In just about any church building in the country, one can look around and, usually either in the back of the auditorium or somewhere in the foyer, see the standard of measurements used to determine the health of the congregation. If attendance numbers go down, we often wonder and ask what is happening, or worse yet, some look to place blame on those they perceive are responsible. If the contribution number doesn’t add up to the budget, it might not be that big of a deal for one or possibly two weeks; however, if there are too many weeks in a row where there is a deficit, then the questions fly and the pondering as to why begins.

While I completely understand the reasoning behind needing to keep tabs on the temperature of a congregation’s spiritual health, I wonder if we are only getting the complete picture of health by keeping up with attendance and financial contributions. It would be like someone going to the doctor for a check-up, and the doctor using an instrument to look in the ears, nose, and throat and conclude that the patient was completely healthy. If that were you, you might be curious why he did not check your blood pressure, weight, hearing, sight, reflexes, and other things the doctor usually checks on a wellness check-up. In the same way, is it possible that by only looking at the two most posted measurements, attendance and contribution, we are only skimming the top of the surface of detecting spiritual health? What if we used other measurements as well?

Two Spiritual Measurements Deserving Consideration:

1) Number of Bible Readers (Daily or Completing the New Testament) in the Congregation

For growth to occur, we first must define the category of growth we are interested in. Is it simply numeric? If that’s the case, when the “going-gets-tough” or another congregation has something more attractive, the masses may just head out the exit door. I’m not suggesting that numbers don’t equal souls; however, I want you to consider that if spiritual growth is our goal, the souls will be added to the kingdom, thus increasing numeric growth. Along with this, those who are a part of the fold of the local congregation will be challenged to grow deeper spiritually, becoming more rooted and firmly grounded in the purpose they are to fulfill in the kingdom of God.

We’re told of God’s Word’s enormous and eternal value throughout Scripture. It was Jesus who connected the dots between continuing in the Word of God, knowing the truth, and being a disciple of Jesus (John 8: 31-32). In John 17:17, we see Jesus identify precisely what the truth is when He prays, “Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth.” The apostle Paul would challenge Timothy to be “diligent” about presenting himself as a workman who accurately handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2: 15). It was Peter who, when writing to the Christians who were dispersed abroad, wrote, “for you have been born again not of seed, which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1: 23).

With these descriptions and admonitions, along with countless others found throughout the Bible, doesn’t it stand as a logical conclusion that if we want our congregations to grow with lasting growth indeed, then we need to be encouraging them to be in a study of God’s Word outside of the times we gather for worship? It’s through a study of the Word that we encounter Jesus. Through the study of the Word, we see the will of God revealed to us. Through a good study of the Word, we understand that we have been given all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1: 3)…So, since the reading and studying of God’s Word is that important, what if we started challenging our congregations to be regular Bible readers and Bible studiers? What if we posted the number of people who read their Bibles every day throughout the week or those who’ve completely read through the New Testament? Wouldn’t we get a better sense of health than simply gauging it based on who showed up to worship once or twice a week?

2) Number of Personal Bible Studies Conducted in Our Local Community

The hard truth is that when numeric growth is not occurring, many look around and begin diagnosing the situation. Everything from parking lots, pads on the pews, the color of the carpet, cleanliness of the building, Bible class selection, work of the elders, and of course, the preacher’s efforts are all brought under the lens of the microscope as we seek answers. Many will offer solutions; however, few will take personal responsibility for the reason why numeric growth is not present, and perhaps there’s a shift toward a decline. There’s no doubt that the Bible teaches an underlying principle that God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7); however, what if we challenged the Christians in our local congregations in the area of planting and watering the seed – God’s Word through personal Bible studies? What if we kept a running total of the number of personal Bible studies that have been conducted from week to week and posted an accumulated number on the measurement board for all to see?

The first thing that might come to your mind when reading that is, “There is no way the members of the congregation where I attend would go for that!” Some may even be concerned and say, “Are we really in the business of keeping tabs on people to make sure they are doing what needs to be done?” If either of these responses ventured through your head, you’re not alone. Many to whom I have mentioned this seem to have a concerned or not-so-positive reaction…But why?… Why is it that when we start talking about measuring the spiritual growth of a congregation by seeing how many personal Bible studies we’ve conducted, some become negative and concerned? It’s not about controlling individuals any more than the doctor taking a blood pressure reading is about controlling the patient. The reading is simply a measurement of the patient’s health and, in our case, the congregation.

On top of being able to discern the spiritual health of a congregation more accurately, I propose to you that keeping a running total of the personal Bible studies conducted by the disciples in the congregation where you worship will also provide more information to the discussion when people ask, “Why are we not growing?” or “Why are we decreasing in attendance?” As I said earlier, there will be an endless offering of conclusions to answer these and other questions like these; however, very few of them will ever be centered on the individual asking the questions. In other words, when someone asks, “Why are we not growing?” most likely, they won’t answer, “We aren’t growing because I am not studying the Bible with anyone” or “We are not growing because in a year, as a congregation we have only conducted 5 Bible personal Bible studies and brother Smith is responsible for 4 out of the 5.” However, what if you could help change the mentality within the congregation to take personal responsibility? Wouldn’t that be a massive step in the right direction of growing into spiritual maturity? Sure it would, and your congregation would be blessed by such.

There’s no doubt that everyone who will take the time to read to this point in the article is concerned about the health of the individual congregation where they attend. We would all love to see the numbers on the measurement boards in our church buildings, which always show an increase in attendance and meeting our weekly budgets; however, there are times in every congregation when that isn’t the case. The intent behind even introducing these additional spiritual measurements is that we must transition our thinking into our responsibility to help disciples further their spiritual growth and let God take care of the numeric growth. When we are maturing in the faith, we will always be pleasing to God. That can’t be said simply because the numbers on the board are increasing. Each congregation would be blessed if they would reconsider the standard of measurement regarding the health of their congregations.

Joe Wells
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Joe Wells holds an earned B.S. degree in Science along with a completion certificate from the Nashville School of Preaching and Biblical Studies and a Masters of Ministry degree from Freed Hardeman University. Joe travels the country as a frequent speaker for youth and family events, men’s days, as well as gospel meetings. He is the co-founder of Kaio Publications, publishers of the Family Devotional series as well as the Finer Grounds Bible Study series for women. Joe is also the author of the book Complete: Becoming the Man God Purposes You to Be and Game Plan: Developing a Spiritually Winning Strategy for Adults and Teens in Today’s Culture. Along with this, he and Erin are the co-host of The Hey Joe Show, a podcast designed to challenge and strengthen families and teens across America. Joe has served God in a public way since 2000 in the capacity of youth minister and gospel preacher, helping people make the connection with the Word of God and encouraging them to be transformed for Christ. He is blessed to the husband to the former Erin O’Hara, and they are the proud parents of four beautiful children: Colton, Michala, Camden, and Bennett.