How Effective Is Your Church's Ministry?


A recent “Grand Rapids Press” article detailed the decline in membership of the Christian Reformed Church in the Grand Rapids area.  I am not certain if they took into account the exodus by churches after Synod decided to allow women to be office bearers in the denomination.  I would not include that as a decline in membership but much like a church plant that begins with a core group from an existing congregation, the CRC merely (under semi-hostile circumstances) planted another denomination.  However, I think measuring membership numbers as the only criteria for ministry is limiting in measuring the effectiveness of a church’s ministry.

One of the transitions that the Christian Reformed Church has made and is continuing to make progress doing is being community-minded in ministry.  Having been involved in a church plant from 1984-1998, I know that our ministry expanded far beyond our official membership numbers.  Both on Christmas day and Easter Sunday our extra worship services would at a minimum double the worship service attendance.  When I was attending various functions in the community and would introduce myself to individuals, I was always surprised to hear people tell me that they attended my church.  As we conversed I would discover that they had the habit of attending church only on Christmas and Easter.  But despite their irregular attendance they considered my church to be their home church.  They would also send their children to our vacation Bible School and perhaps some other programs during the year.  I was also aware of many who worshipped at our church, sometimes even more regularly than some of our members, who never became members. 

As consistories, I know that we fill out annual forms for the yearbook concerning membership numbers.  Sometimes those numbers remain the same or even decline.  But I would suggest that perhaps those numbers do not really portray the whole message of the church’s ministry.  Worship numbers, programs for men, women, and children should not only be tallied but also be evaluated as to how many households are being serviced by the church during a given year.  Questions such as, what impression does the greater community have concerning your church, how well is your church known in the community, etc. are important questions in evaluating the effectiveness of the church’s ministry.

As elders how do you assess the effectiveness of your church’s ministry both within the walls of the church as well as in the greater community you service?  Despite some indications that the CRC denomination is declining in membership, do you think that overall we have made some transitions in being more community minded than just a “Dutch Church” that has grown in the past just my immigration numbers?  How well has your church made the transition? 

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A couple of things, Al.  First, although separation of churches from the denomination might be considered to be simply spawning another denomination as opposed to a loss in membership, we need to consider how that relates to the reformation itself.   Did the Rom Cath then not really lose any members?  Would the same thing apply to members leaving for other denominations such as the PRC, FRC, Baptist, Alliance, Pentecostal?  While I realize that God does not lose any of his children who are His, is that the same thing as a denomination not losing any?   Does that mean that any members from any of these other churches, or from United Church, Episcopal, African Reformed, or Rom Cath are not to be considered a gain in members either?  

Anyway, I do agree that ministry reach is larger than simple membership numbers.   Dead "members" who do not attend, or barely, do not give the same indication of ministry as non-member attenders who attend regularly, faithfully, and participate as volunteers with excitement and vigor. 

While I agree that measuring attendance numbers is not an ideal measure of a church's effectiveness, I would suggest that one of the fruits of a healthy, effective church is growth.  In Matthew 28, we are called to make disciples and teach our them to follow Jesus' example.  There should be evidence of the transformation that results from our partnering with the Holy Spirt in ministry.  Are lives being changed?  Is there evidence of our members becoming more like Christ?  Does our ministry transform the community?

These questions are not as easy to measure as attendance or participation, but they are the questions that will lead us to discover how effective our ministry is.