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Measuring “Success” In Ministry. Part Two

by Joe Pursch on July 9th, 2012

Here’s the second thought-unit in my three part post on measuring success in ministry.

The best evidence of supernaturally effective ministry in a church may not be numerical growth in the early stages.

Don’t get me wrong… if we focus on making disciples, growth will eventually come, because disciple-making churches are healthy churches, and healthy churches grow. But the path to deep and healthy growth is often long. In fact, if the stated goal of a church is to make deeply committed disciples of Jesus, that church may well struggle with numerical growth initially. Consider the ministry experience of Jesus Himself. As His call to radical discipleship deepened, the size of His crowds dwindled ( see John 6, whole chapter). What are to make of this in the “dramatic-growth-conditioned” mindset of modern church leadership? I can only speak from my experience and tell you this: disciple-focused ministries can and do experience numerical growth, but this growth possesses a twofold quality: it is slow but strong.

Slow. Disciple-focused churches don’t have big surges in attendance like other more attraction-based ministries often do. They also don’t suffer from as many dramatic drop-offs in attendance as those ministries do, as the novelty of what attracted people initially wears off or staff or programs change. Disciple-making churches focus on a more relationally – intensive form of ministry. They also make a different promise both to the God-seeker and the established believer: they are calling people not to come and experience something, but to come along and become someone. The important thing to note is that although this kind of growth may be more gradual, it tends to be growth that lasts. Why? Because becoming a disciple means experiencing deeper maturity, and deeper maturity means deeper commitment to both ministries and relationships in the Body. Slow growing but long lasting… a good combination.

Strong. Disciple-making churches also sometimes see other types of growth that transcend simple numbers: people growing in personal victory and godliness as they experience true spiritual transformation, new leaders stepping up for the first time in a lifetime to influence and disciple others, men and women sensing the call of God to commit to full-time ministry and foreign missions, and everyday people using their newly discovered spiritual gifts in ministry to other believers and in authentic outreach to their lost friends and neighbors. Pastors I know who are driving attraction-based ministries are often happy about their attendance but ready to quit out of exhaustion from spinning all the plates necessary to keep new people coming. By contrast, pastors who are cultivating disciple-making ministries are sometimes insecure about their numbers but seem to be more satisfied in their ministries, perhaps because the game they are in is more often populated with stories of deep change like I’ve listed here.

Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not labeling any style or leader as wrong or ineffective. Nor am I laying out a case for low growth or mediocre numerical performance in ministry as justified by a focus on building disciples vs. simply attracting attenders. I’m just sharing some thoughts after two decades in ministry regarding what I am really in the game to achieve at this point in my life. My experience has been that disciple-making as the chief goal in church ministry creates a clear understanding of what we are all laboring for that bridges the expectation-gaps in numerical attendance and keeps leaders in the game of ministry long-term.

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