Archive for August, 2015

Metrics That Matter – 2

Well, we’re back to the numbers game as we continue our look at the metrics that drive church health. Last time, we reflected on the “nickels and noses” measures of local church life, concluding that while more people and more money for ministry are good things, they aren’t truly the best measures of church health. Just because something is bigger doesn’t mean it’s better–that’s why some of us go to the gym a few times each week. If bigger was the goal, well, I’d eat more bacon.

2. The CW Ratio

Our second metric for consideration is called the CW Ratio or the Assimilation metric. With the CW Ratio, we measure annual conversions against annual water baptisms. Here we’re asking, “how many of our converts did we keep long enough to get them baptized?”

This is a measure of assimilation because it shows, at least in part, that we are connecting those we are reaching to the ministries of the local church at least long enough to help them take this important discipleship step. So, maybe we had a large outreach last year and saw 15 people come to Christ. Over the next few weeks (sometimes months), we want to measure how many of those 15 were effectively connected to the church. Unless you baptize at the outreach event itself, this number can help us see if we’re assimilating these new believers into the life of the local church.

Now certainly there will be additional measures for assimilation, but the CW Ratio is a great way to see if our efforts are solely evangelistic, or if we’re achieving some real discipleship goals. Some churches report hundreds of conversions each year and yet their attendance only grows by a handful, if any. Why? Apparently we’re either over-reporting our conversions or we’re not doing a great job of connecting with folks after the “altar event.”

In 2014, U.S. Assemblies of God churches baptized one person for every 3.4 converts reported. That means we helped fewer than 1/3 of our converts take this essential step. Is that good enough? Probably not. For purposes of health, we have set a CW Ratio of 3.0 as a healthy target. That means we must see at least 1/3 of our converts baptized. Now some might think we should baptize 100% of our converts, and it’s hard to disagree with such thinking. But some of those converts may have been from other communities. Others may have attended an outreach, but haven’t made it to a worship service yet. So, 1 of 3 seems to be a minimum goal, but if you can achieve a CW Ratio of 1.0, we’ll rejoice with you!

Interestingly, smaller congregations report lower CW Ratios than larger churches. For example, in 2014, AG (US) churches under 200 in weekly attendance reported a CW Ratio of less than 2.5 while churches over 700 showed a CW Ratio of more than 5.0. Why the difference? Remember that larger churches report a much higher rate of conversions, and likely find it more difficult to maintain contact, even with these that have taken their first life-changing step. It’s a challenge, but one to which larger churches are giving increasingly more focus. Over the past decade, these largest of our churches are seeing their CW Ratio slowly decline (a good thing).

Want to do better with baptisms? Try offering more opportunities for baptisms. Also, look for ways to shorten the gap between the conversion moment and the chance to step into the water. You might also consider explaining this next step while you are in the altar with the new believer. In fact, that’s a good approach in all areas. With every step someone takes in their faith, help them understand the next step so they can chart a consistent course for their lives. As one pastor said, “Do all you can to ‘keep them moving forward’ so you can help people become more firmly planted in their faith.”

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 249

  1. “I will show myself to him” (John 14:21).

Herein lies the extraordinary promise. Those who love Jesus will receive revelation of Him. Now this passage may simply be revealing Christ’s love and desire for relationship, but one could also interpret this statement to reveal the requirement of faith–as in, If we love Him, He will come to us. Much hinges on the question of man’s ability to approach God. Surely we cannot know Him if He didn’t reveal Himself to us, but He has revealed Himself to everyone in so many different ways. Surely to know Him as Jesus is a deeper understanding, one that must be fueled both by faith and by hunger. So, if we love Him and long to know Him, He will come to us and reveal Himself to us more fully.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 248

  1. “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:20).

