There are many options when it comes to doing an evaluation of the ministry of a small congregation. Many denominations offer assistance with this. Others have found the process developed by NCD (Natural Church Development) has been helpful. Some congregations have involved outside consultants in the process. Any of these options can be very helpful to a congregation, especially if it is the first time the congregation has done a ministry evaluation.
I think congregations should consider doing a ministry review every couple of years–but if that sounds like too much work, every five years could be considered. The advantage of more frequent evaluations is that everyone has a better, more up to date sense of the congregation and its state. If the congregation opts for a more frequent evaluation process, it is helpful for them to have a review process that they can do on their own without too much trouble.
For many years, I have used an evaluation approach based on Acts 2.42-47. When I was introduced to this passage as a seminary student, we were taught that the passage showed four basic functions of the church. The church to be healthy needs to engage in worship, fellowship, education and service. I will look at each of these briefly in this blog and look at how they can form the basis of an evaluation process tomorrow.
1. The worship function of the church seeks to put God first and give him the praise and adoration that is rightly his. Worship seeks to remind us of the true order of the universe: there is God, the supreme being, creator of all, sustainer of life, source of grace shown in Jesus Christ and guidance through the Holy Spirit–and there is everything and everyone else subservient to God. True worship seeks to recognize this reality.
Worship becomes disordered when the focus moves away from the wonder of God to the order of service, the feelings of the worshippers, the amount of time taken or any one of a number of other distractions.
2. Many congregations talk a lot about fellowship but often use it as a code word for coffee and sweets before, during or after worship. Certainly, this can be fellowship but this function involves far more. Believers are called to love one another as Jesus loved us (John 13.34-35); we are told that the truth of our faith in Gods is shown in our love for each other (I John 4.20-21) and believers are often referred to as the household or family of God in the New Testament. The church becomes the place where the depth of relationships between believers is worked out.
Dysfunctional fellowship denies or ignores the essential bond between believers and takes many forms, many of which are shown in the letters to the Corinthians and are still visible in congregations today.
3. Deciding to follow Christ is referred to as being “born again” (John 3.3). Part of the purpose of that image is to show us that we are entering a new way of life which is totally foreign to us. We need to learn everything again from the beginning–all of life is touched by the problems associated with human sin and as believers, we need to start over in everything. The educational function of the church is the provision of appropriate ways for believers of all ages and stages to continue learning about the faith.
Often, congregations see education as a process of providing Sunday School or some other program for kids and ignores the rest of the congregation, all of whom need to be involved in some form of education to learn the reality of their new life in Christ.
4. The service function of the church involves the work the church does to make the world aware of the love of God. Some chose to divide the function into two categories: evangelism and social action. It is probably not to make the division and see the church’s service requirements more in the light of Jesus’ example. He provided love and grace in the appropriate form for all people and settings, with the understanding that the more people are exposed to the love of God, the more opportunities they have to become reconciled with God.
The service function is compromised when the congregation is unable or unwilling to see beyond its own internal needs.
Understanding these four functions enables the church to be an active and effective participant in the activity of the kingdom. The functions also provide a way of evaluating the overall ministry of the church, which we will look at tomorrow.
May the peace of God be with you.