I grew up a Blazers’ fan.
I lived in Portland, and I loved basketball, so it made sense that I would root for the hometown team.
One of my favorite players growing up was a guy named Rasheed Wallace. The dude was not a role model by any means, but he could play some serious ball.
Rasheed was a trash-talker too. One of my favorite lines he’d say a lot to opponents was, “Ball don’t lie!” If a guy missed a free throw, Rasheed would say, “Ball don’t lie!” just to mess with him and get in his head.
If you’re in ministry, I want to mess with you and get in your head for a minute.
I want to say to you, “Numbers don’t lie.”
But, the numbers I’m talking about are not the numbers we tend to measure. We like to measure how many students showed up at youth group, how many of them went on the mission trip last summer, how many of them have been baptized…I think you get the point.
I’ve heard it said before that ministries determine success by what they measure. It’s not rocket science I know, but generally we find fulfillment and success in the things that we think should count.
So, we count bodies. As in, “We had 50 bodies show up at youth group last night!” It sounds demeaning when you say it that way, but that’s how a lot of us measure success in ministry.
But, what if 25 of those 50 bodies walked out the doors of your ministry and walked away from God? Would you really feel like a success then? Could you really pat yourself on the back knowing that half the students you see on a typical youth group night end up being spiritual corpses?
I’ll admit that it’s easy to focus on what we can count easily. But, we need to stop counting bodies and start counting souls instead. We need to consider different ways to measure success in ministry.
In his book “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith,” David Kinnaman writes, “What would it look like to begin measuring things like teens’ and young adults’ knowledge of and love for Scripture, their clarity about their gifts and vocation, their willingness to listen to the voice of God and follow His direction, the fruits of the Spirit in their lives, and the depth and quality of their love and service to others?”
What would that look like? That question has been stirring in my head for a long time now. It’s made me ask some tough questions about ministry and what really is a “successful” church or youth group in God’s eyes. How would He measure success? What numbers would He count?
The fact is I think He’d look below the surface at what’s really going on in a person’s heart. And, He’d say the same thing to us as He said to Samuel right before he anointed a shepherd boy as the next king of Israel. “The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)
Ministry is and always will be about numbers, because numbers represent people. And, people have souls. But, at a time in our culture when young people are walking away from their faith in increasing numbers, we need to reconsider the way we measure success in ministry.
“Numbers don’t lie.” What are your numbers telling you?