What would Jesus measure?

Monday, 19 January, 2015

Norman Ivison explores how we measure 'success'.

New Year's resolutions are obviously on the way out. When I asked a congregation of 150 a couple of weeks ago how many had made them, only 3 people owned up. But New Year is still a time for looking back, taking stock and imagining what a new future might be like.

For each and every fresh expression of church, that process of assessment leading to imagination and then action is really important. Without reviewing the past, where we started from, how far we have travelled; and without imagining the future, where God might be leading us, who might be key to new ways forward, what needs to change, we will simply drift around on a sea of uncertainty. And then you are at the mercy of every changing tide and shifting storm.

Prayer and discernment are key to looking to the future, but there are other practical things we can do to help our fresh expression develop too. I'm fascinated by the way the early church was quite open and transparent about the need to reflect and learn from the past, before moving on into the future. Paul, in particular, was constantly reminding his readers about the journey they had been on and wasn't slow in recommending possible routes ahead. Being willing to assess, to measure progress so far, seems to be an important guiding principle in the first century church.

But how do you do that in a fresh expression of church? Do you simply count heads? If you do, then is the counting done at the largest gathering for worship, across the week to include all activities, or across the whole community engaging with your new form of church? What exactly would Jesus measure?

Assessing how far you have come and imagining where you might go next has got to be much more than simply measuring attendance. Thankfully my colleague, Michael Moynagh, has done some significant thinking on this whole area. In an appendix to his book Being Church, Doing Life, he reminds us that any evaluation needs to be seen as

a contribution to the process of spiritual discernment,

and that discernment

is the process, week in and week out, of help(ing) you recognise what the Spirit wants you to do next.

He goes on to give one method of evaluation based on a fresh expressions journey, and encourages both an evaluation of the quality of our life together and a more quantitative approach to progress too.

So for example, if you feel loving and serving the local community or network is a major priority you could ask two sets of questions.

Qualitative

  • In what ways have you been loving and serving people?
  • What stories reflect well and less well on what you have been doing?
  • For the team, what have been the high and the low points of the past year?
  • What were your hopes at the start of the year and how far have they been achieved?
  • What has surprised you and what have you learned?
  • What ideas for improvement have people suggested?

Quantitative

  • How many people in your network or neighbourhood do team members meet regularly?
  • What are the average numbers at your main event – at the start of the year? At the end?
  • What is the overall number of people you are in touch with (e.g. you see them at least once or twice a year)?
  • What are the results (in relation to your service) of your satisfaction survey, if you have done one?

These are all good questions and you can of course repeat this process with all the stages of a fresh expression journey.

So for many fresh expressions of church it is time to be much more sophisticated in the way we evaluate progress and the way we imagine the way ahead. The new year is a good time to do that and those funding us might be delighted to know that significant progress is being made and that is not just about numbers. And who knows, if fresh expressions demonstrate a new way of assessing where we are on the adventure God is taking us, other churches might quickly follow.

Comments

Thanks for this superb contribution Norman. One of the other initiatives I'm involved in setting up over here in Melbourne is Street Pastors. OK - not even wanting to be a Fresh Expression of church (although I've always thought there is real potential here)- but the feedback we're getting already (only 6 or 7 months in) is amazing - "thanks for making the streets safe"; "you have to know the difference you are making" (comment from the Police); "I want to have a function in our venue to help raise funds for you; thanks for all you're doing" (one of the venue owners). Kingdom work, often small changes. But as you suggest, worth keeping a record of everything ... and maybe count a few 'heads' eventually too! David

Sparrows & lost sheep? As a carpenter I don't think Jesus would be as shy about measuring and counting as some modern discerners! If you can't count it stop kidding yourself.

Interesting. This might be a bit left field and not particularly relevant, but here goes. As someone in training for LLM I have been wondering about the effect of feedback forms. Does having a feedback form make people listen differently? And does it make a difference to those being assessed? I think the answer is probably 'yes' on both counts. So the next question is, does that skew the data or should we making more use of this with different members of our congregation (definitely ringing the changes) because it's impact is positive?
I agree, simply basing assessment on head counts is probably a bit simplistic although head counts are recorded in Acts (note to self: discover how many times).
It seems to me FE is more about dialogue and worship than a traditional service. And although on one level yet another feedback form might be a niggling chore, I think perhaps more opportunity for genuine dialogue within the established church would be a positive move (not least because it would at least reinforce at a subliminal level the idea of every member ministry).

A nice article to judge yourself. But what I believe is God is there to help us. And he does so in every moment of our life. To some things, which we treat them as bad happenings, are not actually bad, they are good in disguise. You just have to find out it instantly. Otherwise it wouldn't be possible to bounce back or rewind. New resolutions are just part of our freckle behavior! The moment we promise ourselves to do something good in the upcoming year, we know that after some fine days, we will be back to our original form leaving all the determinations and promises far away.
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