Can we measure something spiritual?
One of the hallmarks of a healthy church is that they have a clear path of discipleship. In other words, you must have a plan of action for people to take that results in a deeper relationship with Christ. One of the first things I learned when training to fly is that you don't navigate by compass heading alone. If you just fly the plane to a compass heading, it's hard to tell where you may end up. It almost certainly will not be where you intended. That's because the wind tends to blow you off course. Your course must take into account wind speed and direction, and you may need to adjust your course if the wind changes. One thing is certain though: You must be intentional about your destination. If not, you risk becoming lost and having to make adjustments on the fly to find your way back.
The same is true for just about anything you plan to do. You must be intentional in reaching your goals. When it comes to discipleship, however, many church leaders are at a loss as to how to properly plan it. Discipleship is one of those intangible things that make it difficult to track and measure. How do you measure something that is invisible?
In the 3rd Chapter of John, we read the story of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who came to see Jesus on the sly. When Jesus mentioned to him that he needed to be born again, Nicodemus was understandably perplexed.
"How can a man be born again?" Nicodemus asked.
Jesus replied "Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”
In this dialog, we get our first clue as to how to measure the invisible. Jesus says that you can't see the wind to tell where it is coming from and where it is going. But you can hear it. You can see the effect it has on the grass. You can see the leaves on trees being moved by the wind. Although we can't see the wind, we can measure its speed and direction by observing the effect it has on objects that it interacts with. We can measure the invisible by observing the effect it has on the visible.
Another clue is found in the gospels. In Matthew 7, Jesus is talking to his disciples about various kingdom principles. In the 15th verse, Jesus gives an important kingdom principle. “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions."
Jesus tells us that we can identify people by their actions. If this is true for false prophets, is it not also true for disciples?
How We MEasure The Invisible
By observing the visible effects
If we can measure the invisible by observing the visible effects, and we can identify people by their actions, it stands to reason that we can measure the level of discipleship taking place in your church. I'm not talking about measuring a person's level of Christianity, but of measuring the effects of discipleship in your congregation. In order to do this, we must first determine the visible effects of being a disciple. Here are 5 ways that you can measure the discipleship in your church.
Baptism is an outward demonstration of salvation. A good way to determine how well you are following the command of Jesus to "make disciples" and "baptize them" (Matthew 28:18) is to track the number of baptisms compared to overall attendance of your church. A ratio of less than 5% indicates that you need to work on reaching unbelievers. A ratio over 7% indicates that you are doing an above average job of getting unbelievers to take the first step in the discipleship process.
Mature disciples view giving as a matter of the heart more than a matter of money. Measuring the per capita giving can help determine the level to which your congregation understands the biblical concept of stewardship. As people mature in their faith, and you teach biblical principles about giving, your giving should increase. Again, take the total amount given each week and divide by the number of people in attendance to get a ratio of giving per person. Under $40 per person indicates that you need to develop this aspect of discipleship. An amount over $50 per person is an indicator that you are doing a great job of developing giving disciples.
In Ephesians 4:12, Paul tells us that the main function of pastors and teachers is to "equip God's people to do his work and build up the church." He also explains in 1 Corinthians 12 that the church is like a body, made up of different parts. Each part has a specific function to perform and we must have every part functioning correctly to be healthy. As disciples mature, they come to understand the importance of serving others. The ratio of volunteers serving to your overall attendance is an indicator of the maturity of your disciples. Less than 40% is an indication that you need to work on this area of discipleship. Anything over 50% is a sure sign that you are developing mature disciples who are equipped to do God's work.
4. Small Groups
Mature disciples understand that simply attending church does not create disciples. If your Sunday service becomes the "Super Bowl" of your week, it will become the final discipleship target for many of your congregation. Jesus' model of discipleship focused on small groups of individuals. The early church in Acts continued this model. Small groups help create authentic environments for support, encouragement, and spiritual growth. If the ratio of your congregation involved in small groups is less than 50%, this is an area you need to work on. A ratio above 65% is an indication that your congregation is actively involved in growing disciples.
Many church leaders use attendance as the main indicator of church health. But bigger is not necessarily better. While that is true, it is also true that healthy churches grow. A growing attendance, combined with the factors above, can be an indication of maturing discipleship. As we mature in our faith, we begin to understand that we - as individuals - are called to make disciples. As we impact those around us, some of them should be attending church with those who were instrumental in sharing the gospel with them. As those people also begin to be baptized as a demonstration of their newfound faith, give as they grow, serve as they mature and then become involved in small groups, the cycle will continue. Since the "normal" church in America is either not growing at all or declining in attendance, any growth at all is a sign that you are doing something right. Growth above 5%, when combined with 1-4 above is an indication that you are on a good path of discipleship growth.
Questions? Contact me. I'll be glad to answer any questions you may have. Need help implementing or developing any of these processes in your church? Contact me for a free consultation. I can help you initiate or improve your processes. Contacting me does not obligate you to use my services. I'd love to hear your story and learn about some of the things you struggle with. If I can help, I would love to partner with you to help you create and develop disciples in your church!