimately how you handle them.

Inspiring an Army of Volunteers

Thankfulness

There is one challenge in particular that I want to focus on: building a church planting team with volunteers. Unlike the world of business, where making money is the goal (therefore people can be hired as well as fired), the majority of the church is made up of volunteers. 

In business, employees are paid for their work, enticed with benefits packages and often rewarded for exceptional performance. Of course, there are rewards in the church—usually through opportunities to serve and lead. But, generally, church workers are expected to serve faithfully regardless of rewards. 

This notion comes out of a shared understanding and expectation that each volunteer is ultimately serving Christ, not man or mammon, because of their deep sense of thankfulness for God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross. 

A Noble Cause

A volunteer workforce that continues to offer itself willingly needs to believe that they are giving themselves to a noble cause—that is, something that is greater than themselves, expressing both moral and spiritual excellence.

I might put it this way: a noble cause is a stirring call to do something selfless with your life, resulting in something good for others. Without this belief—without this conviction—then sustained work from a bunch of volunteers is unlikely. 

While they might remain as members in “the club”, they may pull back from their commitment and willingness to serve. Remember, disengagement happens long before people leave altogether. Some people stay for years while disengaged. Other motivators keep them showing up: fellowship with their friends, loyalty to the brand, or perhaps having nowhere else to go.

When a noble cause seems no longer attainable, or is something they cannot be part of, then uncertainty undermines the conviction that once motivated the giver to give, the server to serve, and the worker to do the work that is so badly needed.

The Vision

Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This idea is a simple one: people must be inspired. Vision inspires, both motivating the heart and stimulating the mind. Without it, people literally lose heart and begin to look for other things to give their lives for. 

To be able to see—and to see clearly—is a gift. Combine that with another gift—leadership—and people will be ready to be led. When the vision is well articulated and participation is invited (not just needed nor demanded), the volunteer army engages willingly in the mission. Not just a noble cause to give one’s life for, but believing that the sacrifice will make a difference. 

Powerful vision and strong leadership give reason and purpose to those who want to serve.

Fear, Guilt, and Shame

There are, however, other motivators—powerful forces—that cause people to serve: fear, guilt, and shame. Tragically, these are the very things that we, in the Church, should be free from. 

Unfortunately, because these three—fear, guilt, and shame—evoke such powerful feelings, they can be used to try to motivate people. The Bible teaches that fear, ultimately, has to do with death and damnation. In Hebrews 2:14-15, however, it says of Jesus, 

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” 

With regard to guilt, the Bible teaches that this is the feeling we experience when convicted of sin, that is, separated from God because of our fallen state. This speaks not only of our actions but of the state of our hearts and minds, too.  

Oddly, although feeling guilty is not pleasant, when the feeling is absent it can lead us to believe that everything is OK when perhaps it is not. The condition of leprosy is an illustration of what happens when we have no sense of guilt. The ghoulish loss of limbs characteristic of a leper results because they have lost the feeling in their extremities and can no longer detect or heed the pain warnings.

Guilt is a strong feeling and, although it can be both true and false, true guilt functions as a warning to tell us that something is wrong that God wants to make right! This is what the scriptures say about this:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

Simply said, guilt is about sin. When it leads us to repentance, then God not only forgives us but also cleanses us, that is, makes us holy again. Condemnation is no longer ours to bear. Not because it was unfounded or unfair, but because God’s son, Jesus, died for our sin, thereby fulfilling God’s demand for a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

And, finally, there is shame. Shame is a painful feeling of humiliation and embarrassment. It comes from knowing that you have done something wrong or foolish. 

Adam and Eve were perfect in all ways while they were in the garden in relationship with God. When they did the one thing that God warned them not to do, their sin caused them immediately to feel shame, and so they went away and hid themselves from God (Genesis 3:8-10). 

Biblical shame is a consequence of sin; but as with guilt, God promises to remove our shame when we turn to Him in repentance and faith. 

