Evaluating Mission: Are You the Church, or Should We Look for Something Else?

Guest writer: Heather Card

Editor’s Note: We at Forge are excited about what God is doing in Canada. There are increasing number of key leaders within our own country who are helping to shape the church as we go forward. Our goal is to present and platform some of these Canadian leaders and the contributive work they are doing to joining with God on mission across our land. Although we may not agree with everything that gets written, or may see things a bit differently, we are presenting them in our blog for a reason. We need to pay attention to what they are saying if we hope to be obedient to the Lord on mission.

We are encouraged to present to you an article from Heather Card as our first step into presenting great Canadian content.

Evaluation. Is it something that you embrace, or something thing that you dread? I think if we are honest, most of us are a little apprehensive about evaluation. Maybe we even wonder if evaluation is appropriate in the church context.

Although joining God on mission involves bearing witness to the work of God in Christ in every way, Jesus provides a wonderful example of how to approach one aspect of mission evaluation. In Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptist sent his disciples to inquire whether Jesus was the Messiah or if he should look for someone else (Matt 11:2–3). John was in prison, but he had heard “about the deeds” of Jesus. Although it seems odd, perhaps unthinkable, that John should ask this question, Jesus was neither defensive about the question nor did he chastise John for doubting. Instead, Jesus provided evidence about how he was fulfilling the mission to which he was called. He said, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matt 11:4–5). Here Jesus made a direct comparison to his stated mission (Luke 4:18–19) and to the prophet Isaiah’s messianic promise (Isa 61:1–2), which would have been familiar to John and his disciples. Jesus had a clear mission, responded to sincere questions, and demonstrated that the desired outcomes of his mission were being achieved.

If the example of Jesus validates the practice of evaluating missional progress, how are we doing? In my recent research, I discovered that Canadian Protestant churches have quite a bit more work to do in this area, particularly as it relates to mission clarity and ministry outside of the church building.

For example:

  • Small churches are significantly less likely than large churches to have a mission or purpose statement (64% compared to 94%) that provides a clear reference point for ministry evaluation. (It is important to note that this research did not evaluate the mission statements of the participants. I support the opinion of David Bosch, when he stated that “it is not that our church has a mission, but rather that God’s mission has a church.” In light of this understanding, it is essential that every church go through a process of discernment so that they can determine where God is at work, and then articulate clearly what they are to do as a result.)

  • Few churches gather additional research from the external community as part of their evaluation process.

  • Over half of churches either do not have specific evaluation criteria (28%) or indicated that they need to make more progress in this area (25%).

  • Most evaluation criteria relate to what happens inside the church—only 18% reference some type of external or community focus.

  • Evaluation is difficult because they are not sure how to do it (39%), there is not enough time (30%), or there is lack of clarity around mission/purpose (29%).

While this research only represents a sample of the Canadian church landscape, the results give us pause to reflect more deeply on our own missional progress. How would we answer the question, “Are you the church, or should we look for something else?

Heather Card is the president of Five Smooth Stones Consulting, a ministry that calls Canadian church and ministry leaders to integrate biblical theology and governance practice.  (Download the research summary at www.fivesmoothstones.ca/research)

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