Setting Goals for a Church Isn’t as Easy as You Might Think
I attend a church large enough to have more than 40 people on staff. Those staff, in turn, lead probably 500 or more of us who volunteer at the church. Last year, our executive pastor of 15 years transitioned back into the marketplace; and another pastor on the staff filled that vacancy. As part of his on-boarding process, he asked the staff to define what a win was for their respective ministry areas.
If you’re new to “defining the win,” it’s corporate speak for “What is your core goal?” It’s a way to set benchmarks against which to measure your work. Somewhere between creating a mission statement and developing a report card, the process is aimed at a motivational script to vision cast to subordinates and teammates.
As an analytics guy—someone who has spent years teaching others to use data to make decisions in marketing and in life—you’d think I’d enjoy this process. At my company last year, I worked on more than 600 projects and tracked dozens of data point on each one. Those data point were sifted through more than a half dozen formulas to determine various key performance indicators. So, it’s not like I don’t know how to sift processes down to determine optimal outcomes.
I found it a challenge, though, when asked to define a win for my forty-some teammates on my church’s parking lot ministry.
Most bystanders wouldn’t see much ministry in directing traffic, but our various teams act as incubators. People who don’t know Jesus yet join as they investigate what Christian camaraderie could be. New believers head out to our lots to try serving on for size. And us old hats mentor those folks newer in their faith. We share incredible moments of intimacy through confidential prayer—both in our weekly prayer circles and in private messages, phone calls, and meals together. We serve each other in times of need. Half of us study the Bible together in gender-specific gatherings.
In Jesus’ final words on earth, he commissioned people to make disciples and baptize them; and a bunch of folks in neon hats and reflective vests have been doing just that for at least the 12 years I’ve been on the team.
So, it’s not that we don’t have great success.
We’re #winning more than Charlie Sheen ever did. Some of the stories in which we play a part would give you either tears or goosebumps—or both. We’ve witnessed sovereignty on display in incredible ways. We’ve seen life trajectories change. We’ve experienced moments that surpass what people spend thousands of dollars to chase. We’ve laughed deeply, cheered loudly, and hugged like our buddies just got back from war.
The problem is that you can’t force those moments. You can’t plan them. You can’t manufacture them. My co-leaders and teammates just cultivate an atmosphere where those moments don’t feel out of place. There’s not a goal chart I could make that would’ve delineated a situation a few weeks ago, where I stood, embracing a parishioner (whose name I still don’t know) as she wept on the sidewalk while mourning the loss of her adult daughter.
I tell my teammates to follow Holy Spirit prompting, but I don’t tell them what it looks like—what it should look like. We leave that up to God.
My bigger concern with creating benchmarks is that we’ll chase results at the expense of authentic service.
With the same acts of service, we can create wood, hay, and stubble instead of gold (I Corinthians 3:12). At a conference a few years ago, I heard a celebrity megachurch pastor admit that he didn’t even know if his first baptism candidate was a believer. He dunked her just because “we needed momentum.” His church has since been alleged to have pre-planned plants in the audience come forward to prime the pump for others to respond. That’s all an extreme for which we weren’t being asked, but that’s the trajectory.
I grew up in a faith system where bringing visitors to church or vacation Bible school was a contest. In one of the churches my parents attended, the reward for the winner was a shotgun. I’m not kidding. How do your visitors feel when they learn they were just game pieces? The same way you feel when an acquaintance invites you over for dinner and then starts a sales pitch for multilevel marketing. They feel like a number, a notch on a belt. They see ulterior motives. The unchurched world sees an attempt at converting rather than a genuine answer to the questions that gnaw at them or the ache they feel for something beyond their current existence.
It’s absolutely a victory for the kingdom when someone gets baptized, when someone invites a friend into our circle, when a parishioner tells us we influenced their spiritual journey, when a parent tells us their child wants to be on the parking team someday, or when a teammate feels loved in their pain. It’s just that those are outcomes, not achievements. They’re fruit but not produce.
Jeremiah preached for decades without a convert. Jonah preached for three days against his will, and tens of thousands of Ninevites repented. Stephen’s sermon ended with his martyrdom soon after Peter’s sermon saw thousands converted in a single day. God said he desires the whole world to know him and accept his gift, but he didn’t set quotas. In fact, in one parable, Jesus said some believers’ seeds will produce 30x, others 60x, and others 100x. In another parable, he equally praised someone who doubled two talents and someone who doubled five. He didn’t seem to value or reward quantity or have some sort of measuring stick for quality. The Apostle Paul explained that God creates the increase on our sowing and watering—not us.
Among other mandates, the Bible commands us to walk in the Spirit, to dwell in unity, to spur each other onto good works, and to be ready to give an account of the hope that lives inside us. So, that’s what my parking teammates and I try to do. When we obey and surrender, God shows up. He does his work. He harvests his own wins.
He even determines what was a win.
He’ll let me in on that someday well after my ashes are buried or scattered. In the mean time, I’ll keep reminding my teammates:
(1) “Our job is to give an uncommon welcome so that people see an uncommon God.”
(2) “We are catalysts to start a chain reaction for God to do something in the hearts of the people we serve.”
(3) “We’re the front lines. We’re Plan A, and there’s no Plan B.”
(4) “If you feel God’s prompting, move toward it. The rest of us will handle the logistics.”
(5) “The more inclement the weather, the greater contrast our joy has.”
(6) “Let us know how we can pray for you and come alongside you on your journey.”
Cover photo image purchased from iStockPhoto.com