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Raise your expectations of members…or try to meet theirs?

Raise your expectations of members…or try to meet theirs?

Blog Post 26 - Measure Meters (iStock_64971613_Small)1

Part 1 of 2

This is the first of two parts on “performance measurement”.  That sounds like a business term but churches do it every week – how many showed up and how much did they give.  Churches budget expenses and expect each staff member to pull his/her own weight.  Performance objectives are established around a set of goals, which tie back to what the church views as its priorities.

  1. If member acquisition and retention is the primary goal, then the metrics will reflect that, e.g.:
  • Membership
  • Attendance
  • Giving
  1. If building and sending disciples is the primary goal, then the church will measure:
  • Involvement in discipleship
  • Lives impacted and changed (whether inside or outside the church)
  • Engagement in internal and external ministry

Which of those two sets of measures are tracked more closely at your church?

Those two goals are not mutually exclusive…

  • More members can mean more disciples if the church offers discipleship programs beyond small groups
  • More attendance can mean more lives changed if the church is aggressive in challenging them
  • More giving can mean more engagement in impactful ministries if the church invests heavily in empowering and equipping leaders

However, which set of metrics take precedence demonstrates whether a church views its members or the community as its “customer”.  In other words, they drive where the church invests the bulk of its time, energy and money.  Is the church building programs to “please” members (to drive up the 1st set of metrics) or to prepare members to pursue the real “customer” (the 2nd set)?

Because the impact, influence and perception of the Church in America are in decline it’s clear that churches aren’t turning enough members into disciples, attendees into world-changers, and dollars into difference.  As we’ve contended throughout this blog series, few churches have made the transition from the 1st set to the 2nd set of metrics.

Who’s evaluating who these days?

The 2nd set (discipleship, life change and ministry) demands significant commitment by members.  They are big asks – and risky considering that the balance of power today has tipped in favor of members.  The law of supply and demand has given churchgoers the upper hand:

…the vast number of churches, each carrying fixed expenses that have to be covered

…going after a shrinking “pie” of frequent attenders

…each of whom gives less today

…in a landscape filled with more Walmart churches, making life difficult for “mom-and-pop shops”

…with seminaries producing significant numbers of aspiring pastors every year

The math will only get worse – fewer people and funds to spread over the remaining base of facilities – if churches continue chasing after the wrong “customer”.  Investing a limited pool of resources in trying to keep the lights on by attracting and retaining members is a losing game.  The pie will continue to shrink if churches keep ignoring the real “customer” – the community where the church is planted.

How much leverage do churches have today?  Are churches in a position to raise expectations of members?  There are plenty of churches down the road ready to cater to their every whim – “people pleasing” churches who thank members profusely for barely doing anything – spoiling spiritual children.  The mindset of most pastors today is far from increasing member standards and accountability.  Upsetting the apple cart could mean a faction revolts and splits the church, spelling potential doom, particularly if a patriarch or matriarch leads the mutiny.

Churchgoers today “shop” for churches, looking for the one that best meets their needs.  They leave if churches aren’t meeting their expectations.  Meanwhile, pastors read books and articles, selecting from among a wide range of church growth strategies trying to find the path to revitalization.  The scales have tipped.

What does the Bible say?

The Bible says members ARE the church.  Paul’s and John’s letters speak directly to the churches – meaning not just the pastors and staff, but the members themselves.  Those letters hold all members to account for their actions, not just the leaders.  Members weren’t seen evaluating churches – members were being evaluated based on the standards set by Jesus Christ.  In fact, the concept of members evaluating the church was an oxymoron in the New Testament.  Members were the church – there was no institution apart from them.  If the church was screwing up, it was on them.

Because members are the church and the community is its “customer” – as Jesus, His disciples and the early Church modeled – performance measures should be aligned with those respective roles.  Members are “insiders”, much more like employees of a company – and, like employees, can and should be held to a performance standard.  Churches who are reluctant to do so are treating them like “outsiders” – or “customers”.

