Do Small Churches Need Self-Assessment?

Ed Stetzer: “The size of a church does not determine its health. But a church’s health can determine its size.”

Facts are our friends, and we need to use them with care. A church assessment is about giving you the facts you need, even if a lot of people don’t recognize that. Churches of all sizes, even small ones, should engage in some form of assessment because it is necessary, legitimate and beneficial.

Is It Necessary?

Whether you know it or not, from the classroom to the doctor’s office, we use assessments every day. My auto mechanic uses certain tools to assess the health of my car and determine if there are any problems we need to address. Most accept those types of assessments, but when it comes to the assessment of churches, the conversation can get sticky.

While I don’t think most people ask their doctor why he needs to measure their blood pressure, people regularly ask me, “Why should my church care about measurements?” There’s a whole category of people who are fundamentally opposed to the idea that we should ask questions of “how many” when it comes to the church.

I understand the hesitancy. We can become so caught up measuring numbers that we miss the things of faith. But measuring numbers can be helpful if it is done in the right spirit. In making an assessment of a church, we can reveal its areas of strength and those in need of change.

One thing we want to avoid is using the wrong measurements, which can essentially say large equals healthy. I happen to believe that small churches can be healthy churches. Most churches in the world (and throughout history) are small. The size of a church does not determine its health. But a church’s health can determine its size. An assessment doesn’t tell you if your church is too small, but it can reveal whether your small church is healthy.

This is one of the reasons why we, at LifeWay Research, have sought to move the scorecard for measuring healthy churches away from merely looking at bodies, buildings and budgets. In Transformational Church and the Transformational Church Assessment Tool, we evaluate and measure how a church is making disciples.

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Since that’s the task Jesus left for us, we should know whether we are doing a good job at it. Now, we are not the only ones with assessments, so my point here is not that you use ours, but that you use some. Regardless of which assessment tool your church chooses to use, you need to know if your church is engaged in true disciple-making.

Is It Legitimate?

Foundationally, we see the value of assessment in Scripture. Proverbs 27:23 tells us, “Know well the condition of your flock, and pay attention to your herds.” Obviously the sheep-shepherd relationship regarding God’s people is used frequently throughout the Bible. So it isn’t a great leap to apply this to the church.

Pastors and leaders should know the state of their church, regardless of its size. Being small is normal in the kingdom. Being unhealthy is not. So small church leaders need to determine the health of the local body.

To be clear, there are some things assessments can’t do. They can tell you if your church is unhealthy, but they cannot, in and of themselves, make your church healthy. Only God can transform a church or a person. But the assessment will often point out which areas need to be transformed and help your small church answer these three questions.

Where Are We?

An assessment of your church can reveal where you are in areas that matter most, like spiritual formation, missionary mentality, worship vitality, etc. We all have blind spots, areas we can’t see because of our perspective.

Even in a small church, where everything seems pretty accessible, problems can evade our detection. The “us four and no more” mentality rarely labels itself clearly. It often hides behind a sense of family that everyone in the family loves, and even boasts in. So until the right questions are asked and honest answers given, this mentality will continue to hinder the growth and health of the church.

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Why Are We Here?

Assessments can reveal why we are in our current state. Are we small because our community is shrinking due to cultural forces such as a depressed economy? Or are we small because we haven’t invested any resources in missions?

This part of the assessment is perhaps the most painful and can elicit the most finger-pointing. But if a congregation can hold together in unity and repent over missed opportunities, it can be a turning point in the life of the small church.

What Can We Do?

Assessments can even help us figure out the next steps. If the assessment shows that your church is strong in small group discipleship, then you may want to capitalize on that and develop a small group multiplication process as a way to grow the church.

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer is the editor-in-chief of Outreach magazine, host of the Stetzer ChurchLeaders Podcast, and a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He currently serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Naperville, Illinois.

He is also regional director for Lausanne North America, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by and writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is the founding editor of The Gospel Project, and his national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.