Which one? How do I choose wisely?
There’s a magazine from my childhood which has hugely influenced my thinking since. Not a comic or storytelling publication.
It was WHICH?, the magazine of the pioneering UK consumer group CA. In what is now a common worldwide concept, they buy and exhaustively test various consumer products, and choose a ‘best buy’, or a range of recommendations based on various criteria.
This magazine taught me that evidence-based choices are vital. If vehicle A or washing machine B is demonstrably better or more reliable than its peers, why would you not buy that one? If laptops from one manufacturer have half the annual failure rate of those from another, why would you not look online for the reliability stats? If insurance company C has an appalling customer service record, then despite enticing prices or giveaways, why not turn round and start walking (as I did only this month)?
Of course, the Internet has enabled everyone to share consumer feedback. Almost all products sold by Amazon (and many other online vendors) carry a number of customer reviews.
An evidence-based approach is surely even more vital for ministry. But Christians can be uncertain of how to objectively research options, or even leery of trying. Few churches do demographic research for their community. What are the age demographics and ethnic profile of the area? The community needs and problems? Unemployment levels? Single mothers, one-person households? Without research, we can only use instinct or anecdotal evidence. Research is nothing less than uncovering God’s truth.
Evidence-based assessment of ministry models is equally vital. Ask the hard questions. Einstein said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Isaiah 55:11 is often optimistically misapplied to validate all types of ineffective or outdated ministry. Of course, we must avoid short-termism, or worldly views of ‘success’. Not everything is measurable. Some sorts of ministry, not least in the Majority World, take years to come to fruition.
Change is here to stay
However, the world is changing fast, and methods which may have been reasonably successful in the past, are no longer. We are living in a post-Christendom post-Constantinian world which no longer concedes us any entitlement to be the spiritual voice of our nations.
If research shows, for instance, that one form of youth ministry appears to double the rate of retention of young people through the difficult teenage years, why would we not adopt it? If analysis suggests that most people learn best through a variety of drama, storytelling, interactive discussion, and that they have a 20-minute maximum attention span for lecture-format teaching, why would we continue to give them 40-minute unbroken monologues? If multiple studies clearly show that most lasting adult conversions are the result of a close relationship with a Jesus-follower, why would we pursue strategies which exclude this element? (This is why ongoing online mentoring is so vital for digital ministry.)
There is also a big need for research studies for digital and mobile phone evangelism and discipleship. Check our research page for a few examples, and please share others you know (and your thoughts about this issue) on our comments section. We need to discuss and develop methodologies that enable us to to assess or create digital ministries that can be effective.
Often, our problem is tradition. We believe that the only ‘proper’ way of doing something is that we learned as children, young people, even as seminary students. We often validate our practices, and elevate them to non-negotiable principles, by reading them back into the biblical accounts.
I marvel at how ancient choices continue to influence others, for better or worse, down the years. When we go to visit our youngest grand-daughter, we take a road built by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago. We address her by a Greek name, Sophia, little changed in spelling or pronunciation for 2700 years.
Some things we need to hold on to. Others need to be allowed to die. We need God’s wisdom – sophia / Σοφια – to know which.
Ed Stetzer explains here how our denominational past can become an idol.
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