We all recognize that evaluation is a good thing to do. In life or in business, evaluation is an important part of ongoing growth and development for any organization. Failure to evaluate is almost always a mistake. One of my concerns as a pastor has always been, how do you evaluate the church? We are not like other organizations. So how do we evaluate how we are doing?
I grew up in a time when we evaluated the church by the A,B,C’s … attendance, buildings, cash. More people, more money and more property were a sure sign things were going well. However, the short-coming of this approach is obvious. How many times have church leaders counted the number of people in Sunday services but really have no true sense whether the members of the church community are growing to greater spiritual maturity and contributing all they can to God’s work? Is size really a true measure of health? I have come to think that bigger is not better … it is just bigger. And in the same way, smaller is not spiritual either. Smaller can be just as unhealthy as bigger when it comes to measuring a church. Numbers as the only measurement of success seems like a mistake. But what other options are there? How else can a church evaluate how well it is doing in terms of functioning as a Biblical community like the one described in the book of Acts? A verse that has become a theme of my leadership is from Ephesians 4:16 where it says, “As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” It has become my belief that a healthy church will be a growing church. So, if we focus on church health, things like growth in terms of our impact as a church will take care of itself. For that reason, the tools described below have become very important to me in my role in the church.
NATURAL CHURCH DEVELOPMENT
A number of years ago I came across an organization called Natural Church Development (NCD hereafter) that promised a better way to evaluate the church than simply the A,B,C’s. Here is a quote from NCD describing their approach to church evaluation:
Natural Church Development has studied the church around the world (from a variety of denominations and cultures) to see if healthy churches have certain things in common. They have concluded from their research that all healthy churches do have certain things in common. In fact, all healthy churches possess eight common characteristics in high degree. Those common characteristics are holistic small groups, functional structures, empowering leadership, passionate spirituality, loving relationships, inspiring worship services, gift-oriented ministry, and need-oriented evangelism. The premise of their research is that healthy things are growing things. In other words, focus on making a church healthy and it will grow. It is a mistake to focus on making it grow without making it healthy.
Based on their research they have created a system of evaluating churches in those eight areas common to all healthy churches. To accomplish this measurement, they have developed a congregational survey that could be used to evaluate how well a church is doing in the eight areas of church health. In other words, through use of this congregational survey, a church could obtain a quantitative measurement of how healthy it was. A survey is given to a minimum of thirty people in the church as a sampling for the overall congregation.
In 2002 I asked for a NCD survey to be done at Westheights as a tool to understand how the church was doing. The survey results came back in early 2003 and indicated an average score of 45. A score of 45 put the church well below the national average and well below where we hoped to be in terms of congregational health. Obviously, as the leaders looked at the results, we felt that we needed to do much better. Strategic plans were created at that time to address some of the low scores.
It is important to note that with the NCD scoring system, each score is not out of 100. From their research, NCD has concluded that to score above 65 in a single area of the eight health characteristics is to indicate a high degree of health for that area. To score above 65 in all eight areas is to indicate a high degree of health in the entire church. All churches that score above 65 in all eight areas are growing churches according to NCD.
In the past few months we did a second study to follow up the study done at the beginning of 2003.
In Diagram 1 you can see the results of the NCD survey that we did in 2003 in comparison to the survey we did in 2009. As we had done in 2003, it was our goal to seek feedback from people at various stages of involvement at Westheights from newer people through to long timers.
Diagram 2 shows the participant breakdown according to age group.
In our study, the gender break down was 50% men and 50% women. Diagram 4 shows the breakdowns of participants according to years attending Westheights.
The Board has looked over the results of the 2009 survey and is very pleased with the progress we have made as a congregation. Our scores have increased in every single area of church health. You can see from Diagram 1 that our scores increased in all eight areas. The overall average increased from 44.8 to 59.2. Our highest score was in the area of Gift-based ministry where we scored an amazing 71. If you have been around Westheights any amount of time, you know that is true. There are a lot of great people using their time and talent to serve God in our church.
From the results of the survey, NCD also directs a church to consider the range between their lowest score and their highest score. In 2003 our range was 32 (61 – 29 = 32). In 2009, the difference between the highest and the lowest score has been reduced from to 24. A lower score is better because it indicates that all areas of the church are relatively healthy. In other words, it is important to try and bring your lower scores up and not simply rest on the fact that you are really good in a couple of areas.
What do I conclude from this research?
For one, our church is continuing to become a healthy church and much progress has been made. That is good news. We have increased our church health scores in all eight areas. I can’t tell you how encouraging that is. However, there is definitely room for growth and the leaders are not prepared to sit still. The report demonstrates that we are a growing church, in fact, growing in the right ways. The people who attend are growing in their spiritual lives, as the survey demonstrates. We are truly fulfilling our vision of “helping people to find and follow Jesus.”
Our highest score in the NCD report was in the area of Gift-based Ministry with an amazing score of 71. As I have said before, Westheights church is a great group of givers. You give sacrificially of your time and talent and financial resources. I am constantly amazed at how many people volunteer in the children’s ministry, how readily people throw their heart into the community family carnival, how people quickly and willingly volunteer to help in the many, many programs we offer as a church. As a congregation, you are true to the verse I quoted earlier in Ephesians 4:16 where the Bible instructs us: “As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” This report confirms that this is truly a strength of our church.
However, we also recognize that our lowest score is still in the area of passionate spirituality. We are continuing to pray about how we can help our people deepen their relationship with God through Bible study, prayer and the transforming influence that faith should have on all areas of our lives.
I anticipate that we will do further NCD surveys in the future to continue to evaluate our church health. I think that this is a healthier way for leaders to measure the life of a church. I believe this is in line with something that Jesus said about the kingdom. He said this about growing the kingdom: “This is what the Kingdom of God is like. A farmer scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know why. All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29). I find the “all by itself” part interesting. Jesus is saying that God alone brings that life and growth (which appears to happen “all by itself” to the farmer). The role of God’s people, and their leaders in particular, is similar to that of the farmer. They cannot give life and produce growth. Only God can do that. All they can do is maximize the potential for growth. This is done by a continual process of identifying the barriers which impede growth within the life of the church and removing them.
This last graph shows the potential growth of our church if we stay committed to our church being healthy.
In light of the general decline of church health and growth being experienced by many churches in our community and country, I am so grateful to be the pastor of a church that has such life and vitality. I continue to look forward to serving with you as we anticipate all that God will do through our church in the coming years. Let’s continue to pray for God to bless our church so that it is healthy and growing and vital.