“As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’”  -Romans 10:11

Godly Motivators

If intrinsic motivators are not powerful enough, then volunteers will cease to work. And if the things that motivate are not found within individuals, then they must come from without. 

It is a fact of life that leaders lead and those who don’t lead tend to follow. It is also true that there are more followers than there are leaders. Therefore, great things can and will be accomplished when leaders continue to motivate those who follow, as well as when those who freely choose to follow have the conviction and determination to do so. 

So what does this all have to do with church planting? Well, a church plant is not unlike a start-up in business really. In the beginning, there must be someone, usually entrepreneurial in profile, who has both vision (an idea) and conviction (determination) to make something happen. 

This person not only believes that it can be done but, more importantly, they believe in themselves to do it. Mix in a good dose of ambition and what you have is a highly motivated individual who is likely to need others (employees) to see his or her dreams come true! 

This is not much different from the church planter/pastor who has a vision from God to plant a church and believes they have been chosen by God to do it. They are usually highly motivated, enthusiastic, ambitious individuals who want to inspire others to join them in the new church they are starting. 

Some do it through selling a fresh exciting vision, while others are able to recruit volunteers just through having a charismatic personality. When the two come together—that is, an exciting vision communicated by a capable, convincing, magnetic leader—it results in people wanting to be part of it. 

That’s a good start, but usually the real test of a volunteer’s commitment comes after the works begin…when days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months, and months turn into years, and things may not be going as planned. 

More is required from the same people who have been doing all the work, as well as faithfully giving, with the promise that when the work grows a little bit more then there will be others to share the work. (Just an aside: having a larger team does not change the 80/20 principle, that is, most of the time 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, no matter how many people you have!) 

This brings us back to motivation. When volunteers are tired and perhaps feeling a little disillusioned, they tend to need a little more motivation from the leader they have been following. In the business world, the promise of added reward for extra effort is not as common as you might think. 

More often than not, it is the “performance evaluation” that subtly intimidates employees by highlighting “areas of needed improvement”. The ultimate fear is failure to perform resulting in dismissal, that is, “You’re fired!” This doesn’t happen in the Church, not with volunteers anyway. 

Oh, yes, there are times when people are asked to leave and, in extreme cases, excommunicated; but rarely is there a performance evaluation, let alone the setting of clearly articulated measurable goals. 

Servanthood

The temptation, at this point, is for church planters/leaders to play the “servant card”. The argument goes like this: “If we don’t hire people to work, then we can’t fire them if they don’t. And so, we have to find some other way—some compelling way—to motivate the volunteer staff.” 

So, they play the servant card! What’s the servant card? Simply, they tell people that God has called us to serve (which He has). But this reminder is not usually used to inspire, but to make individuals feel obligated. It plays on fear, guilt, and shame rather than God’s love, mercy, and grace. 

Again, the idea is that because of what God has done for you, you must now serve him. Rarely articulated but clearly understood: it is payback time! The motivation to serve, which must be understood in leading a volunteer army, should come from a heart that’s so overwhelmed by gratitude that serving is a delight and a joy.

For any thank-offering to God to be holy, it must be freely given. When we are made to feel obligated to serve then our offering is payment. We remain as servants rather than become the children of God. We find that God’s “unconditional love” has conditions. We haven’t received a free gift from God, after all, but one with strings attached. 

This is a real problem in the church. There wouldn’t be as many books written on the subject of planting and growing healthy churches if it wasn’t. But this is what I want to leave you to think about, especially if you are about to plant a church: 

Leaders—blinded by their own ambition—are often tempted to recruit people (converts and believers) in order to fulfill their own vision and ministry aspirations. The emphasis turns from building up the Body to do the work of the ministry to raising up workers to serve the Pastor to fulfill his or her own vision and ministry. 

When it comes to motivating God’s people to serve, the focus must always be that we’ve received a gift that none of us deserved: God’s love, mercy, and grace. The key is thankfulness, not a sense of obligation.

