My previous two posts are about the numbers we track in ministry and how they affect the way we think and lead. To read about the difference between outcomes and inputs click here. For practical examples of input measurements click here. Today I want to swing back around to outcome measurements. While my previous posts have focused on the value of shifting from an outcome-focus to an input-focus, my intent is not to diminish the value of outcomes. Please here me clearly: outcomes are worth measuring. It’s healthy to understand attendance trends and to know how much the weekly offering is. It would be foolish of a church leader not to know these things! Some outcomes, however, don’t fit well on a spreadsheet. What do you do with those outcomes?
Outcomes like personal stories are always worth noting and celebrating, but they can’t be seen in a numerical report. Public baptisms are a classic way to show off the immeasurable outcome of people coming to know Jesus. But consider these other ideas too: ask people to share their life-change stories during small groups or during worship services. Make videos of these personal testimonies to play during church or stream on your website. Don’t just tell your church how many people completed a course like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, show them a container full of chopped up credit cards. Proudly display pictures of nursery volunteers rocking babies. Hang up photos of adults working with kids and youth. Have all the families who participated in a family retreat weekend put their painted handprints on a giant canvass and place it in your church lobby. Be creative. Don’t just talk about numbers. Visually represent the outcomes most important to your church and make a spectacle of them.
One Important Outcome Almost No One Measures
I’d be remiss to neglect one result that we should all take not of. Sadly most of us try to ignore this outcome altogether. I know I’ve been guilty of such neglect all-too-often.
Having worked at large churches and consulted churches of all sizes, I’ve become keenly aware of how much measurables and metrics are influencing the American church. Common church metrics are things like attendance, offering, small group participation, baptisms and membership. Regardless of the metrics each church tracks, there’s one we can’t afford to ignore: the number of bodies we leave behind us.
Every ministry leader is a human being. Human beings are flawed. Thus, every ministry leader is flawed. Sadly, our flaws wind up hurting people. At the church I lead we often say, “We’ll do anything short of sin to see people come to know Christ.” Usually the emphasis is on the latter part of that statement, but lately I’ve been thinking more about the first part: “…anything short of sin…”
In fulfilling our mission, let us remember that the ends only justify the means as long as we do not sin.
- Using peopleis a sin that leaves bodies in our trail.
- Ignoring the needyis a sin that leaves bodies in our trail.
- Making people feel abusedis a sin that leaves bodies in our trail.
- Neglecting widowsis a sin that leaves bodies in our trail.
- Treating staff like propertyis a sin that leaves bodies in our trail.
- Causing volunteers and/or staff to neglect familyis a sin that leaves bodies in our trail.
- Neglecting our own familiesis a sin that leaves bodies in our trail.
- Crushing people’s spiritsis a sin that leaves bodies in our trail.
- Treating human resources like resources rather than humansis a sin that leaves bodies in our trail.
- Condemning people is a sin that leaves bodies in our trail.
I’m not suggesting that we unhealthily avoid conflict, for that would lead to dramatic dysfunction. I’m not suggesting that we water-down the message of Scripture, for that would be heresy. I’m not suggesting that we make our ministries about pleasing people, for that would be idolatry. I’m not suggesting that our ministries should never offend people, for the gospel is offensive.
Sometimes people will be offended by our work. Sometimes they’ll storm away angry. Sometimes they’ll make unfair criticisms or jump to silly conclusions. Those things we can’t help. What we CAN avoid, though, is damaging people by our negligence, arrogance, ignorance, and selfishness.
Remembering the tragic numbers of bodies we’ve left behind requires internal strength, brutal self-honesty, and humility. If we’re the least bit in tune with God’s Spirit, this activity will sadden us. Yet it will simultaneously inspire us to prevent such casualties in the future.
So today, I encourage you to ask, “What’s my number? How many bodies have been left in my ministry trail?” I doubt this number will ever make it into any church leader’s metric spreadsheet. After all, it’s a discouraging number and hard to track. Nevertheless, let’s all make it a habit to look in the rear-view mirror from time to time, so we don’t needlessly hurt people in our efforts to reach them with the gospel. Let us never become so enamored with the exciting numbers in front of us that we forget the tragic numbers behind us.
That completes my thoughts about ministry numbers for now. What are your thoughts?