The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Too often church planters focus on the things that they can count easily, even when it blinds them to the more important transformative measures that correlate more closely with the biblical concepts of repentance and discipleship.
During my time as a church planter in southern Spain, specifically in the rural communities in the south of the Cordoba province where I worked for fourteen years, I often found myself asking two questions. First, how could I measure the effectiveness of what I was doing, and second, what was I to make of all the things that God was clearly doing in my community that had nothing to do with my strategies to build his Kingdom?
In some parts of the world, churches can be planted in a matter of weeks, and so church planters can easily evaluate their ministry. Church planting in many parts of Europe is slow and painstaking. How then can European church planters measure the effectiveness of their work? This is the fundamental question that this chapter seeks to explore.
The first part of this text presents the findings of primary research on church planting effectiveness conducted in 2011 among European church planters. The second part considers church planting effectiveness from a theological and missiological perspective and asks what this means for church planting if mission is firstly about the missio Dei. The third and final part makes use of the four marks of the church in the Nicene Creed to suggest how more useful effectiveness measures might be developed.
PART ONE: CHURCH PLANTING EFFECTIVENESS IN EUROPE
The following is a summary of my research that was first published in Vista, Redcliffe College’s quarterly journal of research-based information on mission in Europe.
Methodology and sampling issues
The research was conducted in early 2011 in collaboration with an open network of European church planters. The eurochurch.net database was used to contact respondents by email, and the results were gathered using a self-administered online questionnaire. (Eurochurch.net is an association which seeks to bring church planting practitioners and missional thinkers into an ongoing conversation about mission in Europe. This has involved developing a database of church planting networks which was used for this research) There were three principal research questions:
1. Do European church planters use specific tools to measure the effectiveness of their church planting approach, and if so, which ones?
2. Do European church planters use specific tools to measure their own personal effectiveness, and if so, which ones?
3. Do European church planters use specific tools to measure the impact or influence of their church plant on the local community?
In total, 125 church planters responded to the survey. Ninety percent of respondents were male, and their age distribution is reflected in Figure 1. They had on average twelve years of experience in church planting. The sample included nationals from eighteen different countries, but there was a distinct Anglo-bias with one in three respondents being of British origin, and one in six from the USA. There was a much greater diversity with respect to their location, with twenty-four different European countries mentioned.
The question about affiliation revealed a significant diversity in the dataset with more than twenty different church denominations, twelve mission organizations, and over twenty local or international church planting networks. Nevertheless, it should be noted that twenty-four of the respondents said they were associated with the Baptist Church, and nineteen were missionaries with European Christian Mission (ECM).
Almost half (58) of respondents said they used some sort of tool to evaluate the effectiveness of their church planting approach. The most popular tool was to count heads. One in six (20) used some simple quantitative measure; the number of church plants or groups established, leaders trained, attendance, conversions, disciples, financial data, and so on.
The second most popular tool (13) was peer evaluation. This might be a formal evaluation with colleagues or leaders, monthly ministry reports, participation in a learning community, or reflective practice. Other respondents (9) used qualitative measures to assess the spiritual health of the new Christian community; the quality of discipleship church planters the development of leaders, or the spiritual health of participants. One asked: “Are authentic relationships being built? Is love encouraged and practiced?”
Two other tools were commonly used. Seven people said they used surveys or questionnaires to evaluate their work, and seven others measured their church planting against objectives, purposes, or a vision statement, such as the strategic plan of the mission agency, or Rick Warren’s five purposes. Only one considered the community around the church as a valid way of measuring the effectiveness of their church planting approach.
The Effectiveness of Church Planting Strategy
Personal Effectiveness of the Church Planter
Only 37 percent (46) of the church planters in the survey said that they consciously evaluated their personal effectiveness. Their primary method was measuring themselves against the objectives, purposes, or vision statement of their mission or ministry (15). Several mentioned that this occurred during their appraisal by their leadership. Two even measured themselves against a timesheet!
Once again, quantitative measures were commonly mentioned. Eight church planters considered the number of attendees, converts, baptisms, cell groups, financial sustainability, and so on, to be a valid measure of their personal effectiveness. Only three saw the spiritual health of their congregation as an indicator of how well they were doing their work. Those who did, however, seemed to ask some valuable questions: “Am I praying for the community, for the church plant, and for all the relationships being established? Am I being bold and meeting new people regularly? What is my motivation when I meet people?”
Measuring impact or influence of the church on the community
When it comes to evaluating the impact or influence that the church plant has on its community, only a third of respondents said they had some way of measuring this. Once again, most of the church planters (10) who suggested a specific measure focused on the numbers attending activities, the size of the congregation, the number of leaders, or the number of missional communities.
Seven respondents used a survey to evaluate the impact or influence they have on the local community, although three of these were internal church health surveys, like the aforementioned Natural Church Development (NCD) studies. Only six engaged more directly with the community to ask their evaluation of the church plant. The specific methods included listening and observation, dialogue with visitors, feedback forms, interviews with people outside the church, developing partnerships, and “finding out what people in town are saying about the church.”
