Measuring Spiritual Growth

Measuring Spiritual Growth

Using objectives and doorposts

Note: This article is excerpted from our training theme Empowering Group Members.

There's an old saying in business: "Measured performance is improved performance." It also appears to be true of ministry. Absolutely nothing in my 20-plus years of church experience has ever proven this statement wrong. In church we measure what is important to us. Even churches who don't measure attendance measure the weekly offering! It comes down to this: when we want to improve something, we measure it. Then we can track improvement and know when we've reached our goals. Measurable goals are simple when tracking tangible things like attendance and offerings, but how do we effectively measure spiritual growth?

For decades churches have tried to measure the spiritual growth of parishioners by having people complete courses, studies, classes, and curricula. As such, we've helped people acquire certificates, degrees, and accolades. Why have we done this? Because processes and participation are easy to measure. And these numbers allow us to monitor progress and tell us if people are on the right trajectory. Right?

Sadly, we just don't see enough evidence that this approach has really produced disciples. The problem is that curricula and classes don't necessarily produce disciples; rather, they produce knowledge. While disciples should continue to grow in knowledge, growth in knowledge does not mean the person is a disciple. The Pharisees are all the proof we need. So, tracking discipleship by class participation and completion is just not enough.

Furthermore, this approach to discipleship has produced a lot of church elitism. By accumulating accolades, we've given people the sense that they've arrived, something no disciple should feel. Once people have completed the outlined courses and received the certificates, it's easy for them to feel like they're "done." But sanctification isn't complete until we arrive in heaven, so our earthly efforts at discipleship should never make people feel like they've arrived. This was another problem with the Pharisees.

In reaction to this, many of us in church leadership tried something different. Rather than tracking class participation, we set up ongoing small groups. Then we started tracking the number of groups and participants. Since tracking knowledge didn't work, we began tracking relationships. We felt that disciples were being made when people "stuck" to a group.

This approach has failed to produce consistent, ongoing life-change on a large scale, though. And perhaps we were silly to believe it could. If Christian relationships were truly enough to produce disciples, why didn't it work for Judas? He had a three-year, face-to-face relationship with Jesus, yet Judas still fell away. Relationships just aren't enough. If they were, everyone who has been connected to church for a while would be extremely Christ-like. But we've all known people who go to church regularly yet are enormously rude, selfish, negative, bitter, and just plain mean. Relationships with other Christians are certainly a good thing, and they definitely contribute to discipleship, but measuring relationships still misses the mark.

So what should we measure? How do we, as church leaders, create pathways that lead people to genuine life-change without puffing them up, burning them out, and aiming them in the wrong direction? I'll answer this question by focusing on two types of measurables: objectives and doorposts.

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