The new buzzword in The United Methodist Church is “effectiveness.” This is as true for Youth ministry as it is for the rest of the Church. We apparently live close enough to Business Schools that we want tools and formulas by which such effectiveness can be measured (or perhaps we have just all Good to Great).
I am not opposed to effectiveness, but I would like to challenge some prevailing assumptions about it. (Let me interject that Romans 5:8 cautions us about to simplistic a concern for effectiveness. I thank God daily that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and I get the implications that there was no guarantee we would do anything but remain sinners.)
Let’s first look at effectiveness the way the discussion usually begins, in terms of simple math. Who’s math is used to determine effectiveness? Effectiveness for what?
Most things I read lately devise a variety of ways to say, basically, this: more people means more effective. Big churches, especially the really big churches, are clearly more effective than the others. Right?
So, what do we do with Jesus, who, God Incarnate, Immanuel himself, three years into a mission (a church-plant?) had accumulated 12 leading followers, one of whom betrayed him at the opportune moment. The other 11, as my brother Richard reminded me earlier this week, ran and hid as soon as Jesus faced trouble.
Sure, Jesus soon had a megachurch on his hands – 3,000 added their first day (Acts 2:41). But the whole death and resurrection thing makes Jesus’ particular model of ministry risky to reproduce.
Before anyone thinks or infers that I am number-averse; I am not. The mission of The United Methodist Church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The mere fact that disciples here is plural sides with, not against, emphasizing numbers.
What we have got to find meaningful ways to measure, however, is not butts-in-pews, youth in small groups, or even professions of faith. What we ought to be finding ways to measure is transformation of the world.
More than 2 years ago now Willow Creek in greater Chicago released results of a self-study that shook the megachurch world.
The study shows that while Willow has been successfully meeting the spiritual needs of those who describe themselves as “exploring Christianity” or “growing in Christ,” it has been less successful at doing so with those who self-report as being “close to Christ” or “Christ-centered.” In fact, one-fourth of the last two groups say that they are either “stalled” in their spiritual growth and/or “dissatisfied” with the church.
Great at getting people in the door of the church, both physically and spiritually, but falling short on the transformation part. To bring back another concept from the business world, let’s go with an analogy to “same-store” sales. We’ll call it “same-soul” progress. Are the people who are already in youth ministry growing in their faith over time? Is there visible and experiential difference in their lives?
And, finally, as we pursue effectiveness in ministry, as we indeed move toward making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, let us remember the factors of death and resurrection as we consider effectiveness and making disciples for the transformation of the world.
Rev. Steve Heyduck
1111 Herring Ave.
Waco, TX 76708
254-750-1310 – office
254-715-4956 – cell