Quality control in the church...

Anyone else have fantasies of best practices and quality control infiltrating Reformed pulpits and sessions? Is the church really above objective criteria and good metrics? These thoughts were spawned by this article about Pottery Barn's decision not to sell a coffee table many of their customers wanted and had already ordered.

I've asked profs to suggest to their doctoral candidates that they work to put together studies of churches that go beyond hip factors and numbers and dollars, to objective measures of ecclesiastical excellence. Maybe things like proportion of men to women, percentage of sons and daughters of the church who are active in... church at sixteen/twenty/twenty-four, number of officers' children under church discipline (the more there are, the worse? or better?), average number of children per marriage, racial diversity, percentage of income given to charity and the work of the Lord, proportion of mothers not holding full-time jobs, ratio of infant to adult baptisms, percentage of congregation in home fellowship groups, percentage of members in worship, incidence of divorce, proportion of session meetings spent on finances/budget/schedules as opposed to pastoral care, and so on.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.


I just happened to read this after reading Pastor Joseph's post about Mitt Romney, and it occurs to me that Mormons would score well on most of these objective criteria (at least the ones that you mentioned here).

Maybe include a criterion regarding the source text for sermon's: How many sermons draw their source text from something other than the Bible (i.e. the book of Mormon), vs. drawn from the Bible; and then proportion of sermons drawn from the NT vs. from the OT; and then proportion of stand-alone sermons vs. sermons preached as a series through an entire book, without skipping verses. That might start to give an objective measure of how well the counsel of God, and the whole counsel of God, is preached.

Speaking as a certified quality engineer, one thing you've got to be careful of with objective measures is to make the right ones, and to remember that just about everything you do in ministry is a "special cause."  So your statistical variation in what you do is going to be a lot bigger than is supposed to be the case with making various kinds of widgets.  So for the math challenged, everything becomes very, very hard to measure.

It's also worth noting that the things you propose measuring are all outcomes, not inputs, which is in general a big quality assurance no-no.  There is a proverb that you can't inspect in quality, and if you concentrate on outcomes, you're going to tend to miss the inputs that are really critical to what you want to do.

OK, so what are the inputs?  First, is the pastor spending time putting together a good exegetical sermon or two each week?  Does he preach it winsomely?  Is the music leader choosing music that is sound theologically and musically, and do he and his minions understand how to play it well?  Are pastors pursuing a strategy of visitation of members and frequent attenders, or are pastoral calls only "when the pastor needs something done"?  

Is the facility clean, winsome, and well maintained?  What small groups and Sunday School classes are out there to involve members?

Not that the questions you suggested are unimportant--inasmuch as you've got to look at outcomes, they look good to me--but if you want to do quality assurance (planned quality) instead of quality control (prevent the bad stuff from getting out, you've got to measure some inputs.

And yes, because some of it is a bit subjective, it's going to be HARD to do statistically.  That said, if you want to have another set of eyes review this kind of thing, send me a note.


I don't think that you can establish a best practices model. There simply is no substitute for real men of God providing leadership to the congregation. In fact, I think the very idea of establishing "best practices" in the church is counterproductive because (1) It further contributes to the Pastor as CEO craze that has run through the evangelical world; (2) It creates the illusion that if we do the right inputs we will experience the desired outcomes. This ignores the fact that the Holy Spirit gives life.

Best wishes,


Well, I've been thinking, and I'm sympathetic to what David A. Booth and Bert Perry warn against. 

But let's admit that "by their fruit you shall know them" requires us to evaluate the fruit, right?

If I had to guess, I'd say that the main point is that the measurements that *are* being done right now are not measuring things that indicate true fruit. And the secondary point might be that reports from Christian organizations (including churches) are often filled with deception at best or downright lies at worst with regard to the fruit of their ministries. Hard numbers help to prevent that sort of thing. 

There ought to be accountability for the claims. A publicly-traded business that claims it's going great guns has to back it up with real numbers.

Make sense?

On the other hand, I'm not sure there really is a way to do what the post proposes, for the reasons mentioned. Controlling for all of the variables seems like a herculean task.

>>I'm not sure there really is a way to do what the post proposes, for the reasons mentioned.

I've seen the results of carefully written and collected surveys of different demographics within the PC(USA), pastors in ministry, and Wheaton College alumni, and each of them were absolutely fascinating and stunningly helpful to me.

What I'm proposing is something like what Jim Hunter did for Evangelical institutions of higher education back in the nineties. His work titled Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation and published by University of Chicago was a numerical sociological blunderbuss against the false advertising of academics making a living off assuring Evangelical parents their children would be safe, spiritually, studying with them and others in the (then) Christian Coalition of Colleges.

Let's see something similar done with parachurch campus ministries and churches.

Where there's a will, there's a way. If you haven't read Hunter's book, get it and read it.


the way to do this is "lean."  You break down your "lots" into units called "families" and "individuals," and you track those lots from incoming ("profession of faith") to various stages of spiritual obedience or disobedience--baptism/confirmation, marriage, church membership as an adult, church discipline, participation in church ministries, and Christian burial.  Track person by name to "pair" the data and get far more statistical confidence, and then also put in your pastoring best practices--home visits, preaching, etc..

