Are All American Churches “Failing Churches”?


A Result Driven Church?

Rick Warren has had quite a lot of success with his “Purpose Driven Life” book which presents the Christian life as a life driven by purpose. What is the purpose for the Church? Thoughtful question!  It is usually answered by Christians very generally like: to glorify God, to establish His kingdom here on earth, to lift up the name of Jesus, to be the Bride preparing itself for its Groom, etc.  But how do you evaluate the “results” of such statements? Can they be measured? Every Christian church truly feels it is glorifying God, establishing His kingdom, lifting up the name of Jesus, being the bride, etc., but how do they measure their results in reaching these conclusions?  Are they too ambivalent?

We demand “results” from our American public education system, so we “test” everything to collect data to evaluate success.  Data now drives the definition of success in education. Data supposedly “proves” if students are making Yearly Average Progress, if the staff is proficient, if school districts are performing well.  The unrealistic goal is that every student will become proficient no matter of their academic capabilities, and there will be data to “prove” if they are or aren’t.

What would happen if we measure our churches by “results”?

How many people received physical healing at your church this week? (Numbers, data, please!) The Bible states that when people were brought to Jesus “all were healed”. Data results: Jesus = 100%; my church (?)

Sunday church service went long; how many people did the church feed before sending them home? (Numbers, data, please!) The Bible records two such events where at least 4,000 to 5,000 men (not including women and children, a slight data miscalculation).  Data results: Jesus fed 4,000 to 5,000 men; my church (?)

How about longevity attendance records?  Jesus called, nurtured, and developed twelve disciples during a three year internship period. He lost only one, Judas, in order to fulfill prophecy. That is only an 8% loss, a 92% proficiency rate. How many people have left or “church hoped” in your church this year? Data Results: Jesus = 92% proficiency rate; my church (?)

Churches judge success by numbers, usually attendance figures to its programs and financial figures meeting its projected budget. Supposedly a successful church is a church growing in numbers that generate higher financial figures so more programs can be offered and hiring of more professional staff.  A successful church carries a huge staff to support its system. Data Results: My church grew by 35 people this year and increased our budget by $65,000. So numbers, data, does count, huh?

But how do you rate, judge, or evaluate a church’s staff? On performance: how well they speak or preach, if they are people oriented, on organizational skills, etc.?  Public school teachers are evaluated on “student performance” and “student achievement”.  How would the church staff fair being evaluated by “parishioner/congregant performance” and “parishioner/congregant discipleship growth or achievement”? Since most church staffs “enable” their parishioners/congregants telling them when to stand, when to sit, when to pray, when to shake hands and greet, when to financially give, when to receive a church bulletin, when to listen to announcements, when to listen to the sermon, when to take notes, when to respond to the sermon, and when to leave the service, I think most church staff’s would receive “FAILING GRADES” on results.  How many parishioners/congregants are “pew sitters”; how many of them are “active”?

How do you judge results of a sermon? Are people really changed by them? Do those listening really apply what they have “heard” in the senior pastor’s excellent oration? Can they even remember what the sermon was about last week, or a month ago?  To be polite a parishioner says, “Nice sermon” as they shake the pastor’s hand while leaving the church, but how do you measure the effectiveness of a sermon since it is the keynote of almost every church service: on presentation or on results?

Look at your church. Who is doing all the work on a Sunday morning: the staff or the saints?  How many parishioners were actually part of the corporate Sunday service (excluding ushers & nursery providers)? Divide that number by your total attendance; now you know how many were actually participating in “worship”, giving back to the Lord what they have received.  I am sure it would less than 10% of your congregation, and most of them would be your staff!

In America we are quick to label public schools as “failing schools” because of data, measurable data, of supposedly recorded results of how those they were teaching performed.  If we did the same with the American church, we would have to admit that we would also have to label the American church as a “failing church”, for we have to admit that in most churches there isn’t much measurably getting done by those who are supposedly being “taught” how to live the Christian life unless they are a professional on staff!