There it is. It was never about bulls and goats. True worship of God has no other foundation except obedience. When we do what God has commanded, we prove our love, our true acknowledgement, and our bowing down. When we submit to His path, we prove that we’ve heard another Voice and found truth in that Voice sufficient to chase It. The mouth responds most easily. When the feet and hands respond; however, can the heart be far behind? So, when you are tempted to be impressed by the spirituality of others (and of your own life), do more watching than listening. Watch what they do, where they go, and how they choose to act. Only in actions can we reveal our love for God.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Metrics That Matter – 1

Numbers are a somewhat controversial topic when it comes to the local church. Some chase them, believing the size of the crowd will speak volumes about their own effectiveness. Others simply insist that Jesus wants to reach everyone, so everyone is the goal. Still others focus their energies on smaller gatherings, searching for an intimacy the crowd can seldom achieve. Church isn’t a numbers game, and yet it really is.

Okay, now that’s a confusing paragraph. But the life of the local church can’t be summed up in an attendance board or income statement. The so-called “nickels and noses” measures seem to be commonly used to evaluate churches, while we simultaneously insist there’s more to it than that. We want to insist that a healthy church is a growing church, and yet there are enough examples of unhealthy growth to give us caution. So how do you really measure effective local churches?

Like the annual trip to the doctor’s office for a physical, a real health evaluation is going to be comprised of multiple measures. You just can’t say you’re healthy if your weight is in line with your height. You don’t get a good health diagnosis for blood pressure either. There’s cholesterol to count and a heart rate to measure. And truth is, all these could be at perfect levels only to discover a cancerous tumor growing within. In truth, health measurement requires a number of inter-related measures.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at some of these. Taken together, they can provide a better picture of health than the simple chart of last week’s attendance.

  1. The AC ratio.

The AC ratio actually takes that attendance number (annual weekly average) and sets it over the number of conversions occurring each year. So if your church averaged 100 in attendance last year, and you saw 10 people choose to follow Christ in that same year, the math is fairly simple–Avg. Attendance / Conversions or 100/10, which equals 10.

What the AC ratio means is that for every ten people attending your church, one person became a Christian. Another way to say it would be, “it takes ten of us to lead someone to Christ in a year.” Now, we understand that ten of us didn’t actually target the same person over a twelve-month period, but you get the idea.

In church health circles, we can call the AC Ratio a measure of missional effectiveness. Since the mission Jesus passed to us is to make disciples, this metric gives us some insight into how we’re doing with that. So…how are you doing with that?

In the Assemblies of God in 2014, the AC Ratio across the United States among all 12,849 churches was 4.2. So, across our Fellowship, it took four of us to lead someone to Jesus. Back in 1980, the national AC Ratio was 5.5, so you can see that we’ve been more effective with this first part of our Great Commission assignment in recent years. However, this ratio may show us something about church size too. In 2014, churches under 200 it takes about six of us to produce a convert each year, while the average for churches over 400 in attendance hovers around three of us.

Now there are a number of factors to consider if we’re going to determine a “healthy” rate, but given the increasing U.S. population and the likely number of unchurched folks in your community, surely an AC of at least 5.0 should be achievable in most places–if we’re really trying to reach people.

It’s just one measure, but it’s an important one. There are, however, several others to consider if we’re going to get the full health diagnosis, so go ahead and calculate your AC Ratio, but stay tuned…

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 247

  1. “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).

What an amazing promise! Christ’s life continues and so does ours. This isn’t one of those “I live on through you” statements–as true as some might decide that idea may be–but Jesus lives on because He lives on. He IS alive! And because Christ lives this day, every promise He gave is alive and well too. He lives, so there is clear hope for all who will know Him. He lives, so there is every reason to put our trust in the eternal plan of God. He lives, so we can be confident of our own resurrection. He lives, so there is absolutely no reason for fear.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 246

  1. “He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).

