It is important to evaluate the ministries of our churches. Too often we go from one year to the next doing what we have always done, and failing to notice whether or not those ministries are effective or relevant. When we neglect the evaluation process we fail in our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s resources.
What criteria should we use for evaluation?
I know that there are different thoughts about how to evaluate a church, but I think a good place to start is Revelation 2-3. In these two chapters Jesus evaluates 7 churches and he offers them praise and criticism. He tells them that they need to be loving, endure suffering, stand for the truth, remain holy, persevere, and trust Jesus. Using these two chapters as a guide we can imagine what Jesus would say to our church family.
Another piece of criteria that I would add is transformation. In his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard wrote:
If steady, longtime faithful devotees to our ministries are not transformed in the substance of their lives to the full range of Christlikeness, they are being failed by what we are teaching them. (p. 18)
The expectation of too many pastors is church attendance. If people are committed to attending the worship service and giving here and there then everything is good in the mind of the pastor. The attendance and the giving are the measure used to provide him/her a sense of job security. People may be committed to the worship service, but that doesn’t mean they are committed to Jesus. As a result their lives, for the most part, remained untouched.
Think about the ministry that Jesus had during his time on earth. Did he attract a crowd? Yes he did, but that was not his main focus. In John 6 we read about a teaching that Jesus gave that caused the crowd to leave. This left Jesus with a handful of disciples he could develop. These disciples helped bring transformation into the lives of thousands more. While attendance and giving are important, they are not the main thing Jesus is concerned about for his Church.
As a pastor I love to see our church building full on Sunday morning. In fact, it is discouraging those Sundays when the attendance is lower than usual. In a sense, the absence of people feels like a rejection.
Yet, when I am thinking rationally, I know that feeling of rejection isn’t true. Rather it is a distraction from what is truly important: the spiritual formation of people. A sanctuary full of people means little if those people are not being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
When it comes to evaluating the ministries of our church family we must ask the question: “Are people being transformed?” If we do not witness consistent meaningful transformation of people, then it is time to change how we do ministry and how we present the Gospel of Jesus.
How can we incorporate transformation into our ministries?
I believe that the place to start is remember the message of the Gospel. We have watered down the Gospel so it is just about a personal salvation, giving us assurance that we will go to heaven when we die. While salvation is certainly part of the Gospel, it is not the primary point of the message. The central point of the Gospel is that God’s Kingdom is breaking into this world through the person of Jesus Christ. This makes the Gospel God centered rather than people centered, and in the process it brings us back to where we need to be: under the gracious and loving rule of God.
It is the process of learning to live within God’s Kingdom that we are transformed. If we merely view the Gospel as our ticket to heaven, then we will see relatively little change in our lives as we wait for that glorious day of Jesus returning and making everything right.
Our ministries and messages need to encourage people to find their lives within the context of God’s Kingdom. That is the way people will grow in Christlikeness and become the people God created them to be. That is the goal of effective and relevant ministries.