I hope you were able to “feel the love” as I did a two-week Wyoming cowboy-themed Valentine’s Day pause in my articles. Before I pushed the pause button, I was discussing the self-diagnosis of your church’s spiritual health. So closing out my cowboy theme, let me say, “Meanwhile back at the ranch” we were talking about making disciples. In the process, we talked about several metrics—a fancy city word meaning, “What are we counting?”
The first metric we talked about was “counting the number of new people who had been identified, recruited, trained, and deployed during the time frame being evaluated.” The second metric we discussed was “How many professions of faith and how many baptisms did your church report last year?” A third metric was “measuring your effectiveness in ‘winning your own’—those who grew up and were baptized in your church.” The latter suggested a look back to see if you are actually able to identify spiritual maturity in those who had grown up in your church.
Today I want to mention a fourth metric: “How many do you have attending?” Here again, we face the reality that COVID has significantly impacted our numbers. But setting that issue aside for just a moment, let me point to the reality that in Great Commission Baptist life I have observed a major shift in the last few decades regarding “what attendance we count.” When I served as the Sunday School Director of a church in the ’70s and early ’80s, THE ONLY attendance that was counted was Sunday School attendance. The church I attended did not count worship attendance. Today, when pastors gather and “compare notes”—and they inevitably will—the number one question asked is, “How many does your church run in worship?”
Stop and think about what that subtle shift means. What does it say about our focus? Or maybe more importantly, what does it say about our lack of focus on disciple-making? Now again, I need to interject a reality check. I have experienced “Sunday School done right” while the vast majority of pastors and Christians have only seen it done poorly. What I would suggest is that the BEST disciple-making strategy in the world will not work when it is not implemented well.
That leads me back to a book I’ve already mentioned: Effectiveness by the Numbers: Counting what Counts in the Church by William Hoyt. It is the best book on church metrics that I have seen. In it, Hoyt writes:
My voice is but one in a large chorus, all singing the same tune, ‘Small groups are essential to the health and growth of churches.’ In more than three decades of observing churches and two decades of church consulting, I cannot recall a healthy, growing congregation where a significantly small group ministry was not present…A universally common factor in the decline of once growing churches is the deterioration of small groups. Yes, you do grow larger by staying small. (Pages 71-72)
To Hoyt’s observations, I can say a hearty AMEN! As I approach three decades of serving as an Associational Mission Strategist, every health disciple-making church I have seen- has had healthy disciple-making small groups. Next week I will begin to drill down into the Biblical principles I have observed in every “healthy disciple-making church” I have encountered.
Until then, stop and ask yourself, “What attendance number is most important to you and why?” Is it worship attendance or discipleship group attendance?
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.