By Ronald Session, pastor of Shiloh Church in Garland
As a pastor, one of the most important tasks you will undertake is assessing the needs of the local body of believers in light of the vision that God has given for your community and dare I say even the world.
Perhaps, as a point of departure I should encourage you to begin this journey of discovery with an open mind, remembering that the Church belongs to Jesus and not to us. We are servants and not CEOs. Remaining open-minded will allow you to experience joy along the journey as God reveals His will for the church. Many pastors miss out on those joys because they're overly concerned with outcomes rather than learning what God wants to do through them as they daily depend on Him. Speed isn’t the goal here, obedience is.
I would like to offer a few observations concerning church assessment that I have learned over the years. These are by no means exhaustive. They do however, give us a place to begin thinking seriously about how we should begin this journey. I will offer the first three in this article and the last three in the next.
Philippians 4:6 reads “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.” Because the work of properly assessing what your particular context needs, you must begin with prayer. Take this very seriously, because this is a spiritual enterprise and not an opportunity to demonstrate to your congregation how smart you are. If you really want to show them how smart you are, begin with prayer.
Don’t pray alone…invite others to join you in petitioning God for great clarity throughout this process.
If your church is like mine, you will need to engage others who likely will have more insider information on the church than you. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it could be a very good thing. When I first arrived at Shiloh Garland, the church was 77 years old, my predecessor had been there 20 years and the lead deacon had been at the church since it was six years old. It would have been an open act of arrogance to presume that I could tell them what they needed.
Be careful here–I would caution you to hear everyone, but only listen to those whom God will give you to help accomplish the work of evaluating the needs of the church. In Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah goes out at night with only a few men to inspect the ruins of Jerusalem. Though the Bible is silent on the qualifications of Nehemiah’s companions, it would stand to reason that they were qualified to help him assess the ruins.
Pastor, if all you have listened to are the people who are sent to help you then you haven’t listened well. Make sure that you attend to the leading of God. In Nehemiah 2:12, Nehemiah says “And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem.” Listening well is incomplete until you receive what God deposits into your heart. Eliminate the fatal distractions of too many opinions. Listen to God!
Your ability to gather good information will largely depend on your own ability to communicate both in written and verbal forms. You will have to discern which questions to ask and the most effective way to frame them. Take time to carefully craft the questions that you will ask. Asking the right questions in the wrong way might lead to faulty feedback and leave you with an opaque view of the condition and health of the church.
Gathering information will also include getting written feedback. There are several great tools for assessment but don’t assume that a “one-size fits all” approach will yield the most fruit. You will need to tailor the resources you find to apply to your context. When I arrived at Shiloh Garland, I used resources from Becoming A Healthy Church: Ten Traits of a Vital Ministry by Stephen A. Macchia and Advanced Strategic Planning by Aubrey Malphurs to name a few. None of them were a perfect fit for a small African American church in a concealed location that was almost completely inward focused. To say that some customization had to take place is an understatement. Getting written feedback is helpful when you are attempting to make sense of the findings within a group. You might just find that you will get more complete answers to the questions you pose when the respondents are under the cover of anonymity.
I trust that these few helpful hints will be a great place to begin in making sense of the work of assessing the needs of your local church assignment. Stay tuned, I will share three more simple steps in the next article.