The annual meeting is a yearly event (annual should have given it away) that is just as much a part of the church calendar as Christmas and Easter. Unlike Christmas and Easter, the focus is not on the arrival or sacrifice of the Messiah. In most cases it isn’t about Jesus at all. Often wrapped up in Christian metaphors like ministry, tithes and offerings, attendance, outreach and many more things that we consider our mandate, the annual meeting is really a cost benefit analysis of the previous year. Money brought in and money spent and the resulting outcome. If we end in the black without a large decrease in giving, attendance, or programs we have had at least an acceptable year and possibly a successful year. If we avoid heated words and personal insults and prevent an all-out brawl we have had at least an acceptable annual meeting and possibly a successful annual meeting.
Annual meetings are part of the business of doing church but should church be measured like a business?
Before anyone misunderstands me, I know that reporting what the church is doing is a very important part of being accountable and a requirement (at least in Canada) if you are running a charitable organization. The basic financial information will always use a business format, after all, a church is a charity and a charity is a not-for-profit business. This is a measure of solvency and ethical financial practices but it is not a measure of success. Profit and loss, market share, new product introduction and reception, gauge success in a business model but they are not appropriate markers for the church.
I have never seen profit and loss, market share or new product introduction and reception, in any annual church report.
Are you sure you have never seen them? The names may not be the same but the reporting often amounts to the same thing. We often discuss if we made budget, if donations and expenditures are balanced, isn’t that profit and loss? We talk about increase or decrease in attendance, isn’t that very similar to market share? We engaged in conversations about the use of our facilities and their appeal to the community under the category of outreach, isn’t that asset management, the reallocation of resources to realise income potential? We review the selection of programs we have as well as the introduction of new programs during the last year and how effective they were in getting people into the building, isn’t that just another way to discuss product selection, new product introduction and product reception? Each of these are not sinful nor is having some sort of measurement of the church’s operations ungodly but is it the measure of success?
True church success does not come from business strategies. Church success comes from obedience to God’s call.
This is a tough one. I can read a balance sheet, I can read a credit card or bank statement. I understand the red and the black numbers and with little effort I can assess the practicality of continuing on the same way. It is considerably harder to create a balance sheet or reporting system that can assess the Godliness of continuing on the same way. The collective of Christ followers as a whole and Christ followers as individuals may be able to say the books are balanced and we are busy doing church things but can they say it is out of obedience to God or would it be more truthful to say it is out of a sense of obligation to their definition of success?
Success in church is measured by how far the congregation and leadership have come in making it about:
- God’s plan
- God’s way
- God’s timing
- God’s chosen resources
If the church values obedience it will teach obedience and it will rely on obedience to God. From outreach to finances, from building use to a program’s success everything should be measured by the church’s willingness to seek God.
I don’t know how you put this in a year-end report but I do know how you put it into practice.
Prayer, prayer and more prayer. Prayer asks God what He considers profitable to His kingdom. Prayer asks God to send the people to a church that best serves them and that they can best serve at and then asks God to prepare each church for the new people. Prayer asks God how to best use the building for His glory. Prayer asks God what programs to continue, what programs to end and what programs to launch. Proper prayer is a signal that we are ready to be obedient, that we are ready to let God be God not just when something starts but throughout the entire process.