Those of us who raised our hand years ago and said we felt God calling us into ministry are probably not naturally drawn to numbers. Ministry is about people, relationships, ideas, and communication, not data analysis and complex algorithms. That’s part of what makes us feel like ministry ‘fits’ our personality and natural inclinations.
We spend a great deal of time preparing for such things as pastoral counseling, preaching, education strategy, and effective leadership. The last time I checked, there were very few seminary classes on technology, especially how to use technology to make better ministry decisions. And I’d venture to bet that statistics and mathematical modeling weren’t too high on our list of interests either, but this quote hits home, "The shepherd doesn’t say, 'I have around 100 sheep.' He knows he has exactly 100, and that is why he goes looking for the lost sheep when he only counts 99."
Following Your Gut is not Always the Best Strategy for Success
It’s natural to gravitate to our most comfortable mode of operations. We place a great deal of confidence in phrases such as ‘I think’, ‘I believe’, and ‘I feel’. Feelings and intuition are two things that make us great at providing ministry leadership to the communities in which we serve. The only drawback is that as organizational leaders, following your gut is not always the best strategy for success.
It’s happened to all of us. We got all the right people on board. We set aside the right amount of money and launched what seemed like the right program at the right time to meet a very specific, felt need. Only the result was much less than what we anticipated. We scratched our heads and wondered what we did wrong. We struggled to identify what we missed along the way.
For most of us, we often wrestle with those experiences for a few days. After finding no reasonable explanation, we simply chalk it up to a number of different things. We never guaranteed results in the first place, so it’s not as if we made any promises to the people involved or the church at large. We just move along and resolve to do it differently and hope for better results moving forward.
Break the Cycle
It’s a tough cycle to break. And most will never ‘do church’ differently than what is described above. Many who fill positions of ministry leadership in local churches will serve their entire careers resting solely upon intuition and simply hoping for the best.
That does not have to be the reality.
Intuition is a bad disciple-making strategy. There is another way.
Engaging with any organization is a process Your credit card company knows this. The organizations you contribute to know this. Your bank knows this.
It seems that oftentimes this level of intentionality and informed decision-making is evident to everyone except the church leader. In our unwavering faith, we assume that people will proactively come to our church, find their place, plug into ministry, find a small group connection, start giving and grow in their relationship with God on their own with no setbacks or special attention. If you’ve been in ministry very long you know that this is not how it happens.
If you’re like many churches that struggle in this area, it could be the way you’re managing the most precious assets you have - the people in your church.
Obviously, you don’t mean to mismanage those resources. It simply ends up being the ‘default’ methodology that we settle for when we haven’t been exposed to a better plan to capitalize on the time, talent, treasure, and testimony of those people within our church communities
Will you ‘ fly blind’ or figure out a way too validate and inform the decisions you’re making? Are these decisions helping or hindering your ability to fulfill the vision God has placed on your heart?
Unless they were part of some insane reality show, most people did not ask their spouse to marry them on the first date. Over time, they interacted with one another, learned more about each other, and one day realized they wanted to ‘do’ life together . . . forever! The process of building a meaningful relationship with someone is the same way you should think about people interacting with your church. It takes time. And if you violate the natural timetable, it messes everything up and interrupts the process.
Think about the membership process in four distinct stages:
This usually occurs through strategies related to outreach, evangelism and the ever-present guest services or welcome team.
This occurs when someone says ‘I’m interested in your organization.’ There are several ways to create and foster these connections, allowing for exchange of information from all parties. They can include:
- connection cards
- pew registers
- youth ministry check-in
- small groups
- outreach events
- prayer request cards/e-mail
- kids' check-in
- an information desk
This happens when a commitment has been made and God is working through that individual to impact the Kingdom through your church. That’s the point when equipping is taking place.
This usually occurs during a “breakup". Human nature usually leads us to evaluate our processes only when something is not working as expected. The old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t x it” doesn’t work if we’re seeking excellence and continued improvement in our membership process.
Now that you have a framework to assign the different levels of engagement, you have to define what each one looks like in your church’s context because every church is going to have it’s own unique variations.
