Beyond Bodies, Bucks, and Bricks: Jim Collins on how churches should measure success

Dallas Willard has said that most churches are not intending to produce disciples, but increase their ABC's - attendance, buildings, and cash. Dave Terpstra, pastor of The Next Level Church in Denver and regular contribut-Ur, believes many church leaders focus on these tangible measurements of success because they are simply easy to quantify. In recent months, Terpstra and his elders have been stretched to think differently about discerning ministry success by reading Jim Collins' advice to non-profit organizations. The respected author of Good to Great believes churches and businesses must evaluate success differently.

Jim Collins recently wrote a monograph to accompany his best-selling book "Good to Great" where he examines the application of his book in the social sectors. He was also interviewed on the subject of his monograph for the current issue of Leadership.

In both the monograph and his interview Collins emphasized the importance of being disciplined as an organization in defining goals and assessing results. But the most intriguing aspect of Collins' work is what he suggests true goals and results for not-for-profits should be (and should not be).

Quickly after entering church leadership, most individuals realize that churches find value in the intangibles. Whereas businesses exist to make money for their shareholders, churches and other not-for-profits exist for something else. Collins suggests that one of the biggest mistakes those of us in the social sector make is to follow the business sector in thinking that money is a goal or output of our church.

Quickly after entering church leadership, most individuals realize that churches find value in the intangibles. Whereas businesses exist to make money for their shareholders, churches and other not-for-profits exist for something else. Collins suggests that one of the biggest mistakes those of us in the social sector make is to follow the business sector in thinking that money is a goal or output of our church.

According to Collins, money is only an input in the social sector, not an output. In other words, we need capital and other resources to carry out our work. But increasing capital is not the point of our work?or is it? How are we supposed to define success in the church?Even more to the point, how are we supposed to measure success in the church?

The three most measurable "products" of church communities are bodies, bucks and bricks. It doesn't take long in church leadership to begin to compare your ministry to others. And whether right or wrong, we all evaluate our churches relative to other churches. I believe every church leader asks these sorts of questions: Are more people coming in the door? Are we able to find a place for them to sit and a place to take care of their kids? Are we growing financially so that we can expand our programs to serve them?

June 01, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 31 comments


August 08, 2012  7:09pm

Here's how Jesus described church growth. As you are going, make disciples, teaching them to do all that I have commanded. What churches who are seeing growth need to ask; is our growth due to making disciples or some other reason? Churches that are not growing need to ask; if we are doing discipleship (and we should be) what is the effect. The great commission is given to the entire body regardless of gifting.

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June 10, 2006  11:38am

Microeconomics analyzes corporations for efficiency and productivity; macroeconomics looks at monetary systems and how they are affected by a number of variables. No one in either field works in isolation from the other. Similarly, we might consider "microecclesiology" as a structured way of looking at how particular congregations function in terms of Biblical qualities of faithful communities, and in terms of contemporary organizational principles; and "macroecclesiology" as a means of evaluating the salt and light effect of the church in the world. From the initial posts and subsequent responses, much of the discussion appears to focus in the micro level, with a particular concern for standardizing a useful glossary of relevant terms. Very little macro perspective about measuring church success. Clearer thinking about church success should result from more agreement on the micro terms, yet any measurements would be distorted apart from some sort of macro analysis. My opinion is that both levels of analysis should pay special attention to ethical behavior (e.g., using the Ten Commandments in a manner similar to the Index of Leading Economic Indicators), and theological orthodoxy (a touchy subject, but Biblically and historically significant). Of course, only God truly knows just how successful we are as individual believers and as the church.

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June 10, 2006  2:23am

very interesting article, in my full-time job i visit ministers,over the last 5months i have spoken to over 250,one of the issue's i have noticed is this, is our Church making or having an impact on our community,the gap between community and the church continues to grow to the extent it has become a gulf,and churches that grow have made or are making a significant impact on their community,when you think about it this make sense.

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Mike Piippo

June 09, 2006  9:51pm

Dave Okay. How about - using numbers as a measure of success is pride. Saving the 'one' lost is important enought to leave the '99.' Man's thinking might say ' We have 99 saved - isn't that great!' But obedience to God would say 'go after the one.' It's not the number, it's being obedient. All the numbers you pointed out are a result of obedience to God's will. Praise God for the feeding of five thousand, but also Praise God for saving the one.

