Thanks to a great conversation yesterday afternoon, I have had more thoughts regarding the necessary precursors that enable one to evaluate the "success" of a church plant. Then, my thoughts were further engaged and solidified as I read the vision statement of Josh Culver, who is planting a church in LaGrange, Georgia (Great stuff, Josh!).
Several things re-surfaced in my conversation yesterday that I have been kicking around since I started this thread. First, we can't treat success/failure as an ultimate evaluation. That is, the answer to the question, "Are we being successful?", is not a one time thing. It is a question that must be continually revisited in light of each specific effort within the endeavor. Repeatedly asking this question-- and working to bring your concept of "success" to bear with the Gospel-- will force us to always be asking two critical questions: 1) How does the Gospel define "success"?; and, 2) Are we achieving it? (This is derivative of one of the themes that I loved in Guder's, The Continuing Conversion of the Church.)
Since it seems unlikely that we will ever agree on a universal definition of "success", it is imperative for each community to evaluate success/failure in light of what they have articulated that they set out to do. In short, "success" is wholly dependent the nature of the mission.
In Josh's vision statement, he sets out eleven objectives that they want their community to accomplish (Some of Josh's vision statements might require more clarity or re-definition later, but he has provided a great starting point for his community). In light of this, success/failure can be easily and consistently measured in a myriad of ways:
+ "Big-Picture" questions can be asked in light of the overall mission statement | Are we seeing discipleship happen among "believers and nonbelievers through home based small groups"? Yes? Where and How? How can we build on the success we are already seeing? ... No? Where are we failing? Are the groups meeting? Are both believers and non-believers present? Is there a structure problem? ...
+ "Programming/Event" Questions | Does involvement in X community activity, or the church putting on Y program serve the mission? In Josh's case, it could in a number of ways-- the key question is which way and how?
+ (In light of the above question) "Specific Evaluative" Questions | Did our involvement in X activity or putting on Y program succeed? And, given the answer to this question, how would we do X differently-- or would we choose to do Y again at all?
FROM 'DEFINING' TO 'EVALUATING'
My conversation yesterday lead me to think that to explore a definition of "success", while not entirely fruitless, is quite nebulous apart from a measurable Mission Statement. Why does this church exist? What do we believe God is calling our faith community to be? Without these specifics, I think that Rob's proposal, "maximum impact sustained over the longest period of time" (which I explored a bit here) is the best we have to go on. The precise identification of "maximum impact" will always depend on the specific goals a church planter sets forth.
Therefore, instead of asking "How do we define success?", I think that the better question for church planters to wrestle with is "How do we measure it?"
THE OBVIOUS "FIRST"
The most important requirement for evaluating success is defining your goals/vision/values/mission in such a way that success and failure can be measured. Though the answer to the question "Are we being 'successful'?" is never final, it has to be a question that can be answered.
The thing that started this whole bit for me was sensing in Bob's, Why YOU Should Plant a Church, that mission is often defined in such a way that "failure" is impossible. If you set out to plant a church and it goes belly up three years later, something went wrong. Granted, "failure" isn't ultimate, and you no-doubt did great things for the Kingdom-- but if you don't have a community of believers...
In order to reap the great benefits of learning from mistakes, and facilitating "success" for a community of people, we have to set the field for church planting in such a way that provides space for evaluation-- positive and negative.
FOLLOW THIS THREAD
Why Should(n't) You Plant a Church?
Defining Success // Preliminary Questions
Defining Success // First Things
Defining Success // Maximum Impact
Defining Success // Matt Chandler
Defining Success // The Metrics of Spontaneity, Community, & Belonging