How to begin raising standards…

Leaders should raise expectations of members rather than striving to meet their expectations.  However, that’s not possible unless church leaders are willing to…

  1. Redefine – Consider and treat members as the church and the community as the “customer”
  2. Reprioritize – Put the mission first and institution second, diverting less attention to maintaining the church (institution) and more to building and sending disciples. That may mean few fixed costs and fewer programs and services that “please” members.
  3. Set New Goals – Reorient metrics from the 1st set to the 2nd set above
  4. Empower – As we discussed the past few weeks, train and put lay leaders in a position to “recruit” and mobilize others to venture into the (local and international) mission field
  5. Equip – Devote pastor and staff time to training/discipleship and commit church dollars to externally-focused initiatives run by lay leaders
  6. Direct – Have the courage to challenge members to live out the Great Commission, and network to find opportunities and causes where the church can engage non-believers
  7. Track and Monitor – Use measures as they’re intended – to incent action and modify behaviors – possibly pulling folks well outside their comfort zones.  Ensure those actions flow out of gratitude for the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ as opposed to a sense of duty.

It’s your turn…

Is it reasonable to hold members to a standard of performance?  At what point in a Christian’s walk with the Lord are they ready to be challenged with the Great Commission?  Have you seen a church break the “consumer” mindset and turn the tables, expecting members to perform rather than vice versa?


8 Responses

  1. Great article Jim.

    In reading your fist question – holding members to a standard- I am not sure how I would answer that! Certainly there is a biblical mandate for standards in character, Godliness, behavior, and becoming Christlike as we mature- but a standard of performance? Great question. Really have to think about that one.

    I think the moment we are saved- we are put into ministry and are called to go out. Put another way, “ordered” as part of our new creation to be sent out because now living inside a believer is the Holy Spirit which has empowered and mandated us to Spread the Gospel.

    I have not personally seen a church that has embraced this challenge in the way you have asked to this degree. I applaud you for asking these hard questions and thought provoking ones. Press On Brother.

    1. Jason – As I mentioned in my response to Steven’s comments, I’m really arguing for the church to hold members to one standard – the Great Commission. Churches need to stop building casual Christians who attend church and never become disciples – or produce any other disciples. These casual churchgoers also rarely arrive at the level of spiritual maturity where they take on the attributes of Christ – love and compassion – that drives them to step out of their comfort zones to serve and witness to the hurting and lost around them. The main point of my blog post is that as long as churches track attendance, membership and giving as their primary metrics (and therefore fear losing members), they’ll never have the courage to challenge members to become disciples of Jesus Christ – because it requires commitment, time and life change on the part of those members. Merry Christmas!

  2. All your “metrics” and “standards” and “expectations” and “re-prioritizing”, in my opinion, are the very reasons churches, by and large, are becoming ineffective and turning people off rather than drawing them in. Your terms and your suggestions, in my opinion,are more about religion and legalism. I don’t recall Jesus or Paul mentioning even one statistic. I don’t read where you’ve left room for “relationships” or “compassion.” or “love”. I just don’t think Jesus would care too much for your assessment of His church and your statistical approach for fixing it. To me, in all of His teachings, Jesus encouraged His church to “Love Me and love one another.” Any other approach, as I read His word, pales in comparison.

    1. Steven, I’m only asking pastors to adopt and hold members to one standard that Jesus clearly gave – the Great Commission. If churches produced more disciples, those disciples would love better, have more compassion, and build more relationships – all the things you’re emphasizing (and I absolutely agree with). The fear churches have of challenging members to become disciples of Jesus Christ (because the flawed metrics that churches use today to measure their success), is I believe the primary reason why the Church is in decline today and why society thinks Christians/churches are not above love, compassion and relationships. Perhaps my use of business terminology threw you off my central point – between the lines I’m arguing for scrapping metrics and simply building/sending disciples – not adopting a “statistical approach to fixing” the church. And I do believe the Lord is ok with me attempting to call the church back to discipleship and to demonstrating His love to the hurting and lost in the community. Thanks for your message and merry Christmas!

  3. Hi Jim, Your blog is a great read and very challenging… But in reading your blog it would be great if you gave some examples on the how to do the 7 steps in raising standards! Very good! Blessings!

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“Any organization not focused on its customers, or focused on the wrong customers, cannot succeed.” – Jim Morgan