The Privilege of Leadership

But when it comes to leadership, we must always understand it as a privilege. The privilege? To lead God’s people into their destiny and purpose as the Body of Christ, believing that God, as He has promised, will build His church as you serve in rest and faith.

Believers must never be seen as a resource to get the job done, but as sheep that have been entrusted into your care to shepherd. After all, together with them, you are the Church, the Children of God, the Body of Christ, a Kingdom and Priests of the Most High God!

For more on the process of church planting, check out my introductory article “Planting a New Church”.

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Planting A New Church

I am a church planter—not just because I have planted churches, but because I believe in church planting. It is God’s design to grow His church on the earth. Church planting advances the Kingdom of God by taking the light into the darkness. It involves going to people and places that need to experience the love and power of God through Jesus Christ.

What makes church planters is not so much the act of planting churches or a trail of church plants, but the deepest conviction that church planting is God’s intended way to win the lost, to pastor and disciple those who believe, to train and equip the army of God, and to activate and send the Body of Christ into the world to plant more churches.

Things To Consider When Planting A New Church

If you’re planning to plant and pastor a new church, then here is a short list of things you need to consider before you set out.

  • Who are you trying to reach? Where do they live? How do you plan to reach them?
  • Will you need to do language studies before you start? Will vocational or professional training come first? Have you had any cross-cultural experience?
  • Are there any churches in the area already? Do you know their story? Are you planning to build a relationship with them before you start? 
  • What’s the budget for your church plant? 
  • When will you begin? Who needs to know? How will you communicate it?
  • What style of community church and worship service will you have? 
  • Do you have team members? Do you have a plan for developing launch team members? Do the launch team members know what will be expected of them? Who will lead the team?
  • What kind of support can you expect from other churches and church leaders, such as within your denomination, movement, church network, community church, house church, cell group? What kind of accountability do those partners expect?
  • Have you set clear goals? Have you set a timeframe for reaching them?
  • Are you and your spouse in agreement on planting a church? How will the church plant affect your family? 

Clearly, this list is not exhaustive, but includes some topics church planters, lead pastors, and launch team members need to carefully consider. Though there are various schools of thought about specific details of how to plant churches, these same questions are valuable.

Related Read: Recognizing Problems That Arise In Church Planting

Before we go further in talking about church plants, though, it might be helpful to have a shared definition of what I mean by churches. 

What Do We Mean When We Talk About “Churches”?

I always go back to God’s word when there is a question about our understanding of such things. Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about churches and church planting. 

The Idea Of Vine & Branches

In John 15:5, Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus was speaking about things to come, explaining that He was the source of all that His Father in heaven would do on the earth; if they continued to follow Jesus in everything pertaining to their life and work, they would see the results of His work through them. 

But what does the concept of vine and branches have to do with churches and church planting? 

Well, for a start, there is only one vine—not many vines, but only one. Jesus was not referring to denominations, movements, or what we call churches (of which there are many), but to himself: 

The Son of God, sent by the Father, full of the Holy Spirit, to die for the sins of the world, to be raised from the dead, to send the Holy Spirit once ascended so that his work on earth would continue through his Body, the Church! What there are “many of” is branches. One vine, many branches. Simple, right? (I wish!) 

Let me explain further: Since there is only one vine, there is only one Church. If we are talking about planting new churches, then we must talk about something that is not separate from or additional to the one true and living Church, that is Christ’s.

Planting A New Church Is About People

Planting a new church is actually bringing about church growth. We are not starting something “new” as if it doesn’t already exist. And to be clear, since Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. People, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. People, born-again, Spirit-filled. People, called by name, set apart, consecrated, Spirit-gifted, mantled with the destiny and purpose of God, to advance His Kingdom throughout the earth! People. 

As pastors and church leaders you will need buildings for the church to meet in, and equipment to facilitate the ministry—that is, running programs, holding worship services, having meetings—but none of these things together or separately are the Church. The Church is the people. 

Don’t forget this, and if you truly believe it, then as you plant churches, keep restating what you believe with your life, for the rest of your life!

