Who would be interested in reading a book on congregational self-appraisal?
To answer that question, we need to divide the 350,000 to 400,000 Christian congregations in North America into three groups. The largest group, perhaps three-quarters of the total, displays varying degrees of interest in planning for a new era in their history. In many of them, however, a number of today's leaders are convinced that the time has come to become more intentional in their ministry. Most of the planning models from which they can choose require a realistic self-appraisal. What is contemporary reality? What is our current beginning point or baseline from which we project our plans for ministry into the third millennium?
That group of churches constitutes the primary constituency for this book. Their leaders recognize the value of a realistic self-appraisal as an early step in their planning process. The questions in this book are designed to stimulate, expand, and challenge their thinking.
Another 15 to 20 percent of the churches, perhaps more, organize their self-evaluation process around seven questions. Frequently this is a highly informal effort and is not part of a larger design to become more intentional in ministry. What are the seven questions?
1. Do we have enough money to pay all our bills? Have our total receipts been increasing or decreasing?
2. What is the condition of our real estate?
3. Is our membership going up or down?
4. How is the Sunday school doing?
5. Is worship attendance up or down?
6. Are our people reasonably happy with how things are going here now? If they are unhappy, what can be done about that?
7. How many dollars are we sending away for others to do missions on our behalf? Is that total up or down?
Frequently the trustees and other officers both raise and answer these questions. At least one or two usually are addressed to the pastor for a response. This book has been written to expand the number and variety of questions to be asked in the self-appraisal process in these congregations.
The remaining 5 to 10 percent of all congregations are at the other end of the ecclesiastical spectrum. They frequently ask only five or six questions in their self-appraisal efforts. Many of the congregations in this third group fit into the category described in chapter 1 as Kingdom-building churches. Their top priority is to faithfully respond to the call to build God's Kingdom. A far lower priority is given to enhancing the institutional strength of that particular congregation. Their self-appraisal questions focus on transforming the lives of people, not on institutional concerns. Evangelism and missions, rather than real estate and money, drive the decisions that allocate scarce resources. Those are the threads running through the short list of questions that are at the top of their self-appraisal effort.
1. How many lives are being transformed through our ministries? Is that number increasing or decreasing?
2. How effective are we in challenging, enlisting, training, placing, and supporting our people as volunteers in off-campus ministries?
3. What is the new outreach ministry the Great Commission is calling us to pioneer? How do we reach and serve the people that the churches in this community currently are not reaching? How can we help other congregations learn from what we discover as we pioneer new ministries in obedience to the Great Commission?
4. What are we doing to support the work of others in fulfilling the Great Commission in other parts of the world?
5. As the years roll by, is God challenging us to identify and accept a new role as a Kingdom-building church?
6. (Maybe) What changes do we need to make to enable us to reach and serve a broader slice of the total population living around us?
While many of the leaders in this third group of churches may see this as an excessively institution-centered volume, it is hoped that they will find several of these questions useful additions to their self-appraisal efforts.
The first chapter of this book lifts up eight questions that many congregational leaders will find useful as they seek to describe contemporary reality in their congregation. The first question is a crucial fork-in-the-road question that is one of the most meaningful ways to distinguish one congregation from another. Is this a high-expectation congregation or a low-expectation congregation? The seventh question raises a parallel issue. Is this primarily a Kingdom-building congregation or primarily a congregation-building church? For many leaders the answer to that question will determine which will be the relevant questions for the self-appraisal process.
The second chapter raises eleven traditional questions that can be found in most self-study manuals. The two distinctive contributions of this chapter are (a) a larger context for interpreting the data gathered in response to these questions and (b) suggestions on alternative responses to issues illuminated by this data-gathering process.
In choosing which will be the most useful of these questions, it should be noted that frequently what is measured or counted is what becomes a high priority. Counting the dollars sent away for benevolences may not result in a high quality ministry with families that include teenagers. Too often congregational leaders count and report what is a relatively low priority in their ministry plan.
The third chapter shifts the focus to the more basic question of purpose. The traditional approach to this issue is to begin with a blank sheet of paper and formulate what should be the central reason for the existence of this congregation. That is an appropriate beginning point for those responsible for planting a new mission. The central theme of this chapter, however, is the need to define contemporary reality. In realistic terms what is the current operational statement of purpose? Four questions are suggested as the way to respond to that issue.
Every Christian congregation can be described as a passing parade of people. Every year newcomers join that parade while others leave. The fourth chapter raises eight questions designed to help leaders evaluate their efforts to reach newcomers to the community as well as the unchurched population. Potentially the most valuable information to be gained from this part of the self-appraisal process will come from first-time visitors who never returned or, perhaps, returned a second time before continuing their search for a new church home.
Chapter 5 raises six questions that will help you determine whether your congregation is organized to make preserving the status quo the top priority or to welcome creativity, innovation, change, and a new tomorrow that will be filled with surprises.
The biggest threat to effective congregational planning for a new tomorrow is that means-to-an-end question that will float to the top of the agenda. Many leaders are more comfortable studying issues such as real estate, staffing, money, and schedules than they are reflecting on more intangible and subjective questions such as identity, purpose, role, and God's call. In an effort to keep these means-to-an-end questions from dominating the self-appraisal process, four means-to-an-end questions are reviewed in the sixth chapter, not the first. A better reason for placing them in the sixth chapter is they can be discussed more intelligently if they are not even raised until the fundamental questions on identity, purpose, role, and call have been resolved.
One of the consequences of the emergence of an unprecedented number of very large Protestant congregations in North America is the call for constructing new houses of worship. This frequently evokes two questions. When will we be able to construct a new worship center? How large should we build it? The second of these questions is the theme of the seventh chapter. The answer is, please be patient and reflect on twenty-one other questions before deciding to construct that new big room for worship. Incidentally, since this question is not on the current agenda of most congregations, we will not count it in fulfilling the promise for 44 Questions for Congregational Self-Appraisal!
The last chapter raises three questions that reflect radical changes in how we do ministry in North America in the closing years of the second millennium. The most widely discussed is the shift from teaching to learning. The most challenging is in the responses to the generations born after 1969. The most subtle is a different conceptual framework for describing a congregation. Instead of conceptualizing this as a collection of x number of individuals or y number of families or z number of pledging units, a more useful system is to conceptualize it as a collection of groups of individuals. How many people constitute a group? That is the theme of the last of the forty-four questions in this volume.
In addition to these forty-four basic self-appraisal questions, this volume is enriched by several dozen cartoons lifting up the wisdom, insights, and reflections of that lovable elf, Friar Tuck.
Copyright © 2002 by Abingdon Press