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Salvations don't matter.
j/k. they do, but i'm trying to get your attention.
Salvations should not be the primary measure of a church’s effectiveness.
Over the past 100 years, churches have adopted salvations as a key metric of their success/failure as a church.
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Believe it or not, there is no precedent for this in the Bible.
That doesn’t mean salvation isn’t important. However, to have a properly biblical view on salvation means it’s not our responsibility, it’s God’s. So, churches saying “this is how many salvations WE had” is a little bit disingenuous, because that’s kind of like us taking responsibility for God’s job.
If you believe what Scripture teaches about salvation, then you believe two things:
Salvation is not a product of what we do, it is a gift from God.
“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” // Ephesians 2:8-9
This includes our work to “get people saved.” We’re not supposed to be able to boast about “how many people got saved.” Because it’s only the work of God in people’s lives. We help, for sure. But we’re kind of like the little kids who help their mom make dinner by stirring the pot with a spoon. Technically, we’re helping.
Christians cannot “save” anyone, but we can lead people to Jesus who saved us.
“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” // Matthew 5:16
All we can do is clarify, teach, guide and lead by example. We demonstrate fruit in our life, and do good works, and that points people to Jesus.
These aren’t the only two things to believe about salvation. But they are two things we must believe.
To focus on salvations as a key measure of the success of a church is misguided
How did salvations become a key metric? Over the past 100 years, evangelistic outreaches have focused on leading people to Jesus and getting “people saved.” Objectively, this has been a good thing.
However, that’s not what Jesus said to focus on. Billy Graham himself, without a doubt the greatest evangelist of the past 100 years often lamented that churches would focus on salvations.
He would come to their city and do a crusade that introduced thousands of people to Jesus. His original goal was to connect people to a local church where they could be discipled, however, he would often see churches just replicating his methods within their church to see more salvations. Billy Graham’s stated goal every time he did a crusade was to partner with local churches to get people discipled immediately. He felt that many churches who participated in his crusades missed the mark on discipleship and tried too much to be like him.
Why did they do this? Why do they do this now? Why have salvations become an end goal of the church? There’s a lot of potential reasons, but I think it really comes down to primarily one thing. Ego. And not just a pastor’s ego, but the ego of leaders and members of a church to have a church that is “reaching this many people for Christ.”
As a Pastor, there is nothing more personally gratifying than seeing a large amount of people respond to a message that I preach. People in our church love to see the response on Easter and Christmas when the altars are full. All of us love to watch spiritual change begin to take place in someone’s life. Salvations are a low hanging fruit that make us all feel good.
They make the pastor feel like they’re doing a good job preaching and teaching.
The problem with this is that the goal of preaching is not to invoke a response. It is to make God known to people. To show the teachings and work of God and make them practical for everyday life. Sometimes you will have a message that people love, sometimes messages will be challenging. But mature preachers and teachers never measure their effectiveness by crowd response.
In addition, I think for many pastors and leaders, they have begun to think that increasing the response of the crowd and/or growing their church is the most important outcome. We see this same phenomenon play out when pastors won’t talk about difficult cultural issues that are unbiblical, like cohabitation, gay marriage, the social justice movement and abortion. They are most often afraid of what it will do to their crowds, conferences and book sales.
They help servant leaders and staff feel like they are doing their jobs well.
Now, this may or may not be true. But the church is more than just a salvation hub. It is meant to be a place of growth, transformation, relationship, worship, sacrifice and a whole lot more. If we get too focused on salvations, we’re actually missing the reason why Jesus established the church in the first place.
They are easily and immediately measurable. Hands raised are a very simple measurement.
The problem with this is obvious. Outside of a hand raised, how can we know a person is truly saved? We don’t. We really can’t know at all if someone really is saved. That’s an extremely clear reason why it shouldn’t be a primary measurement. Salvation is a God and you issue, it’s about your heart, your spirit. Those are things that I can never know about another person.
The number is often a big number, much bigger than most any other number a church will track over the course of the year.
Nothing wrong with this, but salvations are often just a “feel good” number that we can put at the top line of an annual report.
Salvation is a one time event that requires little to no consistent engagement, or follow up from a leader.
The last one in particular is worrying for me. Many of us will willingly count hands raised, or people to come forward in the altar. However, ask a leader how many of those people are in their church in 6 months, 3 months, or even 2 weeks from now and there’s usually no way for them to know that.
Many churches, like ours, have people fill out forms and cards so that we can follow up, but the difference in amount of people that fill out a card vs. just come forward to the altar is huge. Not just in our church, in every church. Most often, when a church is throwing a big salvation number on a screen, they’re not saying these people got connected with, they are saying these people raised their hands and we counted them in a service.
It focuses the church around growth through “getting people saved.”
Growth is not a bad thing. Until it is. God is concerned with quality. Not quantity. In our bodies, if something grows too fast, it’s usually cancer.
Scripture doesn’t actually want us to focus on growth. Biblical church leadership is all about health. Rick Warren is famous for saying “healthy things grow, but not everything that grows is healthy.”
Look at these verses and noticed the common statement about God:
“Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” // Matthew 16:18
“They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” // Acts 2:47
“I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” // 1 Corinthians 3:6
What’s the common statement? God is the one who grows the church. We plant, we water, we create a healthy environment, but God grows the church.