A Story About “Going” To Church

For a long time, a small group met in our house week after week, year after year, every Saturday night. Those were some rich times of ministry for my wife and for me. 

Over the years, different people came, some to stay, some just passing through. One man who was a “regular” would be among the first to stand up at the end of each evening and say, 

“Well, I gotta go now ‘cause I gotta go to church in the morning.” 

As he moved to leave, I would meet him at the door and say, “Just remember, you can’t go to church, you can only be the Church!” He and I would laugh before we blessed each other and said goodbye. 

This went on for some time until one night he got up in his usual manner, saying what he always said, but before I could answer he laughed and said, 

“Yes, yes, I know, ‘You can’t go to church, you can only be the Church’. 

As warmly as I knew how, I responded by saying, “No you don’t know, because when you do know something that God has revealed to you, it changes the way you talk and the way you act. It’s called, my friend, ‘transformation’.” 

You can’t go to church because the church is not a physical address or a building on the corner of a city street. It is not a worship service, meeting, or program. The Church is God’s people. This is the truth. 

My Story Of Planting A New Church

Years ago, when I set out as lead pastor to plant and pastor my first church, the District Superintendent of the denomination that I was with said, “We are sending you to another city to ‘organize’ as a new church.” It was his way of explaining a church plant. 

He was right—it took a lot of organizing as well as personal effort to plant that church from scratch! 

From the time we “went public”, there was no turning back: No Sundays off, no excuses for not delivering weekly sermons and Bible studies, meeting with the launch team, counselling church members, doing weddings and funerals, worship service preparation, etc. Planning, scheduling, organizing? You bet! But all that activity, and all my performance did not create or sustain His Church. Organize a church into being? I think not. 

What you end up with is a Christianized organization with its members and regular activities. What is needed—what every church planter and launch team needs—is a revelation of Christ’s Church by the Spirit of God, preferably before stepping out to plant a new church.

What we say or how we talk so often expresses what we think. When our thinking changes, then how we talk changes, too. If information is meant to inform, then a revelation of the Spirit is meant to transform. Jesus was not trying to inform his disciples with regard to His Church, He was imparting a revelation to them. Later, on the day of Pentecost when the disciples received the Holy Spirit, their transformed minds understood things that they could only know by the Spirit. 

As a consequence, they talked differently—no longer confused and scared by Jesus’ bewildering departure, but clear-minded and emboldened by an infusion of the Spirit of God. Peter’s response to the gobsmacked crowd that day would mark the beginning of a transformation that continued in many others who repented, believed, and followed Jesus. 

One Church, One Church Planter

So what’s my point? The point is that it is actually wrong to think that you can plant something that already exists. As Jesus explained, just as there is only one true vine, there is only one true Church. And there is only one Church planter! He said, “My Father is the gardener,” and He has planted His Church through His Son by the Holy Spirit. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus’ Church already exists and will prevail on earth until the Lord, Himself, returns. 

This brings us back to our definition. Church planting (“new” implied), is really about the Church being fruitful. 

There is no new vine to be planted, there are just branches to be grown. The growth is the Lord’s work in us and through us. He causes us to bear fruit, rather than we make ourselves fruitful (or productive) in his name. 

When God works through us in marvelous and miraculous ways, then He gets the glory and the testimony belongs to Him, rather than to man. Remember, as the scripture says, we are all, “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The house is God’s work. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). 

And so, when it comes to church planting:

  • The planting is God’s
  • The building is God’s
  • Even our ability to bear fruit is His!

When we understand this by a revelation of the Spirit, then our transformed heart and mind come into alignment with the heart and mind of God. 

Without this kind of alignment, any new work that a man or woman begins will end up being more about their good intentions—and falsely founded on the idea that they are starting a new church. Truly God wants His Church to grow; however, we must carry a revelation of His Church in our hearts and minds in order to remain in Jesus as we step out to do His work. All church growth depends upon this, as apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5). 

