Part 1: Reporting
If you have spent any time at all in the church planting world, you have undoubtedly heard it said, “If we added up all the reports, the Great Commission would be complete.” or “Based on the reports coming out of this country, there are more churches than people.” Such remarks routinely meet a little nervous laughter and an “aw-shucks” response. If the conversation goes deeper than that, it usually stalls out with one of the following:
- Denial: “I know those guys or that country, and there is no way that could be true.”
- Dismissal: “What you say can’t be real, so it must be fake.”
- Defensiveness: “We know, and you don’t.”
- Disillusionment: “It’s all a numbers game…you guys are either clueless or must not care.”
Such responses lend themselves to something other than genuine discussion or addressing some of the deeper questions and issues. Yet, many of us have faced a version of the question: Do church planting movement (CPM) or disciple-making movement (DMM) practitioners genuinely care about the veracity of their reports?
Can we keep it real for a minute?
I believe there is a reason the CPM/DMM world currently resides at the bottom rung of the mission’s ladder for funding. For every dollar church planting ministries raise, compassion-centered ministries raise hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars! Why such a disparity? One of those reasons is our credibility problem regarding the integrity of what we say we do (both internally & externally). If we don’t even believe the reports of our colleagues and friends who operate in the same space we do, what should we expect from outsiders?
Before offending more, let me clarify that this is not a blame game, and I do not intend to have all the answers. Every layer of accountability we have ever attempted to add across our ministry has decreased our numbers. We still have a lot of work to do and are eager to learn from others.
As the layers of this onion start to peel back, questions like “What is a disciple?”, “What is a church?” or “What is your definition of a church?” all come to light. These seemingly simple questions tend to unspool more like, “When do you report it as a church?” or “How many people do you have gathered before you count it as a church?” and even “What is the health of the church you are reporting?”
If you have dealt with such questions, you are not alone. Let’s look at how some others are practically addressing these issues.
Regarding the conversation on reporting, there are at least three key variables to consider: the definition of a church, the health of a church, and the size of a church.
1. The Definition of a Church
It is impossible for 100% agreement across the board, but it is valuable for each ministry, network, organization, or movement to strive for a general understanding of what “church” means to them. GACX has put forward the following church definition that member organizations have agreed to: Church is “a sustainable body of believers and followers of Jesus Christ with recognized spiritual leadership who regularly gather for worship, prayer, fellowship, instruction, communion, and baptism. These churches fulfill the Great Commandment by loving God and their neighbors and fulfill the Great Commission by making disciples of all nations.”
One GACX member addresses it this way:
“We understand every country and culture is unique. As a result, we do not suggest our definition is the only definition. Still, for the sake of consistency in reporting, the definition of a church we use in our network is a group of people that gather regularly. When they gather, they worship the Father, study the Scripture, pray, and fellowship together. From time to time, they observe the ordinances as they understand how and are equipped and sent out on a mission to make other disciple-makers. All of this happens under the authority of the head of the church, Jesus Christ, and under the authority of biblically qualified leadership.’”
- Question: Have you considered establishing a working definition for your ministry, network, organization, or movement? If not, you don’t have to start from scratch. Many people have spent countless hours thinking through these things. Remember, significant landmines exist around who can and can’t baptize, serve communion, preach, lead, etc.
2. The Health of a Church
Whatever definition you settle upon will include attributes, characteristics, or functions that are health indicators. Some GACX members use church health tools to measure the health of the churches they are planting (see Church Health Tool example).
- Question: Have you considered using a church health tool to aid your efforts toward healthier disciples and churches? Remember, church health does not define a church; it simply measures its health. Also, it is not a one-time measurement and will fluctuate, so regular check-ups are needed. Health is constantly improving!
3. The Size of a Church
This is quite subjective but can be extremely valuable in establishing and maintaining consistency internally and credibility externally. There are many opinions on when a church reaches the “size” required to be considered a church. As a result, one GACX member has tried to avoid the debate of when a church is “officially considered a church” by suggesting the following: “We avoid definitively attaching any numbers or size in our definition of church…but for consistency’s sake we do say you should have at least three unrelated families gathering before reporting it as a church.”
- Question: When do you report a church? Do you report when two or three people are gathering? Do you report if there are one hundred baptized believers? Do you report when they have a building? There is no right way to answer this question to satisfy every perspective, but have you considered arriving at a consistent metric? This approach allows local expressions/definitions to continue to call it as they see it while allowing you to have transparency and consistency from one place to the next as a ministry/movement.
In summary, if you can define a church, measure its health, and establish consistency numerically when reporting, you will make significant strides toward greater accuracy and transparency. In so doing, everyone in the CPM/DMM world stands to benefit.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article which discusses an equally important topic: verification in reporting.