In last week’s article, I talked about what I believe is THE quickest and easiest way to self-diagnose your church’s spiritual health: Ask yourself, “Do we have enough spiritually maturing leaders?” Before I mention several other simple diagnostic questions, let me share two areas of concern.
The first is, “What happens if you wait too long before you discover you have a spiritual health problem?” How many people do you know who went to the doctor for a routine physical, and then they walked out of the office with a diagnosis that they only had a few months to live? Don’t let the day-to-day and week-to-week challenges of ministry keep you from taking time every few months to step back and ask yourself critical spiritual health diagnostic questions. Do it before it’s too late!
The second relates to the limitations of self-diagnosing. In this day and age, when we have physical ailments, our first response is to check out our symptoms on the internet to identify what might be causing them. Or there are some of us who listen to commercials we see on TV that are run by drug companies, class action lawyers, and various disease advocates, and we suddenly discover we are sick. In either case, the next call we make is to our primary care doctor to let them know what is causing all of our symptoms. My guess is that most doctors prefer to listen to your symptoms and with their education, experience, and personal knowledge of your health history suggest what the underlying health issues might be.
In our information overload era, what I have observed is that the primary challenge for pastors and church leaders isn’t getting enough information. The problem is understanding what information is actually relevant for their context. Biblical principles transcend time and culture; however, the application of those principles will look very different from one church to another. If your self-diagnosis reveals that you have spiritual health issues, let me exhort you to invite an objective, spiritually mature, and experienced consultant to help you further process your issues.
The best self-diagnostic resource I have seen is William Hoyt’s book Effectiveness by the Numbers. In it, he notes, “The actual metrics involved in measuring your church’s effectiveness in developing leaders is infinitely easier than the task itself. You simply count the number of new people who have been identified, recruited, trained, and deployed during the time frame being evaluated.” But beyond that Hoyt discusses the following vital statistics areas that should be monitored. Just like the nurse takes your temperature, blood pressure, and weight when you go for an appointment, these are vital statistics you should know about your church.
Hoyt states, “If you could count only one thing, you should count conversions. On the day of Pentecost, they did not count attendance. They counted conversions measured by baptisms (Acts 2:41). So a simple self-diagnostic question is, “How many professions of faith and how many baptisms did our church report last year?” As quickly as I typed the question, I heard you say, “But 2020 was not normal!” So let me ask you to look at the last five years in your church and ask yourself, “What was the average number of professions of faith, and what was the average number of baptisms per year?” You might also ask, “What has the trend been?” “Have they increased, decreased, or stayed about the same?”
In the chapter on counting conversions, Hoyt writes, “The rule of thumb I hold up to the churches I coach is a minimum threshold of one conversion per ten worship attendees. If a church has an average weekly attendance of 300, it should aim for thirty conversion baptisms.” He then notes, “Functionally what this means is that, on the average, each attendee would have to be used of God to help produce one conversion every ten years. Is this too much to expect? Is it enough to expect? The good news is that the God who wants all people to come to faith in Him will gladly help us overcome our failure and make our evangelistic efforts bear fruit.”
The first time I read the book, I was deeply challenged by two follow-up metrics he suggested. One related to measuring our effectiveness in “winning our own”—those who grew up and were baptized in the church. Hoyt suggested:
“The ultimate way to measure our effectiveness at winning our own would be to track the children you baptized over time, recognizing evidence of lasting Christian commitment. Imagine how informative it would be if we were to measure, at five year intervals, just four things:
In the area of penetrating the lostness in our community, Hoyt suggested we could do an in-depth self-diagnose in two additional ways. The first is one many pastors have used and seen: “What is the ratio of church members to baptisms.” Because many churches emphasize worship attendance versus membership, you will note above that Hoyt suggested the ratio of attendees to baptisms. Hoyt suggested an additional metric I had not previously used. With my undergraduate degree in economics and with a deep passion for being a good steward, it really hit me hard. He suggests you divide your annual church income by the number of baptisms per year. He gave three examples in the book that ranged from $72,340 to $270,554! Now Hoyt wasn’t, and I am not suggesting you think in business terms of improving your return on investment. What I am asking is, “Are you stewarding “the widow’s mite” well?” and, “Are you investing God’s resources in the things that produce the greatest fruitfulness?”
Stay tuned for more self-diagnostic tools. But until then, consider using the self-evaluation tools mentioned above. Then prayerfully ask God to give you a discerning spirit to know what the next right step should be.
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.
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