The Art of Balancing Ideology and Progress

Healthy churches have many points of tension. For example, churches grow by adding new believers. New believers are immature (and typically passionate), which means church programming must balance between immature congregants and mature congregants. Most every pastor has experienced the volley: Yes, deeper! No, too deep! This tension is like a taut tightrope; it tugs in both directions. You don’t want it slack. It’s the same with your church. Good church leaders are expert balancers.

One of the places with the most tension lies between ideology and progress. Ideology is a system of ideals. Every church should have a goal of maintaining ideals in programming, teaching, and preaching. Ideology works because of stability. But every church should also progress. Progress requires change, and change always brings a measure of instability. Ideology is fixed. Progress means movement. Ideology is narrow and limiting. Progress is broad and limitless.

Great churches balance the tension between ideology and progress. Great leaders uphold ideology and at the same time encourage progress. How might this balanced tension look within a church?

Contextualization. We contend for the faith. We contextualize the message. Christians have always had to balance being in the culture but not of the culture, communicating a timeless message in a way the culture understands. This balancing act is one of the most basic in the church. Get this one wrong, and you will fall into either liberalism or fundamentalism. You will be either too hot to culture or too cold to culture. You will either add to Scripture or take away from Scripture. Great churches contextualize (progress) without comprise (ideology).

Discernment. Proper contextualization is a derivative of discernment. Beyond the basic responsibility of contending and contextualizing is the ability to discern. You cannot lead a church without the capacity to discern negotiables from non-negotiables. While contextualization is more of a theological issue, discernment is more a leadership issue. You will end up clinging perilously to the high wire if you cannot answer this question: What’s a non-negotiable in my church? Leaders must be flexible with the negotiables and rigid with the non-negotiables.

Experimentation. The best churches balance failure with success. A church without failures is a church not taking risks. If you’ve never had an event flop, if you’ve never had a program start stale, then you are not leading well. Additionally, it probably means you are not allowing your team to take risks either, which is dangerously selfish. Why stand in the batter’s box if you never swing? People will quickly pick up on your fear of swinging, and they won’t stick around to watch dullness degrade into disobedience. Great churches experiment—they try things without a clear understanding of whether they will work or not. If all your experiments are failures, then you lack discernment. But if you never fail because of a lack of trying, then that’s not leadership—it’s neglect.

Every church should progress. Every church should cling to ideals. And healthy church leadership involves the process of balancing both ideology and progress.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Rainer III

Sam serves as lead pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church. He is also the president of Rainer Research, and he is the co-founder/co-owner of Rainer Publishing. His desire is to provide answers for better church health. Sam is author of the book, Obstacles in the Established Church, and the co-author of the book, Essential Church. He is an editorial advisor/contributor at Church Executive magazine. He has also served as a consulting editor at Outreach magazine. He has written over 150 articles on church health for numerous publications, and he is a frequent conference speaker. Before submitting to the call of ministry, Sam worked in a procurement consulting role for Fortune 1000 companies. Sam holds a B.S. in Finance and Marketing from the University of South Carolina, an M.A. in Missiology from Southern Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies at Dallas Baptist University.

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Measuring Ministry Progress in Your Church, Part 3: Small Groups

5 useful measurements for Bible study group involvement.

In a prior post we explored the first measure of ministry progress: attendance. We looked at 5 measurements related to church attendance.

Another relatively simple measurement to make is involvement in Bible study (or whatever your church calls it) groups.

As I speak with pastors, I’ve discovered this is as common a measure as attendance, and it’s an important measure. As one pastor explained about his church:

[This is an indicator that] people aren’t simply using the church but wanting to partner in the Gospel and do community with other Christians.

Why do groups exist?

As the pastor above has done, identifying why these groups exist is essential.

Let me illustrate it with an example. Why does a soccer team have mid-week training?

  • Is it to build relationships?
  • Is it to have a fun activity on a Wednesday night?
  • Is it to get fit?
  • Is it to develop better ball skills?

Training will most likely accomplish these things, but the goal of training is to be prepared to win the match on Saturday afternoon. If training doesn’t meet this purpose, something needs to change. If people are becoming great friends, but this comes at the expense of preparation for the game, training hasn’t achieved what it exists to do.

I believe it’s very important to clarify what the purpose of the groups are, and ensure they are meeting this purpose, and include this with other measurements about group numbers and attendance.

Without this clarity, improving your effectiveness at multiplying groups and increasing the number of groups could actually work against what your church is striving to achieve.

Without a direction, running faster in the wrong direction will just get you to the wrong place, sooner.

At Church by the Bridge, the purpose of our Connect Groups is maturity. What is the purpose of these groups at your church?

3 cautions about measuring Bible study group involvement

As with measuring attendance, the most basic measurements – number of groups, and number of people in groups, simply aren’t enough enough.  Here’s why.

  1. People can sign-up for a group, but not attend. You can have 60% (or higher) of your church signed up, but signing up is the easy part. Attending is where the rubber hits the road. In a friend’s group last year, 2 of the people who signed up for the group never turned up throughout the entire year.
  2. Attendance can drop. You can have high attendance at the start of the year, but it can drop as the year progresses. If this happens, it’s worth asking the question – why? Perhaps the groups are getting so large that people don’t feel they are able to contribute, or feel uncomfortable sharing with new people in the group each week.
  3. The groups may not be achieving their purpose. This is my point above. Lots of people in lots of groups that aren’t helping people to mature/the church to be united/people to confess their sins/new people to explore church life – whatever the purpose is – is in fact, not helpful.

5 useful measurements for Bible study group involvement

I believe there are several steps necessary before jumping into the measurements.

Step 1. Identify the purpose of the groups. Why do they exist?

Step 2. Identify how progress towards this goal (e.g. maturity) will be measured. I think this is by far the trickiest part of the process.

Step 3. Then, keep track of the following measurements:

  • Measurement #1. The number of small groups per adult members.
  • Measurement #2. The % of adult members who have signed up for a group.
  • Measurement #3. The frequency of attendance of members. As with attendance, it’s important to know not just who has signed a form, but who is actually going along to their group.
  • Measurement #4. The attendance of leaders to training and discipleship events. This will look different in every church, but involves measures such as attending leadership training events, meeting regularly with the small groups pastor, etc. If the leaders aren’t well connected to the church’s purposes, the groups can easily get off-track.
  • Measurement #5.  This is optional, and links back to the purpose of the group. If groups are an entry point for unbelievers (e.g. a place where church members are encouraged to invite their friends to), you could track how many unbelievers are joining groups. Depending on the purpose of your groups, this 5th measurement can be adjusted.

Tools for measuring progress

If you’re going to get serious about measurement, you’ll need tools that help you to track how you’re progress. Most church databases will enable you to keep a roll of attendance – at church and in groups. We use Elvanto, but there are many other helpful solutions out there (here’s a series that explores how to select a church member database).

Read Part 1 of this series here.

Read Part 2 of this series here.

Read more from Tim here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Kryger

Steve Kryger

I don’t deserve it, but I’ve been redeemed by Jesus. I can’t begin to express how thankful I am for all God has done for me, and it’s my privilege to serve Him. I am the Executive Pastor at Church by the Bridge in Kirribilli, Australia. Prior to serving at Church by the Bridge, I worked as a marketing manager in Canberra, as well as a social media specialist.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Love this
 
— Ann Stokman
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.