Think about your kids. You don’t have to tell them to grow. My 6 year old, Charlie is about 3 feet tall. I don’t have to tell her; “Charlie, you know you can’t be 3 feet tall when you’re 20, you’ve got to grow.” That’s silly. I just have to create the right environment for her and nurture her health. That’s the true role of a church leader. And sometimes getting too focused on salvations gets us growing cancers instead of building healthy environments.
Ego + crowd pleasing are really the cause of most issues we have in life (and the church too).
I’m not saying any of this to be cynical. These are human problems. But there are solutions.
There are 2 very specific things that Jesus tells us to focus on in Scripture. One is behavioral, and the other is performance.
1) The Great Commandment (Behavior) // Matthew 22:35-40
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.
This is hard to quantify, because it tells us how we should focus our actions. But God is concerned with your behavior towards him and other people. And his expectation is that we be loving.
2) The Great Commission (Performance) // Matthew 28:16-20
Every pastor i know, regardless of their salvation count is not thrilled with the quality of discipleship in their church. Ask a pastor how many people have been discipled in their church this year, and that’s a much harder question to answer.
The only thing that Jesus makes specifically clear that we should focus on in the church is the quality of disciples we are developing.
“what kind of disciples are we producing?” should really be the only question a church is trying to answer.
Salvation is a part of that, but it’s not the end goal, it’s the start. If we don’t get focused on discipleship, we fail.
You can have high attendance and still fail.
You can reach thousands with the gospel and still fail.
You can give all your money to the poor and still fail.
You can cast out demons, prophesy, heal and do miracles and still fail.
All of these things are great. but if we don’t make disciples, they don’t matter.
If we don’t make disciples, we fail. period. It’s the performance outcome that Jesus gave us. And most “christians” are absolute failures in this regard. They fail at the one thing Jesus said to be great at. Most christians are failing at just simply following Jesus. So making a disciple is an impossible task for them.
The average christian will never disciple someone, because they aren’t disciples themselves.
How do we know someone is a disciple?
Scripture - Do they read and apply the Bible to their life daily (Joshua 1:8)
Tithing/Giving - Do they put God first + give over and above? (Malachi 3, Acts 4:32-35, 2 Corinthians 8-9)
Servant Leadership - do they serve in the church? do they serve their community? (Philippians 2)
Mentorship - do they have Godly leadership/relationships in their life that hold them accountable? (James 5:16)
Evangelism - Do they tell other people about Jesus? (Mark 16:15)
We must do these things ourselves in order to help other people do them. But we have built a western church where these things are unfortunately the exception, not the rule.
Salvations are an outcome of effective discipleship. Not a measurement themselves.
Ask yourself these 2 questions:
How good of a disciple of Jesus am I according to these 5 things?
What specific people am I helping to become a disciple
your answers to this question will probably help you understand if you’re doing what Jesus said was most important.
What about the church?
So, what should we measure at a church?
at Elevate Life, we’ve tried to measure what we think God actually makes us responsible for biblically from a stewardship perspective. Loving people + making disciples. The scorecard is the metrics we use to determine how well we are doing that. (Notice salvations aren’t on there). We track salvations somewhere. But I never look at them. We don’t consider them to be a key metric that helps us lead the church to make better disciples.
First Time Guest Connections
Every first time guest that engages with our church on a weekend needs a follow up from a person. This is something we can track, be responsible for and helps people get started on their discipleship journey.
Small Group Joins
We want to see every week how many people join a small group. The greatest predictor of a person’s spiritual transformation is their relationships. Getting people to join small groups is the first step they usually take when we make a first time guest connection.
Servant Leader Team Joins
We are a servant-leader driven church. We’ve always had a small staff and believe in the power of “Jesus-style” leadership. Serving the church is a mark of spiritual maturity.
We try (and fail) to keep our services to 90 minutes maximum on a weekend. In our experience, when we go over a 90 minute service length, our team joins, group joins and first time guest follow ups are all significantly impacted.
We look every week to check our stewardship and if the money that came in is greater than the money going out. There are obviously other key metrics financially we use, but this is the baseline of managing our financial stewardship.
3 New Ones
These three are new and we aren’t fully implemented with them yet, but we should be by the end of this year. We are working to add these to our key metrics.
Percentage of servant leaders on multiple rotations
Most often in churches like ours, there are a small group of dedicated people who do 90% of the work. We want people in our church to be balanced and healthy, especially people that serve. Right now almost 50% of the people who serve in our church serve on multiple teams and we’re trying to bring that number down so that people can sit in services with their family and enjoy their rest time.
Greatness journey conversions
This number is how many people have taken their next step in our greatness journey. Which is like our discipleship track. Whether that’s being baptized, taking a class, stepping into a higher level of leadership or tithing. This is how we measure how effective we are at discipling people into spiritual maturity.
Rotation care calls
Ideally, every week, everyone who serves is getting a call from their team or rotation lead during the week checking on them, praying for them and loving them.
We believe that if we track these things effectively and help people do the same, we will build a healthy environment where growth, salvations, discipleship and more all take place.
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