What is important and what we find ourselves doing are often two very different things. We get that. We often drift away from significance in many realms of life. Drift is easy to start and hard to stop.
But what seems more troubling is when we actively measure our drift as calibrated metrics of success. Like an adolescent proudly declaring how many days he has not eaten a vegetable, the evangelical subculture still finds itself comparing and competing on frivolous metrics while neglecting that which is spiritually substantial.
The church growth hangover is tough to shake off.
Rewiring our long-established ecclesiastical hardwiring can be an exasperating procedure. Much of our spiritual muscle memory has been dedicated to the objective of growing a worship gathering—and it is not easy to train new muscles.
Rethinking and recalibrating this instinctive pattern can be a challenging assignment for those gutsy enough to attempt it. But for those who dare, they just might discover something more powerful than the most polished gathering. An ecclesiological upgrade that more resembles the first century than the twenty-first.
It starts with what we measure.
Physicians instinctively get this idea. They rarely look at a patient’s stature and predict his level of health. To a physician, ‘tall’ doesn’t mean healthy, nor ‘short’, unhealthy. Instead, they have a handful of significant metrics that they measure which are commonly called ‘vital signs.’
Vital signs are significant to a physician for quickly ascertaining the general health and wellbeing of a patient. These are not a comprehensive picture of a person’s health, but if something is awry in any one of them, major health complications usually follow.
In the same way, the following four marks of a Kingdom-centric church do not describe every nuance of health, but deficiencies here can tell a troubling story of the road ahead.
1. Do We Have New Believers?
If a church manages to successfully grow at a rapid pace, but baptisms (if that is how your church measures death to life stories) are limited primarily to children (from already believing families), and the previously evangelized transferring in (and submitting to a new mode of baptism) —could this be considered health? Certainly, any measurements of health should include an evaluation to see if the lost are being found and added to the family of faith.
Consequently, a high value must be placed on measuring gospel impact in the lives of those formerly far from Christ.
For most churches, this requires careful spiritual reconnaissance of an area to determine patterns of resistance. Does this neighborhood or people group have emotional, intellectual, or volitional barriers to the message of Jesus? Accurately understanding the soil that you are investing in will return great rewards when it is harvest time.
The ability to successfully advance the subsequent three vital signs hinges directly on a church’s effectiveness in engaging the lost. A church is forming the culture and raw materials necessary for tremendous Kingdom impact when new believers are regularly discovering faith in Christ.
2. Are We Building New Disciple-makers?
The word ‘discipleship’ has lost much of its punch over the past half century. For many, discipleship refers to a deeper process brought about through study courses and bible studies.
Jesus’ call for the church to “go and make disciples,” is too often artificially fulfilled with a godly leader and a small group of eager bible students concealed in a venue that is well insulated from the lost sheep.
If disciple-making (which includes helping the evangelized develop into becoming fishers of men themselves) is not a part of a church’s strategic processes—is that church obedient to the commission of Christ?
A Kingdom-centric church will help shape this expectation in their disciples very early on in the discipleship process. Evangelism is an unfinished task until those evangelized find themselves evangelizing.
A church that has substantial Kingdom impact will regularly measure its effectiveness in engaging the breadth of its membership in the assignment of being fishers of men. For the church’s leadership, this metric is carefully monitored and publicly celebrated with frequency.
3. Are We Multiplying New Communities of Faith?
Any understanding of a church’s health that does not account for the normative reproduction of its Kingdom assignment into other geographies and cultural expressions should be dismissed as a relic of a more self-serving era.
A church with no plans or strategy in place to “give itself away” to populations and geographies with little or no access to an effective gospel proclaiming church cannot consider itself whole.
There is likely a significant reason why McDonalds does not construct a Super McDonald’s restaurant in the epicenter of every city and insist that hamburger aficionados commute to its central headquarters where they can enjoy all the amusing embellishments that can be offered with a restaurant of dominant size.
Instead, they scattered a myriad of restaurants across every city, expressing themselves in different shapes and sizes, and with different themes and appeal. Why? Because McDonald’s number one value is food sales, not customer assemblage.
Franchises do not publicly appear to compete with one another for the longest lines or fullest dining rooms. They organize and synergistically cooperate together to effectively accomplish their primary value. They sell hamburgers.
What should be a church’s primary value? What on earth should it count as more precious than everything else? Should it not be the lost son or daughter being eternally united with his or her Heavenly Father?
If this is our highest value, then it follows that a church would behave somewhat McDonalds-like in its planning. It would become a facilitator for multiple movements of these ‘eternal reunions’ to take place within diverse neighborhoods and people groups. The church operating in this way correctly sees itself as a tool for the assignment, not the reason of the assignment.
Great commission churches search for ‘gospel gaps,’ whether these are affinity-based, linguistic, or cultural. These gaps become troubling to their collective spirits—motivating them to prayerfully seek solutions to this eternal problem.
4. Can We See Community Transformation?
Finally, is it possible to consider a church to be healthy that has little or no transformative presence in the community in which it exists? Certainly, Christ’s notion of his unstoppable community would more closely resemble his own personal ministry than our best ideas on a well-polished worship experience.
Once again, time and experience will advise a Kingdom-centric church how to release its membership as selfless agents of transformation wherever they exist. The testimony of this health indicator can be observed as salt and light penetrating hidden places that a worship gathering could never find.
Metrics to quantify gained ground in this area become less objective and more anecdotal. Counting ‘Kingdom Imprint’ – the documented occasions when a believer meets a physical need in the community and attaches verbal credit to the grace of Jesus Christ can be one way to make the subjective a bit more objective.
Four distinct Kingdom characteristics: all reproducing by nature, and all expressing our King’s desires for his creation. The church of Jesus Christ, united together and dreaming the very desires of King Jesus is an amazing thought to behold. The transformative power of that dream will be documented in a history not yet written, but none-the-less real.
A church existing for the Kingdom of God will always be reminiscent of a heroic, rescue mission for one very loved and lost lamb.
It’s much more dangerous than it sounds.
And it is so much better.