Like you, I love the church and am enamored with Jesus' commission to make disciples of all nations. Years ago as a university student, I was heavily involved in a college disciple-making ministry. During that time I consumed Leroy Eims' book, The Lost Art of Disciplemaking. It gave me a framework with clear objectives for becoming and making disciples - devoted followers of Christ.
To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here is a list of some of the objectives right out of the appendix of this
book. (There are 30 listed there.)
- The Quiet Time
- Victory Over Sin
- Christian Fellowship
- The Bible
- Personal Testimony
- The Holy Spirit
The idea is to intentionally help believers develop a worldview and regular habits to live out these objectives.
When you meet someone face to face you may have a subjective sense of the significance of Christ in his or her life based on their language, deameanor, behavior, a quiet prompting of the Holy Spirit or their T-Shirt. However, if you are leading an organization committed to making disciples, measuring success seems more illusive.
For help on that, I think it's useful to go to John 3 where Jesus uses the idea of being born again to help Nicodemus understand what it means to surrender to God - i.e. be a Christ-follower. Jesus explains it as a spiritual transaction that is recognized in the same way that you recognize the wind. (See John 3:3-8)
How do you recognize the wind? You listen for it. You look for signs that it's there. You see a kite flying, hear a flag waving, a branch fluttering, or grass swaying. You can feel it on your face. There are signs all over the place that the wind is there. We've all experienced this.
As Jesus taught Nicodemus, discipleship is not recognized by direct weights and measures of adherence to rules; but by indirect signs that the wind of the spirit is present. Let's think about this for a moment.
Here's a definition of sign from Oxford Languages via Google:
A sign is an object, quality, or event whose presence or occurrence indicates the probable presence or occurrence of something else.
For starters, a sign is NOT A GUARANTEE that something really occurred or is present. It's more of a probable indicator. Measuring discipleship isn't an exact science. It's not meant to be. It's a probable indicator.
So, let's acknowledge the role of church data. At best it's a probable indicator of people's hearts and maybe the Spirit's presence. Six Sigma friends have taught me that data is nothing more than a sign that something might be happening. It is useful because it gives you directions where to look. Don't be afraid of data, it's really helpful. Work hard to get good data because it will help you track signs that discipleship might be happening.
What do these signs look like in a church database?
- They are objects. Church member types, donations, group roles.
- They are qualities. Attendance consistency (faithfulness), volunteer involvement & schedule (availability), assimilation and equipping processes (teachability), spiritual gifts.
- They are events. Registration for seminars (men, women, marriage, parenting, finances, leadership, etc.), birthdates, marriage, deceased.
In the next blog, we are going to show you how to use scheduled reports and other tools to draw out and use these data points to effectively track 5 different and common discipleship signs.