I have children in high school and college right now, and the relentless pursuit of measurable results is a constant pressure in their life as a student. They are measured, surveyed, tested, and graded to death. As a result, they have learned that filling in the right bubbles on standardized test sheets is the primary value… even if it is counter-productive for the hoped-for value in education: critical thinking.

The same thing has happened in the Church. In the desire to evaluate success in ministry, the measurables that most consistently emerge are: membership numbers, attendance, and budgets.

But do these really measure whether we are making disciples as we are called to do?

Are they the primary marks of “success?”

And in an era of declining inclination towards membership in any institution or organization, do these even make sense?

Now… don’t get me wrong. I am a big proponent of evaluating. I just wonder if we are evaluating the primary things. Are we caught up in corporate metrics or kingdom of God metrics?

Here are a couple of questions to consider:

1. What might it look like to be faithful in this mission to which you have been called?

2. What would be evidence of kingdom fruit in this mission?

Often, fresh expression work is slow, patient work. Remember, this is not about shuffling around members of other churches to come attend your fresh expression… it is coming alongside those who are currently disinterested or even skeptical about church and helping them to discover Christ in their midst. That does not happen with a rigorous timeline, but rather with ongoing presence and faithfulness. 

On the other hand, this is intentional work. It is not so organic as to be without goals or direction. It is important to evaluate whether emerging practices and activities and outreach make sense for the mission.

So how do you develop meaningful metrics?

I have recently been working with a pioneer leader who has been doing just that. We started with this conversation: If people were growing in faith in your emerging community, what would you hope to see? Then we followed up with… what evidence would there be if that were happening? Out of that conversation, we developed 5 sets of measurables that were about being faithful towards fruitfulness. This is helping the leader be intentional in the mission AND it’s helping those who are supporting or overseeing the mission evaluate “success” without defaulting only to the traditional church growth metrics.

So what might this look like practically? Let’s take for example: “Our emerging fresh expression is having a positive impact on our local community.”

Who did we serve and help this week individually?

Who did our fresh expression corporately serve this week?

Who did we connect with and so learn more about the dreams and longings of the community this week?

What is our reputation in the community (what are we hearing people say about us)?

When did we hear participants in our fresh expression sharing stories with each other about experiences in loving and serving the local community?

When did we celebrate or lift up the value of being a blessing to our community in our fresh expression gatherings?

When did we pray for our community this week?

In some fresh expressions, the team would meet and have regular conversations around some of these identified questions. In some fresh expressions, the leader would do a weekly journal entry around these questions. In some fresh expressions, someone would keep a spreadsheet to keep track of some specific initiatives that reflect progress in this area. In other fresh expressions, a mentor or committee would meet with the leader and work through these questions as a process of ongoing evaluation and communication with the local partner entity.

Keeping count of attendance is fine.

Keeping track of the finances and budget is needed.

But it’s not the only measure of success.

What are you aiming for?

And what would be the evidence you are living into those values and goals?

Start discerning and evaluating along those lines, and you might just find you have a whole new vision for “success” in ministry.

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Shannon Kiser
About the Author

Shannon Kiser

Shannon serves as Director of Training, leading our team of mission strategists and trainers in the development and implementation of the Mission Shaped Ministry course through Pioneer Learning Communities. She is also a pastor on staff with Riverside Church in Sterling, VA, a Church that worships in two languages and engages in several Fresh Expressions of Church. In the last several years, Shannon has been involved with the Presbyterian Church’s New Worshiping Communities initiative, and has directed the coaching network that supports pioneer leaders. Shannon lives in Springfield, VA with her husband Patrick and teenage daughters Catherine and Suzanne.