Just as a neglected car engine will eventually break down and leave you stranded, failure to do regular checks within the church will lead to breakdown and pain. By the time the signs are obvious it is too late.
Too often we check the wrong things, attendance, offerings, buildings, events, name recognition, web traffic, Facebook likes, etc. These measurables have their purpose and place, but they are not the vital internals that make the whole thing run. These are like the performance numbers of a car and give an inaccurate picture of what is happening internally. They are usually behind what is happening. A car’s performance numbers will fade as parts get older, but only measuring performance without checking fluid levels is a recipe for disaster.
The things that I am talking about within the church are the deeper spiritual things we should be checking: prayer life, personal time in scripture, witnessing, people involved in ministry, leadership development, community among people, unity, generosity, faith. These are the real issues of health and strength for a congregation.
It takes hard work, intentionality, attention, focus, and strategy in order to measure these and keep them running at a healthy level.
The obvious measurable within church life tend to follow behind the spiritual health cycle of a church. Often, when the spiritual condition of a church (or person, for that matter) is unhealthy, the outward measurable look good. This will remain true for a time, but eventually they will catch up. By the time the performance numbers reflect the unhealth that has existed, momentum has shifted to a negative flow.
During the transition from spiritual unhealth to health, the church must endure pain and discomfort from the outward measurable being on a downward trend. This trend can feel like a downward spiral causing panic. Once the panic button is pushed, then it is only a matter of time until the church no longer exists. When we react out of panic, we make hasty decisions and we act in ways that actually add to the negative momentum.
However, if we remain calm and focused on the things that matter and do not react to performance numbers while reestablishing spiritual health, we will begin to turn the tide of momentum. This is not a quick process. It takes time. Momentum does not shift easily.
As health is restored, the outward measurables often stay at the lower level. Again, staying true to the course and holding to the purpose and objective is key. Knee-jerk reactions will only cause more pain and a delay in the recovery.
This is the law of sowing and reaping. It takes a season for the results of the seeds to reach the point of harvest. Then it sometimes still takes even more time until that harvest can be enjoyed.
Of course, not all downtimes are the result of spiritual unhealth. Some are just the cycle of life and communities.
This is why it is so important to measure the right things.
I don’t know if the oil is good by checking the air in the tires. I also don’t know if the transmission fluid is proper by how the motor sounds when revved up.
To keep a car running long term requires regular maintenance and faithfully checking the right things.
To keep a church effectively reaching the lost and operating in a way honoring to God requires regularly checking the things that matter most.
How is the prayer life?
Are people studying Scripture on their own?
Are congregants telling others about Jesus in daily life?
How much of a percentage of the people is truly involved?
How effectively are leaders being developed?
Are the people unified in purpose?
Is the church generous?
…and so on…