The process gives you ways to measure what ‘is’, not what you ‘think’, ‘believe’, or ‘feel.’ It allows you to support your idealism (what you hope is happening) with realism (what is actually happening).
When you do that, you can better understand if the programs you have in place and the money you are spending are producing the intended results.
Honor the reality that engaging with your church is a process. Build a system to inform and validate your decisions.
Adopting a "next step engagement" mentality
We know that getting more people through our doors will not automatically make more disciples. This is where we can miss it when it comes to technology. It’s not just about tracking attendance, mailing information, and contribution records.
Technology enables us to manage our relationship with the member and their steps toward a relationship with Christ
When dating in high school, we used the phrase ‘define the relationship’. It was that moment when you both knew intuitively it was time to determine whether or not the relationship was worth pursuing further. Church membership is similar. The difference is you are not looking for what people are saying necessarily as much as what they are doing.
Let’s look at the membership process as we defined it in the last chapter. Only this time, we’ll ask a key question to help us define the relationship.
What caused someone to show interest in your church for the first time?
How can we discover the gifts we each bring to the relationship?
Does the behavior of a member — over time — reflect deeper levels of engagement? Why or why not?
Upon ending the relationship, do we understand why? How can we learn from the experience, good or bad?
There have been examples where I’ve known someone that has stopped attending a church and it easily brings three questions to the forefront:
- Does the church even know that they left?
- Does the church know why they left?
- Does the church really want to know why they left?
The last question may seem silly but as a church leader it’s often much easier for me to blame someone’s exodus on their spiritual maturity or some other external factor than it is for me to admit that maybe it has to do with something that the church has done (or not done in some cases).
Technology enables leaders to find ways to measure what’s working and what isn’t. You have a better idea of how ‘healthy’ your members are – a quick ‘welfare check’ of your numbers can tell you if people who have attended a new membership class are giving, serving, and connecting to a small group. But you wouldn’t know that if you weren’t measuring.
The information contained within your church membership system is absolutely mission-critical data, which provides a window into the life of an individual member to ensure they are growing spiritually. Do you know
- Who has been connected in small groups for at least six months?
- Who has attended every class on missions but never taken a missions trip?
- Who has been missing from small groups for four consecutive weeks?
- How each member prefers to contribute to your church?
These are all vital questions that ensure you are cultivating disciples and accurately ‘stewarding’ the people God has brought to serve Him through your church. However, defining the key questions will take more than one staff meeting and should be reviewed often.
Measuring is a good discipline to adopt, and it can be learned
When was the last time you ‘defined the relationship’ with your membership? Are you capturing the data you need with your present system?
Ephesians 4 calls the church to equip the saints for works of service. Equipping is the process of changing a Christ believer into a Christ follower.
Equipping your members is about moving them out of the audience and into action
An equipping strategy requires leveraging data to discover the gifts within the member.
When we date someone we learn what kind of music they like, the food they enjoy, how they deal with difficult situations and the list goes on.The goal is to discover enough about the other person to know if you are compatible. Why would we expect the church to function differently? We don’t check our humanity at the church doors! Once someone says, “Yes, I’m interested; let’s figure this relationship out and see if there is something real here,” it becomes the responsibility of the church leader to take the lead in the process. If you leave it up to the member to figure this out, chances are they will be worshiping at another church in your community in a matter of months — maybe weeks.
When you profile each new member – recording their interests, talents and passions, and find ways to leverage what makes their heart tick – you help the member share those gifts with the Kingdom.
The biggest mistake you can make during the dating process is to make it all about you, your interests, your needs, your preferences. It’s not about you. It’s all about how your church can help others grow spiritually and become growing disciples – followers of Christ – who will take the Gospel from the congregation out into the community.
Outreach Magazine recently posted an article about why people don’t become church members. In summary, the article stated that people are afraid that the church wants more from them than it wants for them. This feeling can make it very difficult for someone to take any steps forward at a church that makes them feel that way. A church that shows intentionality for connecting people based on their gifts, interests and passions can help to reverse those erosive feelings.
