Measuring Success in the Church World: We’ve Gotten it All Wrong

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One of the more difficult and controversial things to do in the church world is to determine what the right measures of success should be.

What is success and how do I measure it?

Is it the number of people attending weekend services?
Is it the number of people getting baptized each year?
Is it the number of Bible studies people are going to?
Is it how much people are giving?
Is it the quality of music?
Is it the eloquence and popularity of the speaking?

I guess, all of these could be and should be a part of measuring whether a church is going in the right direction, yet…

I’ve known churches that were growing in numbers and were unstable, unfocused and unhealthy.
I’ve known churches who were in a season where lots of seeds of hope were being planted, yet not a lot of people had crossed the line of faith, and the question is: Does that make them unsuccessful? “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:7
I’ve know rich churches, due to being surrounded by a strong economic community, wasting and underutilizing their precious resources.
Music, speaking? If it is an end all rather than a tool to propel people towards justice, mercy and humility, then it is a banging gong and clanging cymbal.

Church growth experts have said, “You measure by attendance.”

Discipleship movements have said, “You measure by Bible knowledge.”

“If having an orthodox theology is enough, satan is saved… Jesus wants more than theology” Tony Campolo

Jesus said, “You are measured by what you did for the least of these.”

American scholar and leadership guru, Warren Bennis wrote, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. “

The main way we measure success at Green Valley Community Church is by answering the question, “Is the vision, that every Christ follower should be using their time, talents and treasures to serve the least of these, being translated into a practical, biblical, active reality?”

And though I love that our attendance is growing and many each year are getting baptized and most are taking the time in small groups to grow deeper in God’s wisdom and our offerings are generous and our music is really good and hopefully our sermons are informational, inspirational and practical, I STILL FEEL LIKE THE GREATEST DIAGNOSTIC TEST FOR A HEALTHY CHURCH IS: Are more and more Christ followers engaging in being a voice to the voiceless, are they, with their passions, giftings, experiences and resources, living out what Isaiah chapter 58 calls the true fast?

This last Saturday, at my church, I was able to see a clear answer to that question when over 300 volunteers showed up to spend an entire day learning how to be better at serving and caring for our community and world.

From children’s workers, homeless activists, car mechanics serving the underprivileged, pastoral partners, transition home organizers, Celebrate Recovery and Landing volunteers, foster care sponsors, teen-age student leaders, food and clothing directors, funeral and grief share supporters, the list goes on and on and I’m leaving out so many…they showed up in masses to learn how to better serve the least of these.

OVER 300 people showed up to learn about the skills of boundaries, listening, praying and healthy crisis intervention. They attended breakout sessions learning about mental health, mandated reporting and what poverty looks like in our nation and world.

We were hoping for 100. We were hoping that if some of our core leaders would show up for the training it would be a success.

When over 300 showed up, my staff and I celebrated two things:

One, in the words of Warren Bennis, the vision to serve the least of these, is clearly more than just words at Green Valley, but it is becoming a reality.

Two, we celebrated that the biblical structure of the church, understanding that we are the body of Christ, and that we all have gifts and passions to live out, is also becoming a reality.

When the whole body is working together offering its time, talents and treasures towards justice and mercy, SUPERNATURAL things happen.

Most of the time, when this isn’t happening, it’s because church leaders are not teaching and modeling Biblical structure.

I have always said, “Leaders who help release people’s passions allow love and hope to go viral. Leaders who try to get all the credit stop that possibility.”

It’s funny, there’s a lot of debate and confusion in the church world these days, about how to measure success, but I am starting to see that the scriptures are very clear:

“Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help…Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.” Isaiah 58:6-9

Would love to hear some of your thoughts.

Twitter: @kenburkey

5 Attributes of Successful Non-Profit Leaders

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1. They have a clear, uncompromising, passionate vision about what their organization is about.

Successful leaders make sure that they are the voice and keeper of the vision.

As Pastor Bill Hybels once stated “Vision leaks.” People who are in the trenches working heroically, fighting injustice, serving the underprivileged and defending the marginalized can become tired and discouraged and forget the overall vision of why they are there and why the organization exists.

When we are tired or discouraged, vision will seep out of us and fear and compromise will creep into us.

THE most important job as a leader is to keep the vision clear and find ways through celebratory stories, inspiring teachings, consistent systems and personal examples to remind people why they are there.

I call this “Creative Redundancy”.

One of the most effective tools for fundraising for non-profits is a clear vision. Resources flow out of  vision.

Successful leaders do this.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” —Proverbs 29:18

2. They leave managing things to others and they focus their time investing in, recruiting and leading people.

People are the most important commodity of any organization and especially a non-profit organization.

This is a fundamental philosophy that every leader must adhere to.

The strength of your people = The effectiveness of your organization.

Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a WWII hero, observed, “You manage things; you lead people.”

With all the demands of details, tasks and systems, leaders must make sure that the majority of their time is in growing people towards their greatest potential.

Great organizations have great people and great people will give their best and will commit to the long haul not because of pay or perfect systems, but because the vision is clear and because they feel invested in and valued.

3. They are suspicious of success and keep the organization grateful, humble and optimistically dissatisfied.

Short term success has killed more organizations than short term failure. One of the biggest responsibilities of a leader is to help his/her organization navigate success.

Success can make us sloppy with budgets, overestimate our abilities and comfortable with the status quo.

Successful leaders learn how to celebrate wins while reminding people that pending successes are not guaranteed and that humility and gratefulness lead to a sustainable, winning future.

Successful leaders learn to create a sustainable discord where victories are celebrated but the tension of uncompleted goals propel the organization forward.

4. They understand that talk is cheap and clearly defined results are the measure of success.

U.S.C. professor and leadership guru Warren Bennis says it very succinctly, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

Bottom line: If vision isn’t becoming reality, successful leaders take full ownership of the problem and spend sleepless nights trying to figure out how to make effective changes.

Mediocre leaders justify, compromise, pass the blame and learn to live with a lack of urgency  that infects those they are leading.

One of the most important things successful leaders do is they clearly define what organizational success is and then they evaluate their successes accordingly. This takes deep conviction and confidence in themselves to say, “I have failed, I can do better.”

Successful leaders live deeply rooted in reality while striving for and reaching for idealism.

5. They sacrifice ego to empower those they are leading to greatness, thus making the organization stronger and more sustainable.

Successful leaders learn to navigate the difficult transition from top down leadership to servant leadership.

Servant leadership involves making sure people are working in their strengths and passions.

Servant leadership involves helping people grow holistically.

Servant leadership involves allowing others to get credit while remaining quietly in the background.

Servant leadership involves collaboration, humility, inner strength, less fame and a commitment to a greater cause.

When servant leaders retire, their organizations usually transition well because values are deep, vision is clear, and structure is sustainable because it was not built on one person or one personality.

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” —Jack Welch

“The job of love is to help someone realize their potential.” Bono

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Max DePree