So what we really mean when we talk about planting new churches is adding branches to the true vine that will, hopefully, bear much fruit. But adding a new branch is not like building an extension onto your house. 

The only way this kind of branch is added to the vine is when an individual repents, believes in Jesus, and follows Him. It is the individual, not a community church, that is added to Jesus. The new believer, then, becomes another branch in the living vine, with great fruit-bearing potential. 

This is key to pastors and church leaders understanding what is “new” about church planting: It is not about the nation or the city or the town you go to. Nor is it about the building or equipment or programs or worship services you run in your church plants. 

It is, ultimately, about each individual you reach with the gospel who gives their life to Jesus and is born again by the Spirit of God. A dead stone that is now living! That is what makes things new. 

But?

But what about the re-grouping, re-branding, re-packaging of the saints? 

What about lead pastors discipling those who are already “in Christ”? 

What about training and equipping, activating and sending? 

These are all good, necessary and important, but this is not new church planting, but rather shepherding believers to maturity. 

The chafing point in this is that we can work hard and spend huge amounts of resources caring for and being pastors to those who already believe in Christ, yet never see them become fruit-bearers in advancing the Kingdom! In fact, we might dare to conclude that the fruitfulness of the Body of Christ when it comes to church growth is a measure of our own ministry. And the cutting edge of the Church will always be in reaching the lost with the gospel of God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ—in one word: evangelism. 

Our challenge is to do both well, that is, to pastor the Church in such a way that they are activated and sent out as “fishers of men”. Any other reason for church planting suggests we’ve failed to understand the apostolic and prophetic foundations of the Church (Ephesians 2:20). 

Advice for would-be church planters? In the words of Ed Stetzer, “Don’t let your church be a cul-de-sac on the Great Commission highway.”

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What Every Lead Pastor Needs to Know About Church Metrics

There isn’t a church planter or lead pastor who doesn’t care about success. Some may not admit this, fearing that might seem “unspiritual” to others. However, the desire for success in ministry is a common driving force.

Of course there are acceptable ways of talking about success. For instance, we talk about church growth all the time. Whether through winning people for Christ and discipleship of new converts or attracting existing believers to a church plant that seems new and fresh, growing churches is what it is all about. But which church metrics do we use to evaluate success? What kind of church data and tool can determine if we have met our goals?

In this post we’re going to provide an overview of church metrics and discuss their use (and misuse):

Keep reading to learn why and how to set church metrics that matter. 

Popular Metrics Church Leaders Use To Evaluate Success

Within churches, growth is often publicly shared and showcased through testimonies: Acts of miraculous faith, servanthood, irrational generosity, fruitfulness, and transformed lives, of course, are the markers of a person’s walk with Jesus. 

Yet shoptalk between pastors most often reflects a numbers game. Some of the most commonly sought after and tracked  church data includes :

  • Attenders and attendance 
  • Membership rolls
  • Salvations 
  • Salvation follow-ups 
  • Baptisms
  • Tithes and giving 
  • Discipleship
  • Outreach programs
  • Small group numbers
  • Staffing numbers
  • Volunteers 
  • Team members

The list of church metrics goes on, from the rational (number of cars in the parking lot) to the slightly more obscure.

Back in the 80s, the senior pastor who I was serving at the time carefully tracked how many cassette tapes (remember those?) of his message were purchased each week. For him, success was measured through tape sales!

Tools You Can Use To Track Church Data

If these are the church metrics that matter to you, you can find a whole slew of tools and church management software that’ll help you set goals and track your metrics. The advantage of chms software is that it allows you to spend less time managing the data, and more time developing insights so you can make better decisions. 

For many church plants, and church leaders with rapidly changing congregations, understanding what’s happening in your church can be very valuable. With a host of free tools available, including Church Metrics from life.church, you can simply use an iPad and their iOS app (also available as a mobile app on Android) to very quickly get a much richer understanding of what’s happening in your church. 

