Since at least the beginning of the church growth movement in 1961, we have been trying to find quantitative measurements for success. As a former science major, I can appreciate that emphasis on results. How would we otherwise know if we were doing well or not? We need to find clear, quantifiable metrics that we can be measuring to see whether we are succeeding or not. But what to measure? That has always been the question. The default metric since then has most consistently been church service attendance. How many people are coming?
Is attendance the best measurement of growth?
But what about now? What about a time when the church cannot gather? Some are now counting online views. Now, is church service attendance worth measuring? Are “views” worth measuring? Certainly. They do give us data. But to what degree does church service attendance (whether physical or virtual) correlate with whether we are accomplishing the mission Jesus left us in the world? I’d say there is not necessarily a causal connection. It is possible to attend services and not live as a disciple and not make disciples. It is also possible to not attend services in any traditional sense, yet live as a disciple and make disciples. I have always believed that. Church attendance can be a helpful metric—certainly. But it is not the end we should be measuring.
This season of Covid-19 has highlighted—in bold, bright letters—that carrying out the mission Jesus left us on earth cannot be primarily measured by attendance. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). THAT is the mission. Attendance at church services is but one metric among many. Attendance is a means to the mission—not the mission itself. There are other ways to make disciples, to baptize, to teach to obey. And now is the time to go all-in on finding and practicing those other ways.
What else should we be measuring?
Imagine an isolated village with no church building, no church service, and no professional clergy. How would it be possible to live as a disciple of Jesus in such a setting? How would you know if someone was a disciple? Consider what metrics you might use. Many of them might be similar to what you could measure during a time of quarantine.
- In what ways are people living in obedience to the teachings of Jesus?
- In what ways are they making disciples of others?
- In what ways are they serving sacrificially and giving generously?
- In what ways are they engaging in spiritual communion with God and listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit?
- In what ways are they loving and encouraging the people who are naturally a part of their daily lives?
- In what ways are they engaging in intentional growth or discipling relationships?
When people have intentional time to engage with God and others and reflect on their spiritual formation, the probability is higher that good things will happen. Over time you will see the fruit of discipleship. That can be done via a church service, but there are other ways… ways it can work in groups of threes and fours, with no buildings and no professional clergy. So it was in the early church and ancient Rome. So it was in places where the gathering of Christians was illegal. So it was and is in parts of the world with less infrastructure and resources. So it is now in a time of pandemic.
Yet we can still live as disciples of Jesus. We can still live out the great commission and the great commandment. We can still live faithfully to the God we serve. It just looks different. So we will need to find different ways to live out our faith and different ways to measure how well we are doing that.
The Discipleship Difference- We invest a lot in our discipleship efforts but at the end of the day, what change are we really seeing? How come we aren’t seeing the kind of real-life results we’re looking for? Why isn’t it working? Where’s the transformation? The Discipleship Difference lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship that is individualized to meet each person wherever they are.
Map of Discipleship- This FREE map helps you readily assess where someone currently is in their journey of discipleship as well as where God may be prompting them to grow next. Also available for FREE in Spanish.
Barnabas Ministry Training- Are you looking for a way to multiply yourself? To train a team of people to walk alongside others and encourage them in their journey as a disciple of Christ? This training kit offers a turn-key system for raising up such leaders. We even outline how the training can even be done remotely for such a time as this!