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    Entries in Church Leadership (15)

    Thursday
    Jun192014

    What Do You Measure in Ministry?

    One of the most challenging and unavoidable questions in ministry is how to measure success.

    If you boil everything down to average attendance and conversions, then you will ignore other vital information.

    How do you measure growth in Christlikeness?

    What does it mean for someone to be "satisfied" with a process or a program? How do you factor theology and mystery on a spreadsheet? (My answer: you can't.)

    Is the fact you're growing numerically indicate your church is moving in the right direction? Is the fact that your congregation is in numerical decline mean that you are failing, or is a pruning taking place? Are necessary, hard truths being spoken?

    If no one makes a profession of faith in a given year, are you presenting the gospel wrongly, or is God providentially working beneath the surface? Could it be that the seeds sown this season will be ripe during another season, and for another leader?

    I've been troubled by the numbers game in church for well over a decade. I remember Howard Hendricks declaring  that is it easier to build a circus than it is to build a church. People will come to be entertained more readily than they will come to be invited to holiness.

    The answer isn't to merge education and entertainment, to "edutain" the masses. Giving away cars and iPads won't help, either. Those types of efforts feed the consumer impulse, and reinforce the idea that the spiritual life centers on us, not God.

    I'm old fashioned in my approach to ministry. Or, I'd like to think so. I try to listen to the people that I lead, learn about their lives, uncover the questions they are asking, and then attempt to present a sound, theologically informed, and biblical approach to life as it is lived in the kingdom of God. That approach always lead us to an encounter with Jesus. My evaluation of the efforts I have been a part of is that the result has been growth--slow growth, but growth. Numerical, and from what I can observe, narratively. People give testimony to their growth in Christ, and other people can see it.

    This past year I've focused on two primary statistics. In youth ministry, I've monitored average monthly attendance on Sunday mornings and on Wednesday nights.

    In college ministry, I've watched average monthly attendance of total students encountering our congregation in Sunday Morning Bible Study or as part of a Community Group.

    So, attendance is one. The second is our number of first time guests, and how many of those guests have become regular participants in our community. I've been doing this all year with college students who have stuck in our community. I'm just now catching up with youth ministry.

    I'm establishing a baseline for the coming year. I want to know if our attendance patterns remain the same, and what times of year are opportune for connecting with new people and inviting core students to deeper levels of commitment.

    Will Mancini of Auxano provides these twenty categories for measuring congregational health:

    1. Percent of new attenders in prior two years
    2. Guest percentage
    3. Profile of new attenders and guest including reason for attending
    4. Age of the church vs. age of the community
    5. Age of church vs. the age of new attenders in the prior two years
    6. Spiritual growth satisfaction
    7. Sense of connection to the church
    8. Giving patterns
    9. Adult conversion percentage
    10. Influence of ministries
    11. Group assimilation percentage
    12. Group assimilation obstacle identification
    13. Assimilation rate for groups and membership (if applicable)
    14. Serving assimilation percentage
    15. Serving assimilation obstacles
    16. Invitation activity
    17. Invitation obstacles
    18. Total assimilation percentages
    19. Strategic direction question cluster one
    20. Strategic direction question cluster two

    I've been giving this list a lot of thought. A lot of these categories aren't just numerical--they drive you beyond the numbers to uncover the stories that make them significant. I like that. If you're going to lead a congregation well, you need to know where they live.

    This week I've been taking time to evaluate and reflect on this past year of ministry. I'm thankful for what I've seen, and I have an idea of next steps for the coming year. I know there is still a lot of hard work ahead. I've been defining strategic priorities, stemming from conversations I've had with ministry leaders.

    Measurement is tough. It's challenging. It's hard work when its piled on top of pastoral care visits and message preparations and meetings. But it is necessary. It helps you define your goals and determine your evaluation questions. 

    The challenge is defining the right categories to measure, and making sure that you are telling the stories that transcend the numbers alone. That's what really counts. God is at work at all times and in all places. We need to notice, and to tell those stories, showing people where they can connect with God, take another step, grow, and move toward maturity as disciples of Jesus.

