When I wrote yesterday’s blog and started working on this one, I realized there was an important question that needed to be asked before looking at effective ways to evaluate the small church. The question is simple: “Why bother to evaluate or measure at all?”
There seems to be something of a tension in Western culture between those who love to measure things and those who want to experience things. There are many who feel that if you begin to measure, you lose the fullness of the experience. The small church is one of those things that seems to be more concerned with experience–and to try to measure the experience and the relationships that make the small church experience what it is probably can’t capture the fullness of the experience and may cause harm in the process.
While I have some sympathy with this view, I have been blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with a fairly scientific mindset that makes measurement and evaluation a part of the experience. But I learned long ago that measuring and evaluating are most effective when they enhance the experience.
I actually learned this in high school English class during the poetry sections of the course. We had a very technical approach to poetry: we learned the various rhyming patterns, the different ways to scan lines, how the various types of poetry were constructed and on and on. But I never really learned how to read and enjoy poetry–either it wasn’t there or I missed it doing the measuring of all the variables. Good poetry had good measurable stuff–but the real strength of poetry is its emotional content which for me tends to get lost in the measuring of rhyme and meter and stuff like that. To this day, I can analyse the structure of a poem but don’t enjoy reading poetry.
So, when I approach the small church, I want to measure and evaluate–but I not only don’t want to cause any harm to the small church but also I want to measure and evaluate in a way that enhances the strength of the small church.
I want to measure and evaluate because the church, being made up of imperfect people, is imperfect. Like the people who make it, the church will never be perfect but that shouldn’t stop either people or churches from seeking to improve and become more what they were meant to be.
In small churches, people tend to develop patterns and habits and rituals that meet their needs and they become comfortable. Certain hymns regularly appear in the worship; certain themes keep coming up in the preaching; certain events are a part of the church year; certain people always get certain positions; certain budget items are always included; certain things are always avoided. All these provide a comfortable, safe, predictable experience that is exactly what those present want and need.
But over time, the culture of the congregation diverges from the culture of the community. The ministry of the church may be fulfilling to those who are there but those outside the church see nothing that interests them so the outreach ministry of the church becomes less and less effective. At the same time, members of the congregation have difficulty with the overall ministry. While it may be familiar and comfortable, it has also lost its ability to challenge those present and enable them to grow in faith. Those present may not feel a great need to change things but neither are they as deeply involved in the activity of the congregation as they were in the past. The church begins to drift, living on the past.
One way to avoid this drifting is to have a periodic evaluation of the ministry of the congregation. If such an evaluation of the church done well, it can help the congregation and its leadership develop a better picture of the congregation and develop better and more effective ministry as well as catch potential problems at an early stage.
As well, it can help the church combat the slow decline that is often the norm in small churches. The decline comes about because although comfortable, the habitual ministry of the church is less and less effective. Because people, churches and communities do not stay the same, the ministry of the church can’t afford to stay the same. Going through a periodic ministry review or evaluation can help redefine and redirect the overall ministry of the church.
Just how to do that evaluation will be the subject of future blogs.
May the peace of God be with you.