By Tim Spivey
Do you really want to know the truth?
I’ve consulted with dozens of churches formally, and perhaps hundreds informally. However, many churches never evaluate their ministry with any rigor.
The reason, these churches say, is because they don’t see the need for the effort, expense and potentially difficult season (emotionally) inaugurated by bringing in someone from the outside or going through an evaluation process. In my experience, those who refuse to evaluate themselves are either trying to avoid seeing empirically what they already know to be true through experience (painful), or are deferring pain in hopes it can be avoided by grasping for quick-fix solutions in the present (“We got this”).
Such mindsets betray feelings of, We could fix this if we really wanted to or really thought there was a problem. The words of the late Dr. Charles Siburt come to mind here: “Then why haven’t you?”
True, evaluations can be painful
They can be especially painful if they are only engaged when crisis or decline is already upon a church rather than consistent church evaluation as a part of wellness care. We shouldn’t have physicals after we’ve suffered a heart attack; we avoid heart attacks by having regular physicals and putting the doctor’s advice into practice. Most consistently healthy and growing churches I know have some ongoing method of evaluation. Others only engage church consultants or evaluative measures at the point of crisis or hospice.
New Vintage Church completed our first evaluation at the four-year mark. We hope to make it a non-invasive, annual process — like getting a “church physical.” The aim of my blog series is to walk you through how we did this … and how I have engaged this process as a consultant on behalf of other churches around the country.
I’ve found there are three kinds of churches that can benefit from evaluation:
1) The Generally Healthy: These are churches that engage in evaluation as wellness care.
2) The Crisis Church: These churches are in an immediate crisis — the loss of pastor to moral failure, a church split, etc.
3) The Hospice Church: These churches have declined to under 50 in attendance, with downward momentum. They lack financial, staff and spiritual resources for revival. They are often dysfunctional and relationally bitter toward one another. The proverbial fat lady can be heard hitting the High C in the distance.
Wherever your church falls on the spectrum, you can benefit from evaluation or intervention. I hope you’ll make it a regular part of your diet — whether it is to engage an outside consultant (good for all three categories, but especially 2 and 3), or to engage in a season of congregational discernment using quality tools. Let’s begin here with some foundational questions:
Ask and answer this question honestly: Do I really want to know the truth? This is a different question than, “Can I handle the truth?” This question lets you know what you are seeking to avoid emotionally … and will let you know that you already know part of the truth — and it might not be pretty. This is all the more reason to proceed.
I would suggest that if you find yourself avoiding truths or lacking the fervor to seek it, you need an external consultant more than those who genuinely want to know where they stand. Here’s another question to answer:
How much do we trust the congregation with this information? Not only did we engage the church in the process, we shared the information with them in our weekly assembly — both areas of excellence and “need to improve.” We did it because we trust the Body at New Vintage. If our church was a war zone or a place characterized by gossip, slander, negativity and the like — we would have been more reluctant and would have been reticent to share the outcomes.
This highlights, once again, why evaluation as wellness care is preferable to engagement during the crisis or hospice phases. You will not get the same traction out of evaluation if you can’t involve the church in the process.
What instrument / consultant can we use to get the best possible results? Don’t even think about Town Hall meetings. Just. Don’t. DO NOT HOLD A MEN’S MEETING. Don’t exclude those who are fully engaged but haven’t been at the church for very long. You aren’t evaluating your past — you’re evaluating your present and looking to the future.
Think about how you could get thoughtful feedback from a cross-section of those who are most healthy, engaged, and interested in the church’s future.
You might be asking, What, then, is a better way? I’ll pick up there in my next blog post.
Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book: Jesus, the Powerful Servant.