    Monday
    Jul092012

    Echo 2012. I'm Going.

    I'm headed to the Echo Conference later this month. I hope to reconnect with a few friends and meet new ones. The trip is going to be a new experience for me, at least in terms of the to and from. I'm traveling down on a Greyhound, and may take a circuitous route home in order to catch a ball game. One of my goals is to visit every MLB team in their home ballpark before my life is through. I've visited 14 so far (BOS, NYY, CWS, DET, KC, MIN, LAA, TEX, NYM, CHI, HOU, MIL, STL, SF). I'll be taking a backback, clothes, my notebook, and an open mind. If I'm lucky, I'll get in on some good theological conversations, some fun, and have the opportunity to dialogue with a cadre of creative minds.

    Here is the promo video for the conference. If you're going, please let me know so we can catch up. If I don't know you, let's plan to meet. Drop me a note and we'll connect.

    Echo 2012 Promo from Echo Hub on Vimeo.

    Tuesday
    May012012

    J. R. Daniel Kirk: "If you believe in women’s equality, your calling is to act it out."

    J. R. Daniel Kirk is a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.

    He recently presented at the Christians for Biblical Equality Conference in Houston.

    This link provides access to an unpacking of one of Kirk's "summary takeaways" from the conference.

    Dear men, it is not enough to be supportive in your hearts. If your church is excluding women from service, you need to be creating opportunities to overturn that practice.

    You need to speak. You need to ask.

    I am a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, a conservative institution that has a firm commitment to the Bible.  I am very grateful for what I received while a student there, all while disagreeing with the seminary on this facet of the church's doctrinal teaching: I believe that women who are called as ministers of the gospel can be ordained and installed to serve as elders, pastors, deacons, and ministers, not only to women and children, but to the church as a whole.  I do not believe that a woman's role is limited, and that there are reasonable approaches to 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 (to name two problematic passages for those who hold my position) that do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the office of pastor, teacher, or elder should exclude women.

    It is on us, inasmuch as God has entrusted the church to his people and we are called to be faithful in it and act to conform it to God’s will.

    We must create the kind of church that will receive not just our sons but our daughters, not just our brothers but our sisters, in the fullness of who God is making them to be, in Christ, by the Spirit.

    I do not believe that these two texts are where the matter is settled, however.  I believe there is much more within the witness of Scripture that should lead us to believe that women, this side of the cross of Jesus Christ, who have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and the loving approval of the church, can serve faithfully as leaders within the body of Christ.

    Jesus' public ministry was supported by women, as we see in Luke 8.

    A woman, Mary, sat at Jesus' feet as his disciple, as we see in Luke 10.

    A man and a woman, Priscilla and Aquila, served together as co-laborers in the gospel, or so we read in Acts 18.  Priscilla's name, often appearing first, may indicate she was known as preeminent of the two.  Together they instructed Apollos further in the truth of the gospel.

    Other examples abound, not to mention occurances in the Old Testament of women in positions of leadership.

    I am well aware that problems do remain, and the hermeneutical concerns surrounding these passages and others are tricky.  But I, for one, through the study of both Scripture and church history, believe that my conviction that women are fit to serve in leadership far exceeds sentimentality or a desire to better love my wife, who is a minister of the gospel.  Rather, I believe my conviction rests firmly upon Scripture and the use of reason.

    Those who disagree, please know that I love you in Christ, and ask only that your disagreements be shared in a spirit of charity and love, befitting the commands we find in the New Testament to loving seek the truth in love.

    To those who agree, I ask that you be loving towards those who disagree.  Convictions of the truth should be held both firmly and humbly, open to reproof and correction.  Our ears should always be prepared to listen.

    I agree with Professor Kirk.  Those who believe that women are equally fit to serve as leaders, and find biblical warrant for such a claim, must speak up.  In the process, they must develop their position biblically and theologically, and be open to criticism and challenges.  But in the face of such criticism, if their minds remain fixed, they must teach others why they believe what they believe.

    Women in leadership is not a modern concern, carried on the wings of modern ideological movements.  It is a biblical concern, one we would do well to revisit the text in light of.  That, my friends, is the task.

