After more than twenty five years of ministry as pastor and then consultant servant to church leaders, I came to realize that most churches in North America were highly active yet minimally effective in impacting their world. I spent years assisting churches in identifying ministry opportunities in their communities, pathways through which congregations could serve unchurched persons in ways they would receive. We believed churches that matched gifts and skills of their church members with ministry opportunities in the community would establish relationships with people who were open to the Good News of the Gospel.
In reality, only a handful of people in most churches would become part of those servant ministries. Most would applaud developing ministries, provide financially to enable those ministries, but few would become servants in these new “touch points.” New ministries were “added” to the already busy schedule of activities in most churches. Many members were already involved in as many church events as they deemed possible with their busy schedules. Adding something else was just not realistic. And because the other activities were deemed important, discontinuing these was not an option. So, the church calendar continued to fill.
I became convinced that no amount of corporate ministry initiatives would ever result in true effectiveness. Further, I knew that most churches struggle to define effectiveness in the first place. For many, effectiveness is measured by comparing attendance in Bible Study and worship this year with attendance in preceding years. Or perhaps, some might compare annual baptismal numbers. Hardly any churches think in terms of measuring the impact the church is actually having in its community. Few measure the number of new disciples who are equipped.
I saw clearly that churches must not simply do what they do better, but be different. Continuing existing programs would doubtless continue to produce similar results. Without new ways of thinking and acting churches would be isolated from and irrelevant to many people in their communities. Unless the church began to impact the lives of those in the community at the points where they naturally intersected, it was doubtful that they would have significant influence and impact on those lives. While corporate ministries are important and needed, true impact would only be realized through the everyday influence of members living as servant reflections of Christ in their own spheres of influence. True impact will not be linked to more calendared events, but to greater care and involvement in the lives of people at the office, in the classroom, on the course or field, and across the fences that ensure our personal privacy.
Instead of isolating ourselves from the world, or spending more hours talking about how we might reach the world, it is time to be Christ in the world. Not a select few, but all members of the Body of Christ are to live as sent ones.
Please share your thoughts: As a follower of Christ, what do you need most from your church to equip you to live as Christ’s servant and messenger among your friends, family, work associates and neighbors? As a church, how do you measure effectiveness? What is your best practice in preparing followers for effective mission lifestyles?