I recently attended a workshop on measurement given by Jeff Meyer of the Auxano group. Meyer asked us what we measure in churches. The big ones are attendance and cash (“nickels and noses,” “butts and bucks”), but sometimes we measure certain program outputs (e.g., number of visitors to food pantry). Then Meyer asked us why we measure what we measure. If we like our numbers, we might measure out of ego. But often we measure these things even when the low numbers wound our pride. We measure them because everyone else measures them, or because we think we should be measuring something and these are quite simply the easiest or only things we know to measure.
But Meyer then asked us, “What would you measure if you could?” This intriguing question is based on another: “What kind of Christian is your church called by God to develop?” And that question is based on an even deeper question: “How has God made your church unique—what does he intend to do through your church that he won’t do through 10,000 others?” Put in the reverse order, a church’s unique identity informs what qualities the church is to develop in Christians, and the presence of those qualities is the measurement that matters.
My church is in the process of getting a clear understanding of our uniqueness, and our measures will emerge out of that process. But in the meantime I’ve given thought to my personal uniqueness and what outcome my life is supposed to produce. My mission is to speak the truth that changes the lives that change the world. So what should I measure? Changes in the world made by the people I speak to.
But what changes matter? I scanned the New Testament for answers and found five categories. These categories awed me and showed me how little I settle for in my life and in the lives of others. In the first century, people whose lives were changed by Christ:
- saved the lost—they proclaimed Christ as they went to the nations, attracting people by their joy and character and amazing people by their personal testimonies
- healed the sick—they cured diseases and expelled demons by the power of God
- endured the persecution—their words and deeds provoked it, they both refuted and loved their persecutors, they encouraged the persecuted, and they ensured the gospel’s progress amid persecution by prayer
- met the needs—they sacrificed money and possessions, labor and time for their fellow believers while some of them administered the church’s sacrifice
- unified the church—they confonted sin and expelled the unrepentant, forgave and restored the repentant, and served and enabled upbuilding service according to spiritual gifts
If I am effective in my mission by the Spirit of God, people that I talk to will do these things. Therefore, every measure short of them doesn’t matter. Measuring worship attendance measures nothing about my ministry. It just measures how many want to hear me. If someone wants to hear me, that’s fine, but that is far short of them saving the lost, healing the sick, enduring the persecution, meeting the needs, and unifying the church. It is tempting to go a step further and measure virtues developed in Christians—do my hearers resist temptation more or enjoy God in worship more? But even these are inferior. It’s not that they’re superficial measures; they are quite important. But they aren’t the target that I am shooting at. My mission isn’t to make Christians into better Christians. It’s to make better Christians who change the world. Until they change their world by the power of God, my measures are zeroes, no matter how pure my hearers become.
I don’t want you to adopt my measures. I don’t want my church to adopt my measures. I want you to adopt the measures that measure what God has created and saved you to accomplish. And don’t measure anything less.