    Thursday
    Dec222011

    Book Review :: Renovation of the Church by Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken

    Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken desire to lead a church where people are becoming like Jesus. As co-pastors of Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California, Mr. Lueken and Mr. Carlson have been on a journey. After founding Oak Hills in 1984, Mr. Carlson adopted many of the principles of Willow Creek in leading his church to become a growing, seeker-sensitive congregation. But over time, Mr. Carlson and his staff began to become uncomfortable with the witness, methodology, and philosophy of ministry that prevailed at their church. A change was needed. Rather than being consumer driven and seeker oriented, the leadership felt called to be Kingdom driven and discipleship oriented, and as a result of this new vision, everything changed. The authors describe this as a transition to making "spiritual formation", rather than numerical growth, their primary orientation.

    And while this may sound inspiring, this reshaping of vision came with a cost. Mr. Carlson and Mr. Lueken recast worship, abandoned the "show", and watched the church dwindle numerically. After being held up as a beacon of success as a Willow Creek style congregation, the bright perception that came with high numbers began to dim. Mr. Lueken and Mr. Carlson tell their story in this book of making a radical shift in philosophy of ministry--one that they believe in--and invite other leaders to reconsider their models, their language, their discourse, and their method for making disciples of Jesus Christ.

    As a leadership tale, this sounds good.

    But then why three stars?* This may strike some as odd. Why would you assign a book a three star rating if the book is confusing, at best?

    Simple. This book contains very high highs and very low lows. And as both take root, the ensuing result is a mudding of the waters. Christianity, being a deep well, contains a rich, nourishing tradition that delivers salvation, nurtures the soul, and fosters union with God. The church is called to present the water contained within that deep well, the Water of Life, Jesus Christ himself, in a manner that is compelling and clear and faithful to the biblical witness. I contend that Mr. Carlson and Mr. Lueken, while well intentioned, do not describe a church that accomplishes this aim. The gospel of the Kingdom, which they strive to announce, is muddled and unclear. The switch from consumer, seeker sensitive church to contemplative, spiritual formation church is strange. And the tale of their move from a numerically thriving church to a church with dwindling attendance and paring back to establish a culture that better forms people to actually follow Jesus is puzzling--in many aspects I found it to be more tragic than heroic--and this is not because I do not agree with the aim of helping people to follow Jesus, it is because of the method employed to get there. I found myself wondering if there was any other way to move the church from here to there without crushing the spirit of so many people, without altering worship so radically as to drive so many people away, and without having to rail against the congregation for their consumer mentality in such forthright and grating ways. Is slowness not an aspect of spiritual formation and growth? Is patience not a primary Christian virtue?

    I offer two additional critiques.

    First, in this book Mr. Lueken and Mr. Carlson fail to make clear distinctions between "the church" and "the staff and elders" when they tell their tale of change. In describing their reorientation of the church around notions of Kingdom and spiritual formation, they should be saying, "the staff and elders". If the church was truly moving that direction, then they would not have lost so many members upon making their shift. This is a top down change, not a bottom up change, and should be read as such.

    Secondly, it is disturbing to read Mr. Carlson and Mr. Lueken describe the loss of clarity that "spiritual formation" brought to the church concerning how to invite others to participate in the life of the church, and to come a saving faith in Jesus Christ. In critiquing consumer driven gospel proclamations, they offer no alternative that can be grasped and taught to others. In my view, they have no gospel. They have Jesus as moral example, as spiritual teacher, and giver of life, but they do not have a concise and transmittable piece of "good news". 

    I am passionate about spiritual formation. I am passionate about the Kingdom of God. I am also passionate about seeing persons who do not believe Christianity is true discover that it is reasonable, compelling, and persuasive, and that the gospel announcement of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection contains the power to awaken the soul to a converting and transformative faith. The gospel--the announcement of the present Kingdom as evidenced in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ--itself is spiritually forming. It is the beginning of a new work. And the church is the crucible wherein the transformative results of that news are brought to bear on the life of the disciple, who is then commissioned both to go forth and serve as one changed, as well as to announce that same news that radically altered their own life.

