Glass half full?
Transformation survey results, Part II
Clarity for churches on mission
Two books written around the turn of the 21st century give different ways to answer the question.
In 1996, Christian A. Schwarz (Natural Church Development) identified eight quality control characteristics of growing churches (e.g., empowering leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate spirituality). He likened these eight characteristics to staves in a wooden barrel. The barrel can only hold as much water as the shortest piece.
The message? Nothing really gets better in your church until you fix the things you’re not doing well.
Five years later, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton (Now, Discover Your Strengths) identified 34 “talent themes” (e.g., activator, futuristic, woo) with a view to helping people discover their top five strengths. The authors advocated that shoring up weaknesses isn’t a worthy pursuit; the greater payback comes from developing strengths.
The message? You excel when you focus on your strengths.
So which is it? Fix the things your church isn’t doing well? Or focus on your church’s strengths?
Short and long staves in MB churches
In 2015, CCMBC conducted its first Transformation survey with 144 MB churches responding. The survey contained three sections: life, church, world transformation.
The middle section investigated church practices.
- 93 percent of churches agreed or strongly agreed that they have a “pray first” practice as they go about church ministry.
- a combined 67 percent of churches have a congregational care model in which people encounter a caring community of Christ.
- 61 percent of church boards conduct a regular performance review of pastors.
- 42 percent of church leadership groups (elders, boards, councils) evaluate their own effectiveness.
- 41 percent of churches have a plan for biblical conflict resolution in a church conflict.
- on average, 28 percent of churches strategically identify and develop future leaders: future elders (58 percent), new pastoral leaders (35 percent), church planters (12 percent), international mission workers (18 percent), camping ministry leaders (16 percent).
The Transformation survey data is fascinating! It shows many churches paying attention to factors that help them to be on mission. Their intentionality in living out the teachings of Scripture that set a high bar for the Body of Christ is evident.
As you read the findings, you quite likely do what I did: wonder about your own church. The “have not” and “do not” side of the ledger is sobering. Is my church numbered with the 7 percent who don’t pray first? or with the 33 percent of churches in which people do not encounter a caring community of Christ? Is my church among the 39 percent who do not conduct performance reviews of pastors, or with the majority of churches (58 percent) who do not evaluate the effectiveness of church leadership groups? Is my church part of the 59 percent of churches who have no plan for how our next conflict will be resolved? Is my church numbered with the 72 percent who do not strategically identify and develop future leaders?
Sobering questions indeed!
Having data about our churches is not in itself the answer. Information doesn’t transform us. It can, however, inspire greater intentionality. If investigation leads us to discover that we don’t know how we’ll address our next conflict, that we aren’t creating a caring community, or that we have not anticipated how we’ll develop leaders, we may have just put our finger on factors that keep us from being a mission fulfilling church.
A long time ago, I encountered the ancient maxim: the unexamined life is not worth living. It’s a strong statement, urging greater self-awareness. It can certainly apply to the church. Churches willing to engage in deliberate self-investigation discover things about themselves that support and/or hinder mission fulfillment. On the other hand, those unwilling to gain greater self-awareness never quite know what keeps them from thriving in mission-fulfilling ways, and so they languish.
CCMBC has developed a variety of resources that respond to the needs and interests of a local church. The C2C Network coaches churches to plant and develops church planters. Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary helps students become passionate and committed followers of Jesus who are biblically astute, theologically aware, culturally discerning and active in mission. CCMBC partners with MB Mission in developing on-mission followers of Jesus through programs like TREK and AWAKE.
But each of these assumes that a local church already knows its needs and interests. L2L’s Coach Us tool is a unique assessment process to help a church tell herself the truth about herself. Accessible at www.L2Lnet.org, Coach Us findings give a church the ability to know herself. The process, put simply, provides clarity. And when a church has clarity about what she is doing well (e.g., developing young leaders or developing church planters), that can be celebrated. When the findings show a lack of clarity (e.g., we don’t pray first or we have no conflict resolution method), then the church knows where greater investment is needed.
How much is in the glass?
Back to our quandary. Do we shore up our weaknesses or develop our strengths?
It turns out the answer includes elements of both. When Jesus said he would build his church (Matthew 16:18), he meant what he said! The Holy Spirit guides the church, Scripture instructs the church and spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit innervate the church. These all happen at Jesus’ initiative.
Yet Jesus also invites human initiative. And obedience. The church has an obligation to keep asking, “Jesus, are we going about being church the way you want us to? Are our practices aligned with your desires for us?”
The questions, though uncomfortable, are the right ones.
—Ron Toews is director of L2L, a ministry of the Canadian Conference of MB Churches.