Well, we are almost one month into the New Year, and if you are anything like me, you are beginning to moderate the pace at which you work toward achieving your New Year’s resolutions. After all, why eat all the healthy food now? There might not be any left if I eat it all in the beginning of the year. It is an interesting thing, finishing out a year and beginning a new one. There is something in us that wants to know, Was last year a success? or Will this year be a success? It is those very understandable questions that drive us to new resolutions for tomorrow and have us quantifying the impact or progress of the days gone past.
As a church we have those same questions. What is the impact of this community? What does success look like? Are we being successful?
These are important questions for us to ask. After all, if Jesus entrusted the good news of grace, salvation, and new life to the church, then we must take seriously the responsibility of stewarding that message and that mission. The church is the vehicle through which Hope is being offered to the world. There is not a backup plan. We are it. In describing what is at stake for the world if the church does not succeed, Bill Hybels simply states, “It's the church or it's lights out.”
The mission of the church is so important that we ought to do everything we can to know if the mission is being achieved, to know if we are successful.
There are two complementary ways to begin to understand if we are being “successful” as a church. The first is to measure movement. This is relatively easy to do and can tell you a lot about the health of the environments of the church. After all, healthy things tend to grow.
We measure movement in Summit not only within individual environments, but also in movement between environments. Doing so complicates our ability to measure movement only slightly and gives a much fuller picture of what is happening in the church.
For example, if attendance is up, that tends to be good news. However, when attendance is up in worship services only, and there is not a corresponding trend with Connect groups or niceSERVE, then we have good news mixed with the challenge to engage people more effectively in taking their next right step in living out Summit’s vision. We have a participation win but an engagement challenge.
Measuring movement, though important, does not tell the whole story of the effectiveness of the church, however. There is another thing we must look at in addition to movement, and that is transformation. After all, while movement hints at transformation and tends to indicate health, and is necessary for transformation to happen, it is not the goal. God changing lives is the goal.
The question is: How do you measure transformation and individual life change?
The answer: Stories.
Stories of lives actually being changed are the only true means of knowing what the numbers (the ones that measure movement) hint at, that lives are being transformed in this place. For the church, success is measured in stories.
I have the privilege of hearing a lot of stories that tell of transformation, and we will be sharing some of those in this “Good Stories” blog series over the course of this year. We will be sharing these stories so we can see the work of God in this place and share in the challenge to be the church at its best for the sake of those who do not yet know that transformation is possible.
And hopefully it will be a good reminder for those of us who are being transformed already. After all, if New Year’s resolutions teach us anything, they teach us we cannot transform ourselves. We can measure movement, we can change our habits, but it takes a miracle to become who we were made to be.