    This book is important and valuable. But I do not think Mr. Carlson and Mr. Lueken have provided a model to follow. I do believe they have given us a conversation piece. They have given us an example of a church that has attempted to be serious about discipleship and thoughtful regarding our cultural situation, rooted as we are in consumer America.

    Read it, debate it, and learn from it. Just don't treat it as a gospel of the definite new way of being church. Otherwise, you will have swung the pendulum too far.

    *I assigned this book three of five stars at Amazon.com.

    Monday
    Feb282011

    Jukin' the Stats

    Last night I finished a several week odyssey: I've been living in Baltimore via The Wire.  Thanks to the great blessing of the public library system, I've placed holds on seasons one through five.  Each time I received an arrival notice, I headed to the library, returned home, and retreated to a back room in our house to watch.  I've followed the members of the BPD through Barksdale to Sobotka to the Greek to Bell to Carcetti to Stanfield.  I've loved every minute.

    One of the themes traced throughout the series is the political aspect of police work, in that the results produced by the department trickle up the ladder to reflect well, or poorly, on the police commissioner, the mayor, and, ultimately, the city.  Statistics, whether it be clearance rates for murder investigations, or overall rises and drops in other forms of violent crime, are a matter of conversation for those in city leadership, and for the citizens.  There is immense pressure within the world of The Wire to produce statistics that show a drop in crime.  In order to bring about that result, one method employed by those in the department is a practice called "jukin' the stats."  For example, say a homeless man is discovered dead with drug paraphernalia nearby.  Maybe the setting suggests there could have been some kind of struggle.  Should this man's death be declared a homicide, or death by natural causes, seeing that he is clearly a junkie who has been out on the street, doesn't pay taxes, and likely doesn't have many people who will be surprised an overdose was his cause of death?  If the police department is feeling pressure to make bodies "go away," they might declare the death a likely overdose, describe the scene in a way that might lend that impression to the medical examiner, and be done with it.  One less body means one less load to carry on the murder rate.  The stats have been juked.

    Statistics are often misleading, and it can be the case that beneath any set of metrics that we designate rests an entire subtext hidden from view.  This can create an unintended chain reaction, even when the statistical goals that are set can be viewed independently as noble or good.

    Let me provide an ecclesial example.

    Imagine, if you will, a large church that sets a goal for baptisms within a church year.  For the sake of argument, let's say that this church is a Baptist church.  Keep in mind that my heritage is Baptist.  In the process of setting this goal, the children's ministry is given an ideal number--a goal  to shoot for concerning the number of children that should be received in to membership by baptism within that department.  The children's ministry staff then proceeds to keep track of the number of baptisms that are taking place among the children in their department.  When the staff reconvenes at the end of the year, the hope is that the children's ministry will have hit their target.

    If a baptism metric is standing in the background of approach to ministry, how will this affect the staff and their interactions with children?

    One of the surprising statistics that has emerged from Baptist life in recent years has been the number of small children that are being baptized.  The average age has gone down among Southern Baptists.  Why?  When there is pressure to keep the number of baptisms at a certain level, children's leaders, pastors, etc. will find ways to obtain confessions of faith.  They will also feel more pressure to yield to parents who want their children to be baptized shortly following their first pronunciation of the word "Jesus."  Even if these children cannot begin to show evidence of the maturation required to display soul competency, or a desire to repent of sin, or a comprehension of what the death and resurrection of Christ might mean for the believer, children's ministers and other leaders may fail to exercise pastoral discipline.  They may, instead, choose to bolster their statistics.  They may, instead, juke the stats.

    With a little imagination, one could derive countless other examples.  It is amazing how the metrics we often choose to evidence the overall health of a congregation often tell us select information concerning the level of discipleship that is actually taking place on the ground.  Stats can't tell us the whole story; they can be manipulated, and not always intentionally.

    I refuse to disregard the value of counting baptisms, or attendance, or average financial giving.  But I will challenge pastors in how they read the statistics, and how statistics are collected, mainly by asking that pastors commit themselves not only to abstractions on a graph, but to collecting stories that either align or diverge from what might be showing up on a print out.

    Don't juke the stats.