Therein lies a promise. The Holy Spirit will be IN you. Now much can be made about this promise and how it differs from the presence of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament days. “In” vs. “Upon” is a shift many have focused on–and, indeed, it is worthy of our attention. But the even more evident truth here is that this experience is yet in the future for the disciples. He “will be” means He is not yet. It seems quite evident that, at least for them, the faith moment and the Spirit moment are separate events. Perhaps the John 20 infilling is in view here, or perhaps the Acts 2 event. But whichever might be on Jesus’ mind, the clear fact is that the moment is yet ahead.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

The Big 5 Questions: Their Answers Will Revitalize Your Church – Part 20

Today, we come to the conclusion of our journey through the five questions every local church needs to be asking to bring new energy and life to their congregation.

Our first question—How do we engage new people?—helps us see the critical need to develop specific strategic steps for connecting with people throughout our community. There simply can be no new day at your church without some new life!

Our second question occupied us for several blogs—How will we treat them when they walk through our doors? As we said, it would be tragic to work hard to connect with someone only to drop the ball when they visited our church. Effective hospitality and assimilation strategies are some of the most critical elements of a church health plan.

Next, we tackled–How will we teach them how to follow Jesus? Here, we looked at both the content and the settings where discipleship teaching is delivered. You must have a plan for people to engage, and then, of course, you’ll need to encourage them to engage that plan.

Our fourth question asked, How will we help them find a place to serve? Here, we worked our way through helping people find their gifts and find a place to use them, how we will go about training them and providing the evaluation that can help people find real success and satisfaction in their ministry efforts. And, we made a final stop considering what it’s like to be on the team–a discussion that focused on how we are investing in them and their ministry experience.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve engaged our final question, How will we help them connect with God? by looking at some of the essential steps for pursuing God–to stop pursuing everything else through solitude and Sabbath, connect with what God has already spoken through Bible reading and reflection, learn to listen to God as He is the Initiator of all true spiritual connection, and discover the power and purity of daily obedience to God’s direction.

The last piece of connecting with God that we’ll consider is His plan for us to connect with others. Now, you may wonder at first whether or not relationship with others has any place in a discussion of relationship with God, but you must understand His proven priority for those who follow Him. He wants us to be together!

The “new” command Jesus gave His disciples was to “love one another.” In fact, He told them that this would be the trait that most clearly connected them to Him. He, further, insisted that when two or three of them gathered in His name, He would be right there with them. Like He was for the three Hebrew men in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, He would never miss those moments when they rallied together, no matter what the challenge.

A few years back, I toured Israel with Marc Turnage, the Director of the Center for Holy Land Studies. Marc explained to me that when Jesus identified the greatest commandment–to love the Lord your God…and to love your neighbor–He wasn’t melting the Old Testament Law into two commands. In fact, His disciples would have understood that those two directives were inseparable. Literally, you love God by loving your neighbor.

Later, Paul would tell us that all the trappings of spirituality we might accumulate mean nothing without love. John would insist that if you don’t love the people you can see, there’s no way you’re truly loving the One you can’t see. It’s very clear from each of the primary New Testament voices that there’s no loving God without loving others; therefore, we can conclude that relationships with others are a major piece of a real relationship with God.

So how are we helping our people embrace that truth? Are we prioritizing such love? Are we holding one another accountable for behavior in relationships? Are we allowing people to “seem spiritual” while they are careless in their treatment of others?

Further, do people understand that sitting by the bedside of a sick friend might be the greatest way they can love God today? Do they know that everything they sacrifice for others is really a gift to God? Remember Jesus’ “least of these” statement? This is what He wants each of us to understand–you love God by loving those around you.

That’s why a deep relationship with God cannot be lived in isolation. Yes, we need times of Sabbath and solitude to separate us from the busyness of life, but we can’t live in such seclusion on the other six days each week. Loving God is all about loving people, so what’s your strategy to help people discover this truth?

Over the past five months, we’ve broken down five questions that every church needs to be asking. These five questions will open the door to greater effectiveness. When you answer them well, you will see your church become stronger and healthier, and you will give God yet another location to aim His harvest.