Lovett Weems provides some insight into the Vital Congregations initiative that I found very helpful.
The current focus on setting numerical goals for ministry and reporting on the results is not new, though it is now greatly expanded. In the past, virtually all the goals churches set had to do with money. The most obvious example is the annual budget. A budget is a goal that the church works all year to achieve, monitors the results closely, and reports regularly on progress in achieving the goal. Usually no one in the congregation gives more attention to monitoring and achieving those goals than the pastor. The same attention now is being given to some people categories, but the concept is essentially the same.
This expansion of goals, monitoring, and reporting, however, could easily miss the point as we have often done with finances. Any time the conversations turn to setting goals, many people think of such efforts as a way to set a standard on which they must eventually report and by which they will be judged. That may happen, but it should not be the primary use for such metrics. The most important benefit of defining numerical goals is that the goals become the opportunity to shape planning that your church already needs. Such goal setting works even better if you do not try to do everything at the same time, but rather select those areas around which there is both need and passion.
Progress comes when we have a goal toward which we are moving. Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats recently shared “The 22 Rules of Storytelling, according to Pixar.” One of the rules is to “come up with the ending before you figure out the middle.” It does not help to begin talking about “what we should do” until we have a clear definition of what we want our activities to accomplish. Our focus on setting targets and planning to reach them does not suggest that our goals will capture all we hope to accomplish. The Spirit works in amazing ways to accomplish more than any statistics can ever reflect, but usually the Spirit accomplishes those unexpected signs and wonders when we are generating our own holy energy through prayer and hard work.
But What about Reporting?
Do reporting and do it honestly, but never think reporting is the true purpose of your efforts. The numbers you report may show you reached or exceeded your goals. They are just as likely to show that you missed your goals. Remember that most churches do not achieve 100 percent of their budget goals each year; but that does not keep them from setting new budget goals for the next year, working hard to achieve the goals, monitoring the results diligently, and reporting the results.
The real benefit of the results you report comes from what you learnedfrom the results. Perhaps you set a goal to reach 60 children in Sunday School, and you fell short. But if you learned that the teachers need more training, that worship and Sunday School need to be coordinated better, that you need teams of teachers, and that your age groupings are too broad, your “failure” may be the beginning of fruitfulness that will benefit children for years to come.
“But won’t the pastor and congregation of such a church be judged negatively for coming up short on the goal?” you may be asking. If you can identify what you have learned (which shows you are paying attention), name the changes made from those learnings (which shows you intend to improve), and illustrate that progress has been made despite falling short of the original goal (which shows you are acting on the right learnings), I cannot imagine anyone would judge your church negatively. Whenever there are conversations to review numbers, whether within the congregation or with denominational leaders, always insist that prior to the conversation everyone have both the numbers and a narrative of the learnings thus far, changes made or planned where necessary, and progress from any of those changes.
Remember that Fruitfulness is God’s Alternative to Success
Success is not a biblical concept; fruitfulness is. Fruitfulness always holds within it the important passion for faithfulness, for no genuine and lasting fruitfulness is possible without such faithfulness. But fruitfulness also captures a comparable passion for repeated biblical mandates to bear fruit.
Fruitfulness is vastly different from success. Goals help fruitfulness, but fruitfulness does not require attainment of all our goals. Fruitfulness is not about personal or congregational glory but the advancement of God’s reign. Church leaders care about results because results are ways to go beyond merely doing good ministry to active participation in God’s hope for all to experience the abundant life revealed in Jesus Christ.
Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and coauthor with Tom Berlin of Bearing Fruit: Ministry with Real Results (Abingdon, 2011). This article is used by permission from Leading Ideas, a free e-newsletter from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and available at www.churchleadership.com,