I was sitting at the table, surrounded by a cohort of fellow doctoral students, when the conversation turned to the question of effectiveness.
One of the pastors in the cohort was talking about his thesis project. He was leading his congregation through a building campaign that would allow them to do ministry more effectively in the 21st century.
Another pastor sneered and said, “Effectiveness? Who cares about effectiveness?” He went on, “We’re the church. We don’t need to worry about being effective. We should only care about being faithful.”
I wonder what you might’ve said if you were sitting at that table, in between those two pastors.
I’ve worked in a church where effectiveness was the focus. And I’ve also worked in a church where faithfulness was the focus.
Which one was right?
In his book, Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church-Growth Culture, Tim Suttle plants his flag on the faithfulness side of the question, saying, “the church is simply supposed to be faithful” (p. 87). Throughout the book, Suttle brings a scathing critique against pastors who ask pragmatic questions about effectiveness.
He has a point, and that point shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. It’s possible for pastors to become so obsessed with numerical growth at all costs that they compromise who they are and what the church stands for.
But that’s not always the case.
Sometimes pastors pragmatically leverage strategies that they think will move their churches (and ministries) into greater alignment with the mission Jesus gave us. Even Suttle acknowledges (begrudgingly) that it’s impossible to lead the church without employing at least some contemporary leadership techniques. In other words, like it or not, we finally can’t avoid questions of effectiveness.
Here’s my two cents…
Jesus gave us a Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT).
I think it makes good sense to ask how we’re doing with that assignment. Is the money we’re spending and time we’re investing actually accomplishing what Jesus told us to do? If you have unlimited time and money, then you don’t have to worry about these things. For the rest of us, these questions matter.
I’ve led a ministry with a $5,000 annual budget and another with a $50,000 annual budget. My goal in each place was to produce a return on that investment to help the maximum number of students move from the crowd to the core.
• ending programs that weren’t accomplishing their purpose.
• choosing a different retreat destination that was more affordable.
• reassigning dollars to different line items that made a bigger difference.
These were never decisions about what was cool and what wasn’t. They were stewardship decisions about what was effective and what wasn’t.
Does effectiveness matter? I believe it does.
Does faithfulness matter? It absolutely does.
But why should it be an either/or situation?
Why shouldn’t it be a both/and?
I think that faithfulness to our mission (the Great Commission) requires that we monitor our effectiveness. Can you invest your limited amounts of time and money differently, more effectively, than you’re doing right now? If we’re not asking that question, it isn’t because of our faithfulness; it’s because of our laziness.
And, while I’m thinking about it, what might we call that combination of faithfulness and effectiveness? I think fruitfulness might be the best term we have.