One of the most effective tools to discover how someone might want to serve is a personality profile – either in-house or by partnering with a local pastoral counseling center – to uncover the gifts God has brought to you in each member. Then you can help the member generously release those gifts to the benefit of the Kingdom.
Profiling is not a bad practice when it is done to serve someone more intentionally. It can be healthy when capturing a picture of your church membership as a whole and individually.
Capturing the right data helps us help the member follow Christ
For example, a member scored high in their personality profile with regard to ‘mercy’. Because you were looking at the data, you noticed that 90 days after completing the new member’s class they haven’t participated in a service activity.
What would you do?
You could let it go and hope for the best. Or, you could alert the missions pastor that you have a new member with this personality profile who hasn’t served yet, and encourage them to over a personal invitation for the person to serve.
Another example, you do a database search and see you have a significant number of entrepreneurs in your church. Perhaps you could start a ministry helping unemployed people in the community start their own businesses.
By following the data you expanded your reach, and found ways to uncover the gifts God intended to be used for His glory through your church’s ministry.
You must ensure that you are providing opportunities for these willing hands. “Entry-level”, low-commitment serving opportunities can be a great way for us to help someone take that first step. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to tap them on the shoulder and ask them to join the team. Leveraging information about gifts, abilities and passions and using those to tap the right shoulders will not only increase the chance of a positive response but will help change the nature of your volunteer ministry to a higher level of strategy and intentionality.
In the 1999 movie The Matrix, there is a scene where two of the main characters, Neo and Cypher, are looking at a computer screen that is filled with an endless array of computer code. Cypher makes a comment about how he doesn’t see it as code. Instead of focusing on the data, he is focusing on the individuals that are represented by that data.
You are not tracking meaningless data, you are tracking people that Jesus Christ wants to engage through your church
Why is it that the local
What do we do when we realize someone has enrolled in three consecutive Bible studies related to women in ministry but has never volunteered to help lead or serve in some capacity?
What happens when a person gives money for the first time?
What happens in your church when someone is actively involved and then suddenly absent?
The importance of facilitating a personal touch
Church leaders can often expect people with problems to recognize the ‘signs’ and seek the leader out for help. But most of the time, the people don’t even know when the ‘problem’ began or that God might be calling them to something greater unless someone encourages them. As you’ve probably seen before, the person that is in spiritual darkness is often unable to see that there’s a way out or to be able to ask for help.
For example, one member’s giving declined by 50 percent in one year. If giving is an outward sign of an inward commitment, then this is data that should set o alarms for staff leadership.
What happened? The giver retired. And when contacted by the front-line ministry staff , he revealed he was having a tough time making the transition. No one would have ever known. But the data told a story that revealed an incredible ministry opportunity.
In the same way, if you have an effective children's check-in, you're able to see when a child (and most likely his or her family) has missed three or four consecutive weeks. As a church grows, you might not notice that the parents were missing from adult worship, but you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their kids weren’t in children's ministry. There’s a reason for that disconnect. Will you make an effort to reach out to them?
These connections are not just for when something negative happens. There can also be intentionality as people are stepping up on their own. When someone gives for the first time, joins a small group, or starts serving in ministry, those are big steps in their relationship with God and with your church. How encouraging would it be for the church to notice those steps and to reinforce them with personal acknowledgment?
There could be multiple missed opportunities because you aren’t looking at the data and allowing it to facilitate a personal touch with someone who has made a commitment to you and your church. Do you know how your members want to:
- Receive information about your church?
- Give to your church?
- Learn about and connect with your church?
Again, it’s not about you. It’s about them. And it’s nearly impossible to ‘fly blind’ and make decisions that honor the practices and habits native to the people in your church.
What if a segment in your church can’t attend because they travel regularly for work or have to work on Sundays? If it’s all about them, you begin delivering the Sunday morning worship experience via podcasts and live streaming, or consider offering an alternative worship time.
Learn as much as you can about the other person and honor their likes, dislikes, interests, and abilities. It’s easy to do this when it’s one person. How do you manage this when it’s a staff of four ministering to a congregation of 500? You have no choice but to let the data work for you and to help create a strategy of intentionality!