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June 09, 2006  1:23pm

Sam Andress - I have not heard anyone suggest that corporate leadership theory should take the place of theology. I don't know where you got that from. Are you saying we should never read and interact with any book besides the Bible? As for large gatherings: I'm pretty sure Jesus won't be upset with our large gatherings since he seemed so fond of them. Please recall the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000. Please recall the thousands who came to faith on Pentecost. If Jesus doesn't like large gatherings, the Spirit should not have inspired the gospel writers to record his large gatherings. And someone should really tell Billy Graham too... John Webb - I agree with your idealism that the church shouldn't need buildings. But China is not a fair illustration because they don't already have church buildings in place. Can an American church survive and thrive for more than 20 years without a building? I'm not sure we can "unprogram" a culture that is so used to church buildings. Mike Pippo - How can you say numbers of any kind is man's pride? Is that just hyperbole? How many people left Egypt? How many disciples did Jesus have? How many loaves and fish? How many thousand were saved on Pentecost? How many mighty men did David have? How many men did Jesus feed in Matthew 14? Matthew 15? What do you do with the numbers of people listed in Acts 2 and 4? If the Bible is able to record these numbers, even if they are just for historical purposes, why wouldn't a church be able to record them for historical purposes as well?

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Reed Fleming

June 09, 2006  12:07pm

Did the Good Shepherd say "97, 98,99,... close enough."? Numbers are a good thing. The early Church obviously counted. We know the number fed.We know the baskets left over. We know how many were baptised at Pentecost. We know that daily the Lord added to their number. If we try and avoid failure by removing any imperical measure we fly in the face of scripture. Jesus was tallying up numbers when the widow put in her mite. He assessed the numbers through Kingdom Values. It is not our measuring that is faulty it is out evaluation of numbers. We need to ensure that a Kingdom World View is our tool for number interpretation. IMHO

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Mike Piippo

June 07, 2006  9:49pm

Using numbers of ANY kind is man's pride showing through. Numbers will happen, good or bad, but to measure success that way – pride. God wants our obedience - for us to be in His will. I believe that is how God will measure our 'success' whe we stand before Him. Take the example of the missionary who labors in the fields all his life and does not lead one person to the Lord - is he a failure? Numbers are nice, and they feel good, and God may bless and encourage us with numbers. But being in His will - that's what it's all about. Now how to be in His will constantly - not sure I'll figure that out. Just doin' what I can with prayer and the Bible. I agree with topten - success is an idol.

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Brother Bob

June 06, 2006  10:51pm

Last year our denomination encouraged churches to report the "results" of their revivals. The numbers they were looking for were baptisms, rededications, etc. We had a revival with Life Action Ministries. Although we had 4 baptisms, we also had numerous marriages saved and/or strengthened, two people who confessed to stealing and offered to pay back the money, one person who tore up her credit cards, several guys who confessed to pornography which eventually led to a men's support group for sexual accountability, and so on. I could not figure out how to report those "results," without sharing confidential confessions, and I never did send in a report.

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Paul Botha

June 06, 2006  9:36pm

I liked what Jim Collins said about the success of our churches; "what impact are we having in our communities?". If we shut the doors to our church, would the community even notice? I believe that we are the light to our community. It should get real dark if we aren't there. If we are there, we should be seeing the community 'lightening up'. Our communities should be provoked, or woken up to the issues that the Church is praying and working into. Issues like: reducing crime rates, reducing social ills, developing people's gifts and talents, caring for the less fortunate, considering and investigating spirituality (specifically Christianity). We need to consider why God has brought us to a specific community and what it is He has mandated for us to do. It always comes back to this challenge: What is God saying to me and am I doing it? (The challenge of real intimacy with God, as opposed to working for Him.)

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John Webb

June 05, 2006  4:19pm

It has never made any sense to me that one of the first things a church does is shoulder itself with so much debt via building projects that it emasculates its ability to effectively carry out its missional purpose. Such "Field of Dreams" mentality (if we build it, they'll come) somehow misses the mark altogether. 1200 people an hour come to Christ in China where they can't even have buildings. It seems that if we were really meeting the needs of the poor and oppressed and effectively breaking down the strongholds of social and economic injustice in the world, that such a witness would draw many more people to Christ than a 50 million dollar building project could ever hope to. Indeed, in talking with the unchurched, their biggest complaint about organized religion is the extravagant spending that goes on to construct walls that isolate the congregations from the community. I'm not saying that bodies, bricks and bucks aren't important. 1. Many bodies bring not only more money to do God's work, they bring the many skills and spiritual gifts necessary to carry out that work. 2. Bricks will eventually be needed,as well. But, doesn't it make more sense to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible when building? Building projects have become arrogant and wasteful beyond reason. This "Super Wal-Mart" mentality has got to cease. 3. If we lay a dollar on the table for missions in Ukraine, for example, it becomes $5.10 over there. If we send it to Belarus it becomes $24 over there! When we can make such an incredible difference how can we justify spending our tithes on ourselves? Bucks are very important, yet we use most of them to build our collective towers of Babel over here and rely on hoagie and bake sales to confront the task of global missions. This is selfish, foolish and flat-out wrong. It's a great embarrassment. Yes, bodies, bricks and bucks are imminently needed in building God's Kingdom. Especially since most of these commodities are being expended on our own endeavors rather than God's.

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