If you see a glut at one stage and few at the next, you've got a cause for examining your ministry to see if you really are reaching people.  I think this would be really helpful in my circles--fundamental Baptist--to "rein in" the guy who says "50 people have been saved at the county fair!", but there are only 30 people in the whole church, and 90% of them have been there for the past 20 years.

Of course, you would need a pastor mature enough to admit that his gaudy conversion numbers are in reality stony soil, but it could really help make that point.

And concerning "Christian burial," it's opposed to pagan burial, which is cremation.


The issue is not that we count, but what we count. This was driven home to me years ago when one of the larger Pentecostal churches in my country ran an evangelistic weekend, seem to have preached the Gospel well enough, and then reported "700 decisions for Christ" over the weekend. Later they reported, "70 people in the new believers' class"; not a bad result in our setting, but where did everyone else go?! 

Another useful measure is the share of your adult rollcall you get in the Lord's House at least once in a Sunday. My rule-of-thumb is that on 'any given Sunday' no more than three-quarters of the rollcall will be there. Of those who aren't, about half, I think, will have some good reason not to be. When my father was pastoring, I recall vividly, over many a Sunday lunch my mother's keen eye for those who had made it to church that Sunday, and her even keener eye for those who hadn't! At the moment my 'home' church is managing to get little more than half the rollcall out on a Sunday; and that is raising some concerning questions for me.

This last month as we finally got desparately needed rain, I and several others expressed thankfulness that the rain most of the time started slowly softening the ground to receive the blessed rain. I was reminded of Peter Marshall's tale from The Light and the Glory (I believe) of the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims needed rain one year, and, being Pilgrims, they set aside a time of fasting and prayer. When the rain came, it was a gentle soaking rain that much impressed the watching Indians. The Indians said, "We do our rain dances, but they don't always work and usually result in flooding when they do work." As I was thinking about QC type metrics at the time, my mind went to the metric of rain. We almost always talk about inches of rain, which is important. However, that metric not only does not tell the whole story, it conceals the rest of the story. That is usually a secondary function of any metric, sometimes even the primary function. The moral of my story is "Beware blinding metrics."


I don't want to pick a point with you about cremation, but my late father was a very devout Lutheran for as long as I can remember. He always wanted cremation over a traditional burial mainly because of (1) the lower cost of cremation and (2) he was someone who preferred to be in the background instead out in front and abhorred an either an open or closet casket funeral. Before he retired, he discussed cremation with his Lutheran minister who told him that cremation was acceptable within the Lutheran faith and by extension the Christian faith.

After he and my mom retired and moved 1500 miles away, he asked the same question to their new Lutheran minister, who gave him the same answer. 

Do you have a Bible verse(s) to back up your position against cremation?



P.S. When he died last December we honored his wishes and had him cremated. His urn was at his visitation and memorial service.

Dear Sue,

Generally, if our commitments or practice differ from those of the fathers of the faith of past centuries, we're wrong. So it is with cremation. Read all the places Scripture speaks of the horror of burning a man's bones. Why is it horrible? 

I don't have time to write on this now, but I'll do a post on it soon. We've been talking about it in the pastors college and one of the men, Michael Foster, sent us this quote of Calvin this past week. It's typical of the Christian view through the centuries.

Thus says the Lord, “For three transgressions of Moab and for four I will not revoke its punishment, Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime" (Amos 2:1).

Calvin's comments: To dig up the bodies of enemies, and to burn their bones, — this is an inhuman deed, and wholly barbarous. But it was more detestable in the Moabites, who had some connection with the people of Edom; for they descended from the same family; and the memory of that relationship ought to have continued, since Abraham brought up Lot, the father of the Moabites; and thus the Moabites were under an obligation to the Idumeans. If then any humanity existed in them, they ought to have restrained their passions, so as not to treat so cruelly their brethren. Now, when they exceeded all moderation in war, and raged against dead bodies, and burnt the bones of the dead, it was, as I have said, an extremely barbarous conduct. The meaning then is, that the Moabites could no longer be borne with; for in this one instance, they gave an example of savage cruelty. Had there been a drop of humanity in them, they would have treated more kindly their brethren, the Idumeans; but they burnt into lime, that is, into ashes, the bones of the king of Edom, and thereby proved that they had forgotten all humanity and justice. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning.

Concerning your beloved father, he sought counsel and did as his pastors recommended. I'm sorry they didn't say more to him, but at the resurrection of the dead in Christ, neither lime nor bones will present any challenge to God.


...what do we make of the European practice of disinterring bodies after 25 years or so, at least unless the person to whom the bones belonged was eminent?

This question has more than factual or academic interest for me. It has happened to my grandparents and will happen to some aunts and uncles within the next 10-15 years, all of whom spent their entire lives in a western European country.

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