Deliver a personal touch that builds trust and connection by leveraging the data you already have, and watch the number of disciples in your church multiply!
Every great athlete has a demanding coach pushing him or her to the next level. When you think about professional athletes who are already operating at elevated levels of performance, how do you take them to the next level? The coach pushes them to a higher level he can clearly see that the athlete cannot.
Part of making disciples is growing disciples
Very few people are going to push themselves to grow spiritually all by themselves. We need someone to challenge us to take the next step. That may mean inviting them to take the next step of commitment for them to grow spiritually.
Rules of Engagement
- You have to have an existing relationship which embodies mutual trust and respect. As the old adage goes, "People don't care what you know until they know that you care"
- You have to know more about them than they know about themselves. Are you capturing enough information to know where they are excelling and where they could use a little push to take it to the next level?
- You must be ready for them to say 'yes', 'not now', or ;no' and know what to do next.
The divine balance of power in every congregation is that the leader has been given the vision and the membership has been given the time, talents, and treasure to accomplish the vision.
It’s your job as a church leader to cultivate the resources God has already provided in the membership to accomplish the vision He has given the leadership of your church.
Technology gives you the information you need to challenge others to take the next step of commitment.
Remember the membership process from Chapter One: First Impressions, Connection, Equipping, and Evaluation? Equipping is an essential part of creating a sustained effort to bring about true, lasting spiritual transformation within any community.
You have to stay in the game long enough to make a difference. Sometimes that means challenging people to take a clear and defined next step in which they achieve something they didn’t know was possible. Remind them of what they’d been doing well, and then challenge them to take it one step further.
No matter how connected someone is to the church, there is always a step forward for them
As a follower of Christ, as long as there is a gap between His example and my life, there is always another step for me to take.
It is the role of leadership to cultivate those next steps with intentionality. The list of possibilities for cultivation is endless:
- participation in their first missions trip
- giving for the first time
- giving the largest amount they've ever given
- starting a new ministry
- committing to a Bible study program
If you, as a leader, don’t equip the members to take the next step, two things happen:
- The member will never be completely satisfied operating within the church community.
- The leader will reject the resources God has provided in the people who identify themselves as member of your church.
We can’t intuitively manage hundreds or thousands of members and expect to have a good chance of success. We have to depend on the data we are capturing through our church management system to do two things, demonstrate that we recognize the resources available in and through the membership, and mark measurable progress through continued engagement.
Churches are complex organizations Operating a church is a lot like running a local nonprofit. You’re responsible for program management, volunteer recruitment, leadership development, and fundraising!
Communication is absolutely critical to building community and fostering a sense of connection. To stay dialed in, you’re going to have to learn how to carry the Sunday morning experience beyond the actual, live-on-campus event. It may be through Twitter, Facebook, email, videos, blogs, text messaging, etc. The trick is to focus on impact and not efficiency. It’s not about your personal preferences, but rather what motivates people to do something.
There is only one way to know this. You’ll have to ask, record, implement, test, measure, and do it all over again.
Businesses make or break their bottom line based on their ability to deepen the level of engagement with their customers. American Express symbolizes this process with their Green (introductory), Gold (mid-level), and Platinum (premium) charge cards. Someone at American Express is responsible for moving customers to the next level.
Helping someone take their “next step” should be a main goal of these interactions or encounters.
Without movement and momentum, discipleship can easily stagnate and that is why churches should show equal intentionality about making disciples
There is nothing more important than that.
Trends aren’t just for an economic conversation. Understanding what has happened in the past is an excellent indicator of what may happen in the future. The same is true for communication.
Communication used to be simple — just make an announcement on Sunday morning and everyone heard you. Today, communication clutters our minds, phones, televisions, radios, etc. Either way, we will exhaust our resources and end up with little to show for it unless we find what has been proven effective with our membership by paying attention. Your church management system should be able to help you record this information.
What has your past experience taught you about how to best communicate with your church family? What past community events have created the most follow-up visits to your church services? What type of promotions or communications encouraged people most to join a small group or to serve? Success creates more success.
