Evaluating success and the closing of The Grove

ImageYesterday at MTC, Pastor Ethan Maple talked about the fact that evaluation leads to evolution.  To over simplify his thoughts: we should evaluate everything and doing so will lead to an evolved level of success/satisfaction.

To be honest…this has been a sore subject for me for the past few months.  As you are probably aware, I was faced with making the most difficult decision of my life when we closed The Grove and helped those attending find a new church home.  It really was like a part of me died and not a day goes by in which I do not think about what could have been.  But…the decision had to be made because of how I believe we must evaluate ministry.

While I have not hidden my “process” of evaluation from anyone, I have never put it out there publicly until now.  So…how did we come to the conclusion that we did?  How and why did we decide to close The Grove?  The evaluation of The Grove was based on two (count them…two!) criteria.

1 – Were we making people better?  In the church world…we could phrase this as, “were we helping people live the lives that God had created them to live?  Were people embracing their God-given potential and moving closer to God?”  The answer to this question is a resounding yes!  80% of the people at The Grove were previously unchurched.  We baptized 17 new believers in the first year.  Yet the most impressive of all…we were seeing people’s lives change.  Relationships with God were growing and developing.  Discipleship was happening.  Evangelism was happening.  And…the world was changing because of it all.  Criteria #1: check.

2 – Were we accomplishing the goal?  When we moved to the south side of Indianapolis, we had one goal: To create a new, self-sustaining community of faith where people could experience God in new and fresh ways.  People were experiencing God in new and fresh ways.  That was obvious.  But…the self-sustaining part…well, that was the problem.  The people at The Grove were generous people.  They were giving.  And…they were changing the world through their generosity.  However, when you viewed the bottom line, we just were not there and the curve was not moving in the right direction to indicate that it would change by the April date in which our Conference funding would run out.  Criteria #2: NO check.

When you look at the two criteria…I am sure you can see the predicament that we were in.  We were changing lives and the world would forever be a better place because of it!  Surely #1 outweighs #2….right?  I sure wish that were the case.

When we evaluate ministry, we evaluate it for a reason.  We want to be sure that we are doing the right thing and maximizing what God has given us.  Had we continued and convinced the Conference to support us more, we would be putting a strain on a great Conference and the churches that support it.  And why?  Because God was changing lives? I think our hearts would love for that to be a good enough reason.  And believe me…I wanted it to be.  So badly did I want that to be a good enough reason…you have no idea.

However, at the end of the day, I looked around at our community and saw a great handful of churches that were changing lives at the same level or in greater ways than The Grove.  And…to top it off…these are churches that I know with all of my heart that the people at The Grove could get plugged into and continue to grow.

So, knowing that #1 can continue…we are faced with the reality of #2.  Which, because I still really wanted to hold on, led to a lot of prayer and discernment with God.  And, it was on a Sunday morning in early January when God answered me loud and clear that it was time to conclude our ministry at The Grove.  I often wonder why it all had to happen the way it did.  I ask myself if there was anything else I could have done.  But…I never question what I heard from God that day.  From His mouth to my heart…He said it was time to conclude.  So…it was time to conclude.

Jesus spent His life changing people’s lives and that is exactly what the Church is supposed to do.  Jesus also spent a great deal of time telling those who would hear about the importance of generosity, good stewardship, and wise management of your resources.  I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive.  I think they are interconnected.  When we manage what God has given us to the best of our ability and change lives by doing so…then we are the Church that God has called us to be.

The ministry of The Grove was not a failure simply because we closed the doors.  The ministry of The Grove was a great success…that simply looked different than we expected.  But, just because it looked different does not mean it was not a success.

Evaluation in ministry is so critically important for the Kingdom of God.  Without evaluation…there is no evolution to a greater level of ministry and life change.  

What ministries do you need to evaluate?

Better yet…how do you evaluate ministry?  

I would be interested to hear.

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