Last time we talked about how in leadership having a “check yourself” mentality is necessary. You can read that here. I want to spend some time talking about the specifics of effectiveness when dealing with church for the next several weeks. One thing I want to clarify is that effectiveness does not mean bigger numbers and more people. If you relegate to numbers as a metric of success then you’ll end up with a big group and not much life change in that group. In the end that becomes a big social club. I will also say that my observation has been that what is needed to attain growth is counter intuitive in that the best way to do that is to not concentrate as hard on numerical growth.
I recall telling a co-leader of a small group we lead that we didn’t need a large group, we needed 2 or 3 faithful consistent members. I can build with two or three. In fact, it seems that for me, historically the key to growth has been life change in the ones who are already there. Now, that doesn’t mean numbers aren’t something to look at, since those are also a sign of life change. I find people go where they see others are getting life and that if people are getting life they’ll share that with others. So new visitors are a good indirect sign that life change is happening. That’s how momentum is developed and you get a snowball effect.
I think where I’d like to start, in terms of gauging success, is with something Ed Young Jr. mentioned that struck me as a great tool. It’s the “1/3 rule” and I tend to use it as a filter when leading groups.
That is a great sign that you are reaching out, while at the same time doing a good job of discipling those coming in. I don’t mind telling you that this is difficult to get to, takes a bunch of work, and it’s worth it. It’s a great sign that a group is healthy and growing well. I think I’ve been able to get here a few times with small groups I’ve started. The 1/3 rule is a good sign that you’re discipling new believers well, especially if you can maintain this scenario as you grow.
The problem here will be in determining which 1/3 people will fall into, and at this point, I feel there will be some grey areas about that. That may seem like a bit of judging is going on since you’re placing people into spiritual boxes and I would agree with you. So would Paul, and he’d also say to do it in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 .
While I can already see the dangers in over standardizing growth regarding something fluid like a person’s spiritual journey, I do feel that helping quantify where people are spiritually is loving in that you are setting appropriate expectations. I have found over the years that the people who have been most hurt are the ones that haven’t received clear communication regarding the expectations of others that were based on where they were perceived to be in their spiritual journey.
The push back here is that there is danger in an over standardized view of spiritual growth since it can cause people to feel they need to look a certain way in order to grow in Christ. The opportunity here is that people already struggle with comparison. This will magnify it and will cause you to deal more directly with the issue by pushing people to know more of their identity in Christ.
This is also helpful when someone is looking for a church they can join with. This is especially true given that different church’s have different distinctions and each person is responsible for finding a community in which they fit. At the same time, our goal as the church should be to reduce as many barriers as possible that would block people from coming to know and grow in Christ.
Part of the barrier reduction task requires developing clarity so that as people walk in they have a clear process for how to be involved. I find as a general rule that people are looking to be led. If you can help clarify things for them, give them a way to serve, and something to do, then they’ll stay. If people have vision for how to participate and succeed in anything, then they’re more likely to stay and get involved. If you give them feedback, then they’re even more likely to be satisfied in whatever they’re doing. People like knowing what’s expected, and if they are succeeding.
The Square Peg in the Round Hole
I do want to say that there is some danger in over quantifying a person’s spiritual growth since it becomes easier to attempt to shove someone into a box in which they don’t fit. I think the 1/3 rule addresses this in that it requires discipleship so that you don’t end up with a 1/6 non-believers, 4/6 new believers, and 1/6 mature. The rule necessitates discipleship.
The thing about discipleship is that it takes a one-on-one or two-on-one relational coaching scenario. This is great because you have to hear someone’s story before you can know how to appropriate the grace of God on their lives in a way that is applicable to the larger community.
On the same note, there are times that you’ll think people are in a new believer status, then as you begin coaching them you realize that they are actually in a mature believer stage due to obedience level in their journey. The discipleship that this rule necessitates removes condemnation since the goal isn’t to condemn but to be helpful in moving people forward toward health in their relationship with Christ.
I want to hear your feedback. What do you think? Is the 1/3 rule helpful in giving you a tool by which you can gauge group health and effectiveness? Do you think it helps push towards greater discipleship?