There is only one way to know your next move: check your data.
The ‘new normal’ for churches is that the membership demands more information about how money is used, how decisions are made, and ministry results.
In order for us to preserve the trust needed to build and foster relationships with our membership, we must embrace this “new normal” and voluntarily hold ourselves accountable to measuring impact and reporting both good and bad news. The more information you have, the more equipped you are to make ministry decisions and be the best steward you can be with the people God is bringing through your doors.
Very few people are going to push themselves to grow spiritually all by themselves. We need someone to challenge us to take the next step. That may mean inviting them to take the next step of commitment for them to grow spiritually.
It’s easy to think about the stewardship of money, but ministry decisions also affect an investment of time, focus, attention and other limited resources for your church staff and your church family.
Technology gives us a tool to demonstrate a ministry “return on investment” to the member who decides to “invest” in your church. When you can trace the dollar given through the disciple-making system which resulted in true life change, you achieve three things:
- You build trust by doing what you said you were going to do.
- You pave the way for future investments.
- You discipline yourself through self-imposed systems of evaluation to ensure your 'gut' is matched with data to validate your intuition.
To be doers, and not hearers only
Can you run reports over membership, giving, service, etc. and determine if your church is making more disciples and moving people to deeper levels of engagement? If you can’t, you risk losing the people God intended to be part of accomplishing the vision in your church.
It’s simple: do what you said you would do.
Do it in ways that create life change and measurable impact. Show your people how you’re doing it. Watch the energy level of participation — and life change — multiply itself.
That is why it is so important to share the “stories” of ministry. Investments of time, energy, focus and money are not simply details on a piece of paper. The end result may not be seen on a financial statement or in increased giving. If discipleship is happening, stories are changing and in some cases being rewritten altogether. Celebrating the stories where God shows himself through the ministries of the church can greatly justify the time, effort and funding that have gone into those ministries and activities.
What if your church bulletin printed a few bullets each week that said, "Because of your generosity, this week we were able to help:
- 14 people avoid foreclosure
- 10 people repair their cars so they could get to work
- 5 families have food to eat each night
- 2 teenagers achieve 12 months of sobriety that began with our church-sponsored recovery program."
How would it change your position the next time you went into your finance committee, Board of Session, or Elder meeting and asked for undesignated funds to meet a ministry need you just discovered (and supported with data)?
Measurements and numbers help you to learn and grow in ways that make you more effective. It is something that helps enhance and multiply the effect of your ministry. Are you changing the conversation of ministry expansion by showing your ability to track, interpret, and evaluate ‘what is’ in clear, concise, and compelling ways? This is the ‘new normal’.
Don’t underestimate the ministry potential of a church management system and how it can help you get disciple making right!
Understanding the touch points of engagement
The job of the church leader is never complete It’s ongoing and growing more complex with each passing day.
Disciple making is both art and science.
There is a place for intuitive leadership in the life of a church, but we can’t underestimate the power of making more informed decisions and looking for ways to validate our assumptions, hopes, thoughts, and dreams along the way.
Think about what might happen if 10 percent, 20 percent, 50 percent or more of your membership moved to the next level of engagement. How would it impact the culture of your church? An intentional discipleship program not only adds more disciples to the Kingdom but also multiplies the impact moving forward as disciples go out to invest in others. Done well, intentional discipleship should help move your ministry from a ministry of addition to a ministry of multiplication.
Perhaps this has helped you start a healthy conversation among your Like what you read? Take it with you. staff about ways to leverage your church management system to be more strategic about making disciples. Perhaps you’ve uncovered the system currently in place doesn’t provide the tools you need to make your data work for you. Or perhaps you’ve discovered it isn’t a software issue but a recognition that more ministry leaders need to be trained to use your church management system to gain the most from it.
Is it worth making an investment of time, money, and energy to leverage technology and multiply your efforts to fulfill the Great Commission, and to cultivate the resources God has provided in the people who make up the membership of your church? Your decision to do disciple making differently comes with significant eternal implications. But you won’t have to do it alone. We’ll be here to help.