Below is a list of some other church management software with metrics functionality:

  1. Wild Apricot 
  2. Elvanto 
  3. Breeze 
  4. Chmeetings 
  5. TouchPoint 

But before you go and check out the pricing and functionality for those tools, read on friend. 

Measuring success: a numbers game

There is nothing intrinsically unspiritual with counting numbers. Or should I say, there is neither anything spiritual nor unspiritual about analyzing and evaluating performance in relationship to established goals. The science of statistics is used worldwide to track everything from sports to world pandemics in real time. And now, with the help of social media, measuring popularity and success has soared to a new level. 

Whether you are selling merchandise, raising money through crowdfunding, building a YouTube channel, or preaching the gospel, knowing who you are aiming to reach, whether you have reached them, and their response to your message, is vital. 

You want to reach the world for Christ, right? As a pastor, you probably meet the group you pastor at least once a week. In the past (that is, pre-COVID), people typically gathered at service times. Since last year, many Sunday services are now live-streamed, which has changed everything. 

People who would normally “go to church” can stay home; but now anybody who has access to the internet and a link to your livestream can join in, too! As a pastor you’re wondering:

  • Who are these people?
  • How is the outreach of your service affecting or influencing them? 
  • What decisions and actions are they taking because of it?

Perhaps these are the same questions pastors have always asked; but now, with the help of the internet, your potential to reach people has increased exponentially. 

Sure, we have had television evangelists and Christian programming for some time, but broadcasting has become both affordable and accessible to almost every local church around the world. All of a sudden, there is a real chance for you to make a connection—a touchpoint—with more people than you ever were able to before!

Why Measurement Matters

But back to the numbers game. Putting aside important discussion about KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) we need to measure our performance. 

Of course, fear of criticism (and goodness knows, pastors get enough criticism!) can keep you from inviting any kind of feedback. But without a means of measuring performance there is no credible way of knowing, this side of heaven, if your ministry is effective. 

Mind you, as I have already said, if you have no clear, well-defined goals to begin with then you really won’t have anything to measure. With no results to measure, then the value of doing (programs, services, and events) is justified by the work you do (time, effort, and resources), rather than the results it brings.

For now, assuming that you have some clear goals in place, some form of measurement is not only helpful, but essential. Effective ministry is the result of clearly articulated goals, strategic planning, activation and empowerment, and then honest evaluation. What makes this spiritual is when we prayerfully seek the heart and mind of God for his purposes to be accomplished through our lives, for the sake of His son, Jesus.

The Misuse Of Church Metrics

So whether you are a pastor or other church leader of a church plant or nonprofit, you will benefit from tracking church metrics in real time, and using them to follow up with better decisions, and even optimize stewardship. The challenge with such things, though, is not in the measuring. Rather, it is a problem with ourselves, an issue of identity. 

Related Read: Recognizing Problems That Arise In Church Planting

An issue of mistaken identity

Our sense of self-worth is far more dependent on our performance than most of us are comfortable admitting. The outcome is that we are likely to measure our own personal value by what we do rather than who we are. We feel good about ourselves when we are performing well, and bad when we are not. Even worse, we may be tempted to believe that we are better than others who do not perform as well! 

Consequently, we look for, even crave for, anything that would indicate that we are doing a good job—a better job—the best job!

When our sense of identity is derived from being loved and accepted based on how we’ve performed, then we live not in the love of Christ but in the fear of man. We might be able to meet up to someone else’s standards for awhile, perhaps, but never God’s! 

This is why, before we turn to church metrics to measure our success, we must rest, again, in the reality of the unconditional love of God the Father. God’s love is not based on our performance but on who we are. Leaning too heavily on the numbers will always lead us astray. The trouble is that the indicators the world looks for are not the same as God’s. Numbers may result in misleading conclusions about our ministry efforts, not because the numbers are wrong, but because of the way we interpret them. 

What Metrics Really Matter—And Why

Let’s be honest: According to the world’s measuring stick (particularly in the United States), high-achievers who demonstrate an almost super-human capacity for work are not only rewarded for what they do but are also exalted as models of success. 

