Look Out, Not In

I recently participated in a webinar about church health measures for the local church hosted by an international ministry. The idea was to take a look at the things churches and leaders needed to pay attention to in a post pandemic landscape. I am not here to rag on the webinar or the ministry. It was okay, and they made some okay points, but it was what they left out that concerned me.

One of the points they made was that in person attendance may not be the best measure of church health in the immediate future. It will take time for some folks to feel comfortable coming back, and some may never come back, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be engaged in the life of the church.  So they suggested that churches measure things like small group engagement and conversion numbers. There is nothing wrong with that, but as I listened to the webinar, I noticed that most of what they were asking us to look at or count was internal stuff. There was no mention of measuring or looking at community engagement or the “cup of cold water” ministries that churches, individuals, and groups should be involved in. It seemed like most of what we should be paying attention to was what we were doing for ourselves (people already inside).

I know there could be an argument made that in paying attention to conversions and discipleship metrics, the church is paying attention to community engagement and ministry. The problem is, if we don’t specifically pay attention to how engagement with and ministry to those not on the inside, we will lose sight of the fact that they need to happen. The drift for all of us is always towards looking after ourselves and our friends who attend church with us. We can be very busy doing that, and we can forget our mandate to go and make disciples.

Engagement with and ministry to our communities doesn’t just happen because we have a program set up or our doors are open. It has to be planned for and made a priority. We have to be reminded of it and encouraged towards it. It is part of what a God honouring church engages in, and it is not optional, but unless we plan for it, we won’t ever measure it.  We won’t ever take a look to see if we are being effective. I wanted the webinar to mention this, so it would get on our radars.

I guess that’s what I am doing. I’m getting it on our radars. As church boards and ministry leaders look at what the local church needs to look like going forward, I hope that they are asking questions and making plans as to what ministry to their community will look like. It is part of what a healthy church does.

I don’t want to make this just about boards and committees. You and me, we are the church, so as we all evaluate what our God honouring life looks like lived out once we step into the post pandemic reality, I hope we are all asking questions about what it means for us, as individual Christ followers to go and make disciples, or to love our neighbour, or be a worker in the harvest. Jesus said lots of stuff that would indicate we need to be involved in ministry to our community as well. It is part of what a healthy disciple making disciple does.

Marc McAlister

Director of Leadership Development and Church Health

Free Methodist Church in Canada