Are You Keeping Score on the Wrong Scorecard?

Don't let the wrong scorecard disqualify you from effective ministry.

Last year, Caroline Inglis was on the verge of a historic feat. No high school golfer, male or female, had ever captured the Oregon state title four consecutive years. Inglis won the class 5A state tournament her freshman, sophomore and junior years. There seemed very little doubt that she would win the title again as a senior.

On the course, Caroline dominated the rest of the field­—finishing with a 3-under 69, nine shots better than any other golfer. On the last hole, with victory assured, she scored her first bogey of the day. That would not have been an issue, except for the fact that her playing partner wrote down she had made a par. Caroline signed her scorecard and turned it in, believing she had just accomplished an Oregon first. In reality, she had just disqualified herself.

In golf, turning in an incorrect scorecard results in a disqualification. Because she had signed and submitted the wrong score, Caroline forfeited the win, even though her actual score was still much better than anyone else. Having the wrong scorecard can make all the difference in the world.

Not too long ago, Bill Hybels and Willow Creek were honest enough to admit it—they had been using the wrong scorecard. An assessment demonstrated that their members were not moving into maturity. “Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into, thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much,” Hybels said. “Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.”

While they were roundly criticized for their mistakes and everyone latched on to their remarks as a moment to say, “I told you so,” they are not the only church making similar mistakes. The things that Willow Creek found were problems in their congregation are problems in all kinds of churches. I believe most churches have been operating off the wrong scorecard for years.

Few churches use any system of accountability today. Many often judge their success based on anecdotes of temporary successes, with those frequently having long since lost any relevance to the current ministry taking place. Anecdotes can be great illustrations of statistical truths. They can also be misleading and hide the reality of the situation.

For those who actually use some means to analyze their ministry, most churches use the same three measuring sticks: bodies, budgets and buildings. The old, numbers-driven scorecard focuses exclusively on the number of people attending, the number of dollars being spent and the number of square feet being used for church purposes. This is based on a brick-and-mortar mentality that reinforces an emphasis on the campus instead of encouraging people to be moved out into the field.

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.