Again, there is nothing wrong with working hard, just as there is nothing wrong with measuring the fruit of your hard work.

However, when we apply God’s measuring stick to our lives, we find He is looking for something very different. For Him, what matters most is not the numbers but what’s in our hearts. 

Measuring success with Heaven’s ruler

While we are tempted to simply count fruit, God looks first for its quality! Faithfulness, trust, devotion, sacrifice, servanthood, humility, love—all these characteristics mark us. And though they need to be expressed through action, that is, through what we do (see James 2:20), when they are found in us, as the core of our being in Christ, God is pleased.

So, how do we strike a balance between resting in God’s unconditional love, on the one hand, and the work that He has called us to, on the other? How do we evaluate our performance and that of our team members, spiritually speaking, while at the same time not trusting the count of measurable things to inform and direct us with regard to the things that cannot be counted? 

The balance, I believe, lies between knowing who you are in God’s perfect love in Christ—fully forgiven, fully accepted—and the undeserved calling to serve God on earth so that He might do His heavenly work through you. By faith and in trust, we lay down our work to rest in the confidence of the knowledge that He will accomplish His work through us.

When I was a boy growing up I loved going to the playground. After the swings, my next favourite equipment was the teeter-totter. To play, you need two willing subjects, one at each end: one to “teet” and the other to “tot”. In the middle was a balancing point. If there was equal weight, with equal exertion at both ends, a well-calibrated instrument would stabilize, becoming still and resting in the balance. This theory is sound, but remember: Most children want to go up and down, producing endless motion rather than balancing perfectly at rest! 

Not surprisingly, knowing who we are in God and doing the work He has called us to is more like the back and forth, up and down of children playing on the teeter-totter than a theology of balance:

 What we know and experience in the world in which we live gives constant pushback against who God is and how He works. 

Our challenge is to live in a natural world ruled by natural principles and laws, yet operate instead by the rules and principles of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes these things seem to come into balance and we find harmony in the two realities, but most of the time they just seem to clash. 

The key is not so much finding a balance between what we know in the natural and what is revealed to us in the Spirit, but rather resting in God between the two.

The Art Of Biblical Church Data Interpretation

So where does that leave us? Well, it brings us to a simple conclusion: If you really want to know how you are doing, you might want to think about who you are asking and what your motives are in asking.

Once all the measuring is done and the numbers have been calculated, the results may all be the same, yet the interpretation of those results might lead to different conclusions.

The senior pastor I mentioned who counted the sales of his sermon recordings as an indicator of his success fell into adultery and lost his ministry. He was a great preacher and he did sell a lot of tapes; but this was not enough to keep him from unnecessary failure with a catastrophic outcome. He chose to look at the numbers he wanted to see with total disregard for what God wanted to show him in his heart.

Remember when Samuel went to Bethlehem to anoint a new king to replace Saul who God had rejected? He was asked to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. We know in hindsight that David was the one who was chosen; but if it had been up to Samuel, he would have picked Eliab. 

1 Samuel 16:6 says, “So it was, when they came, that he (Samuel), looked at Eliab and said, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!'” 

When Samuel measured the man standing in front of him, he concluded that this one would be a good candidate to receive a kingly anointing. But the prophet got it wrong. What might have been a real win for Eliab ended up not to be so, because ultimately God’s measuring stick was used, rather than man’s. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'” (1Samuel 6:7).

In the end, Samuel anointed God’s pick: David. That day Samuel, the man, functioned in his calling, fulfilling his prophetic assignment because he acted upon God’s judgement and not his own.

Bottom line? 

How God sees and measures can only be known to those to whom He chooses to reveal such things. And so, when it comes to church metrics, let’s continue to count, measure, record, analyze, and evaluate church data. Sure, choose interactive church management software (ChMS) with the best functionality for your context. 

But don’t forget that what will matter most in your life and ministry is how God measures you and the work you have done in His name.