Church Assessment—Part 2

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By Seth Bartley

What have you discovered about church assessment?
In Part 1 of this article I have offered an outline of my general beliefs and some of the considerations I have regarding proper church behavior; the lens and principles by which I assess a church. In Part 2, I will briefly outline the two most common assessment methods and my difficulties in using them.

How do you believe churches are generally assessed?
Generally speaking when trying to measure the success of a church people tend to look at one or two things: Material Prosperity and/or Doctrinal Status. I do not mean to say that it is improper to look at these indicators, they have merit and their proper functions, but they also have their limitations and it is important to respect those limits.

Material Prosperity
The first indicators we usually look to when sizing up the success of a church are those concerning Material Prosperity.
     How high is the attendance?
     How big is the contribution?
     Is the building attractive and well built?
     How many conversions have taken place and have there been any lately?
These measurements enable us to collect all sorts of numbers and concrete information with which we can formulate statistics and manipulate data. However, in the grand scheme of things, all this information signifies very little.

While we are in this world, we are not part of it. Material indicators are just that: material; these are the worldly standards. If we focus our attention upon material questions, then to be fair, we must take into account a myriad of factors:

  • How strong is the national/local Economy?
  • High/low employment
  • Socio-economic status
  • Community access to the church (location, location, location)
  • How long the church has been there?
  • Number of churches in town
  • Population of town
  • Age of members
  • High/low member reproduction rate
  • Raised in church vs. converts
  • Etc.

All of these figures will affect weekly attendance, weekly contribution, and the material productivity/success of the Church. Unfortunately, when assessing church performance, we often spend the majority of our time arguing over these mitigating factors and lose sight of the purpose of a congregation coming together: drawing near to and glorifying our god YHWH.

That is not to say that a Material method of data assimilation is unhelpful. Quite the contrary, it is very helpful in discerning the logistical needs and capabilities of a church. However, it is not quite as forthcoming when dealing with immaterial matters such as righteousness and worship. When we focus our method on the ethereal, those matters which the World considers wise concerns become foolishness.

Doctrinal Status (Underlined words defined at end of section.)
The second primary benchmark we often look to is that of Doctrine; is this church proclaiming sound teachings? We, like the Bereans, do not wish to be seduced by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I believe this to be both wise and laudable. However, when searching the Scriptures for verification we should always:

  1. Be aware of the difference between Scripture established by the Spirit and Traditions established by Man.
  2. Be aware of the line which separates those two sets of Law.

I cannot emphasize that point enough;

  1. Be aware of the difference between Scripture established by the Spirit and Traditions established by Man.
  2. Be aware of the line which separates those two sets of Law.

This is much harder to accomplish than we may first realize.

To illustrate, I will begin by providing the very simplest definition of a Christian as I possibly can. That is, a person who:

  1. Professes that the man Yeshua(Jesus) is the Messiah(Christ) of the god YHWH,
  2. 2) Claims membership in the New Covenant of the Messiah, and
  3. 3) Follows His teachings.

That’s it. By the shear rules of grammar, that is the absolute bare minimum that is required to properly apply the term “Christ-ian.” That’s a very straightforward and simple statement; a very loaded statement.

Without thinking most of us commit a form of eisegesis by reading into this definition several unspoken truths or “Oral Laws.” That is not altogether improper. Case and point: If we take the above definition at a face value; the literal meaning, we could say:

  • Catholics are Christian
  • Eastern Orthodox Church is Christian
  • Lutherans/Presbyterians/Baptists/Methodists/etc. are Christian
  • Mormons/Later Day Saints are Christian
  • Non-denominational Churches are Christian
  • Messianic Jews are Christians
  • Even most Muslims would probably be identified as Christian

This is not at all accurate so we become more “specific.” However, there is a very fine line between Scriptural Interpretation and Oral Interpretation. See if you can catch when that line is crossed.
By “Professes the man Yeshua(Jesus) is the Messiah(Christ) of the god YHWH” we mean profess:

  • He died on the Cross and was bodily resurrected (Lost the Gnostics and some Muslims)
  • Belief in the Trinity (There go the rest of the Muslims)

By “Claims membership in the New Covenant of the Messiah” we mean:

  • Be Baptized by a current member of the Church (and by ‘the Church,’ we mean ‘our Church’)
  • Profess a certain creed
  • Proclaim your belief in a certain code (Hey, maybe we got some Muslims back with this one)

By “Follows His teachings” we mean:

  • Take communion every Sunday
  • Tithe 10% of your income
  • Refrain from improper dress
  • Do not cuss
  • Read this translation of the Scripture only
  • No Instruments in Church
  • Etc, etc, etc.

Depending on how demanding we are on adherence to Oral Law, at the end we are left with: Christians are people within my denomination and I’m not so sure if some of these people are True Christians.

Please do not misunderstand, I do not mean to imply that there are no doctrines; as the reader can see I outlined some basic ones in the first section of this article. (see: Church Assessment—Part 1) I wish only to highlight the importance of self critical analysis. We, like our Pharisee progenitors, can easily fall prey to the temptation of legalism.

Eisegesis—the act of reading into a text ones own ideas, whether accurate or inaccurate (as opposed to exegesis).
Exegesis—the act of reading from a text the authors own ideas, whether accurate or inaccurate (as opposed to eisegesis).
Oral Law—doctrines which are not directly established within Scripture; conclusions drawn from arguments concerning Scripture.

Can a church really be assessed with any meaningful accuracy?
It is a fair question and the simple answer is, yes. With any standard of measurement there will always be debate over the accuracy and interpretations of data; it is the nature of the beast. The purpose of an assessment is to enable that measurement to be as informed as possible. At the end of the day, it is up to each individual to decide whether he or she will put trust in one congregation over another. All I can suggest is to trust your gut, meditate seriously on the matter, go with your heart, and go where you can serve.

My hope is that this article will hearten the reader to test the fruit, starting with a serious and honest self-examination. Let us ensure that no one can honestly say that the prophet Hosea spoke well of us when he said, “My people are destroyed for want of knowledge. Because you rejected knowledge, I will also reject you as [priests] for me. Because you forgot the [teachings] of your God, I will also forget your children.” (Hosea 4.6 CJB)

What have you discovered about church assessment?
In Part 2, I have briefly outlined the two most common assessment methods and my difficulties in using them. Finally, in Part 3 of this article I will conclude with an attempt to outline what I believe is an objective standard by which to assess the immaterial quality of a church and provide a list of my findings.

May the LORD bless you and have a good day.