Surprisingly, five respondents looked to their peers as the best people to evaluate their impact on their community, and one further respondent saw the discipleship vision of their organization as the only legitimate measure of their impact.
Given the small sample size, gender, and nationality bias of the respondents, and the preponderance of Baptists and ECM missionaries, we cannot say that this is a representative sample of church planters in how can we measure the effectiveness of church planting? 199 Europe. Nevertheless, it does indicate some issues which might be addressed in future studies, or taken into account by mission agencies as they reflect on their own evaluation strategies.
Many church planters do not take time to evaluate what they do
Less than half of the church planters in this study made any attempt to evaluate their work, whether their church planting strategy, their own personal effectiveness, or their impact on the local community. That church planters are more interested in action than reflection is not surprising. That so few engage in any sort of evaluation of their ministry is striking. Further research would be necessary to ascertain the reasons for this reluctance.
Many church planters are focused on numbers
This research found that when church planters do stop to evaluate what they are doing, they appear to depend predominately on quantitative measures. For some this involves a simple head count of attendees, conversions, or leaders in training. For others it involves financial data, or the number of groups established in a certain timeframe. Given that the very mission of a church planter is to see new Christian communities formed, some degree of evaluation by numbers is useful. More worrying, however, was the significant number of church planters who judge their own personal effectiveness in this same way: “If the church grows by a couple or more people becoming Christians every week, my work as a missionary has been effective.” Given the challenging context of mission in Europe, this way of thinking puts huge pressure on the missionary to produce results, and this may lead to frustration, or worse, if the expected results are not achieved.
Peer review is an important tool for the evaluation of church planting strategy
After raw numbers, this study found that the second most important tool for evaluating the church planting approach or strategy was some form of peer review. Church planters look to their colleagues to validate their 200 part iii: church planters work, to give them meaningful feedback, and thus evaluate the effectiveness of their approach. In some cases, this happens formally through regular team meetings, participation in a learning community, or by periodic coaching, supervision, and review. But however it happens, it is clear that a number of church planters do engage in reflective practice and look to their peers for honest appraisal of their work.
Quality is important to church planters
The spiritual health of the planted congregation was the third most popular measure for evaluating the effectiveness of their ministry—at least for the church planters in this study. Often this was done through self-questioning: “Is the church growing spiritually? How are the people doing in their personal growth in Jesus? How are they using their spiritual gifts?” Most church planters used either quantitative or qualitative measures. Only a small minority used both.
The personal effectiveness of church planters is principally measured against objectives
It is common for church planters, or their leadership/organization, to establish a vision, purposes, or objectives to orient and evaluate the development of a church planting initiative. What this research has shown, however, is that these objectives were not being used so much to evaluate the strategy or impact on the community, but rather as the principal means to evaluate the church planter’s personal effectiveness. This might satisfy the requirements of the mission organization or sponsoring agency, but does a timesheet, the setting of goals, or an annual review by checklist satisfy the church planter’s need for meaningful feedback on their effectiveness?
Church planters do use surveys to evaluate their work, but not always appropriately
Surveys are used by church planters to evaluate their work, especially the Natural Church Development (NCD) materials of Schwarz. However, how can we measure the effectiveness of church planting? 201 the NCD church profile focuses on the internal quality characteristics of the congregation, not the effectiveness of the planter, nor the impact on the local community. Yet several of the respondents said they used NCD to evaluate these things. Other surveys were used to evaluate the impact of the church on the community by some church planters, though no specifics were forthcoming. Very few church planters ask the community to evaluate their work
Finally, church planters appear very reluctant to ask their community to evaluate their work. Even when the question specifically asks for the tools they use to measure the impact or influence of the congregation on their community, only six said they looked to the community to evaluate them.
Surely some degree of contextual research would give church planters valuable information and feedback on their impact in the locality where they work. The questions of one church planter in this regard might be asked by all those engaged in church planting in Europe today: “Is the church plant identifying with the community by fully being a part of the community? Is the church plant working towards a better future for the community and enabling transformation to happen?”
The working title for this chapter was “Effectively Ignorant,” because that is the sorry situation of most European church planters. Too few give any time to evaluating the effectiveness of what they are doing. Too many use crude quantitative tools and draw inaccurate conclusions from them because they are measuring inappropriately.
Is there a way for church planters to escape the “quantitative obsession”? Too often we focus on the things that we can count easily (for example, the numbers attending a meeting), even when it blinds us to the more important transformative measures that correlate more closely with the biblical concepts of repentance and discipleship. Perhaps a way forward is to consider the effectiveness of church planting, and mission more generally, from the perspective of the missio Dei.
Next article: "Part Two: Church Planting and the Missio Dei"
Jim Memory is church planter and lecturer.
Used with permission from Wipf and Stock Publishers.
 Memory, Vista, 2011/1, 1–3. 2.
 The bias in the sample reflects something of the dominant churchmanship of the eurochurch.net database, and also the fact that, as the lead researcher was a member of ECM, those belonging to that organization were more likely to return the questionnaire.
 For example, the Natural Church Development (NCD) tool developed by Christian Schwartz.
 Warren, Purpose Driven Church.
 6. Schwarz, Natural Church Development.