By Seth Bartley
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.
To begin, following the publication of Part 2 I received a comment asking for more detail on how adherence to Scripture influences my assessment of a church. In Part 2 I defined the all important line between Scripture and Doctrine but failed to explain my stance on when and how that line can be crossed, if ever. I admit, this was an oversight on my part and I apologize. The issue of Scripture is so vast it warrants its own article, however, I will try to list the highlights.
I am tempted to say that faithfulness to Scripture is my first and for most criteria; the greatest commandment. However, I must begrudgingly admit that such a stance itself violates Scripture according to the teachings of the Messiah (the Scriptures made flesh) who spoke of the true greatest commandment in Luke 10.27. I am left with a few enigmas:
- Which writings are Scripture? (While there is a general consensus among Christendom, each major division of Christianity holds different writings as Scripture.)
- There is a difference in violating Scripture in ignorance ant actively rejecting that scripture. Those who have never heard the Scripture cannot be considered in violation of it. (That is not to say they have no law, they simply have no Scripture instruction to reject.) (Romans 2.12-14).
- Which is more prominent: the Spirit of law or the Letter of the law (Matthew 15.3)? In Romans Chapter 14, Paul writes of the importance not to violate ones conscience even if that means violating Scripture.
What scale do you use to measure the quality of a church you attend?
“You are to love [your god YHWH] with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your understanding; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10.27 CJB). This is a reference to Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19.18,34 and is identified by the Messiah as the greatest commandment (Matthew 22.38). I have referenced this verse in multiple articles. This is my guiding Scripture verse and the nail on which I hang my measuring scale.
Let me provide you with a quick roadmap. This scale seeks to identify whether or not a church is helping congregation members to love their god YHWH with all their Hearts, Souls, Minds, and Strengths and love their neighbors as themselves. I identify each of those segments as:
Heart—Volition, commitment to act
Soul—Emotion, source of energy and motivation
Mind—Intellect, investigative study
Strength—Will, physical actions, good works
(For a deeper study of Heart, Soul, Mind, Strength and their use in worship, I recommend the book Experiential Worship by Bob Rognlien.)
Linked with these is to:
Love your neighbor as yourself—
- On an individual level this simply involves the way we treat others.
- On a congregational level I would identify this with our adherence to Oral Law/traditions, and
- On a church level this applies to the call of Church to care for the widows and the orphans; to aid those in the community who cannot sustain themselves.
How exactly do you know if a congregation is achieving each segment?
This isn’t an exact science. As I will discuss later, there is a bit of subjectivity to this method. Using this scale can be likened less to the role of a judge, inspector, or accountant, and more to the role of a film or art critic. This scale could actually be called a church personality test as it is quite similar to the Myers Briggs Personality Test or the Keirsey Temperament Sorter.
The optimum of this scale is the Messiah and therefore there will never be a church or congregation this side of the resurrection which will be at 100%. However, the goal is to see if a church itself is working to aid its members to “be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5.48); providing for the convictional, emotional, intellectual, and vocational growth of its members. In addition, how do the church’s members behave toward others and is the church providing for the physical needs of its community?
Most churches, like most people, will favor a couple areas over the others (mind-strength focused, soul focused, heart-soul focused, etc). However just as a person needs all four, by its very nature, a church functions to provide for all these needs to one degree or another. When using this scale we look to see what area(s) a church has engaged with earnest. When a conclusion is reached regarding which of these a church is productively supporting, we can see a rubric of sorts form.
Only one need is met—The church is Dying/Failing or is a Recently Planted Seed
Two needs met—Head above water, Stable
Three met—Growing, Vibrant
All four met—Filled with fullness of life, Thriving
Love others like self—Complete, Blameless
How is this standard better?
I can’t say that it is better or worse per se, it’s simply a different tool. Think of it like asking: ‘What’s more useful, a hammer of a screw driver?’ Well, it depends mostly on what job needs to be done. If someone is trying to figure out the material needs or capabilities of a church, then by all means please use a material scale; it would be improper not to. However, it would be equally improper to use a material scale to measure a church’s spiritual needs or wellbeing.
This assessment method is functionally indiscriminate.
- Using this standard we may find a church with three members and a 100 dollar weekly contribution in a back-woods tin shack equally “successful” as a 3,000 member congregation with a 1 million dollar contribution in a city-center stadium.
- Because it does not involve material prosperity, according to this scale a “thriving” church could theoretically be losing members.
- Theological stances become mostly irrelevant in this spiritual results-oriented standard. If a church has good fruit, hallelujah.
So, what have you discovered about these churches?
I have attended multiple congregations. While many are similar and receive similar assessments, there are none which are identical. Please note that this list represents solely a first impression; this list is not intended as an overall assessment of each church. In most cases I attended only one Worship service.
|Church Denomination||Primary/Secondary Focus||Adherence to Oral Law|
|Restoration Movement 1||Heart/Strength||High Oral Law|
|Nondenominational 1||Soul/Mind/Strength||Little Oral Law|
|Messianic Jewish (Gentile based)||Heart/Soul||High Oral Law|
|Catholic||Strength/Heart||High Oral Law|
|Charismatic Movement 1||Soul/Strength||Little Oral Law|
|Restoration Movement 2||Heart||High Oral Law|
|Free Methodist||Mind/Heart/Soul||Some Oral law|
|Pentecostal 1||Soul/Heart||High Oral Law|
|Baptist||Heart/Soul/Mind||Some Oral Law|
|Pentecostal 2||Soul/Heart||Some Oral Law|
|Presbyterian||Mind/Heart||High Oral Law|
|Restoration Movement 3||Mind||Some Oral Law|
|Nondenominational 2||Soul/Mind/Heart||High Oral Law|
|Charismatic Movement 2||Soul/Heart/Strength||Some Oral Law|
What are some difficulties in using this standard?
This standard does not end debate any more than other methodologies. Through this tool we can communicate in new territory, but there will still be arguments concerning validity of findings, conclusions drawn, and recommendations for action.
While it enables us to form an objective foundation on which to begin debate there is always a danger in the subjectivity of data. It is difficult to inflate the attendance records or contribution records of a church without outright deception, but with this scale, the assessor has much more autonomy in regards to the formulation of source data. He or she may enhance/detract their critique of a church’s abilities because the assessor:
- Is biased for/against a church and shifts the results for/against accordingly,
- Truly believes their assessment based on his or her personal experience or doctrinal understanding, or
- The assessor was more strict/merciful than an analyst realizes.
As stated, this is not significantly different than most standards of assessment and demands a great deal of maturity from both the data collection and vetting processes. Those who use this standard must be highly self-critical, objective, and accountable.
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 have briefly outlined the two most common assessment methods and my difficulties in using them. Finally, in Part 3 of this article I concluded with an attempt to outline what I believe is an objective standard by which to assess the immaterial quality of a church and provided a list of my findings.
I am humbled and I am ashamed. There are churches in which I would never have considered entering, let alone worshiping, which are greater lights of the LORD to the lost than I ever dreamed possible. I can offer no rationalization and I have no retreat; these slaves of Christ have brought me to my knees before my King.
Please leave a comment in regard to comments, questions, or concerns you may have. If there is anything you believe I have not covered to your satisfaction, please inform me and I will try to address your concern in a future article or update.
May the LORD bless you and have a good day.