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Evaluation and Ministry Development

By Marcelo Gomes

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An adequate evaluative process is essential for developing church planting work. Evaluation should be defined as the encounter between the planning process and the development process. The word “process” is used here because both planning and development are dynamic components of any initiative.

This perspective on evaluation requires the abandonment of a linear thought of the missional vision. Linear thinking in developing ideas and solutions is the result of the Hegelian dialectic of thesis-antithesis-synthesis.

In the linear thinking process, an ideal is presented, challenges and impossibilities are discussed, and then a proposal is established. The problem is that this linear model of thinking no longer meets the needs of planning and development in the contemporary world. Society has ceased to function socially and cognitively in the linear model and has started to function in a web model of connections.

In other words, the thinking processes in our society are systemic in nature. Thus, any missional practice that is established should be developed in such a way that systemic dynamics are taken into account.

With a systemic model for new church starts, evaluation is more than quantitative and qualitative observation. Evaluation becomes part of the missional development process, offering possibilities for changes and adaptations that are necessary for innovation and success. It is a practice of cultural intelligence in the development of the mission. Author Soong-Chan Rah writes:

A linear approach would too quickly introduce diversity into the church. However, unless the church is ready to deal with diversity and has developed a certain level of cultural intelligence and sensitivity, the church will eventually repel rather than attract diversity. Simplistic thinking is inadequate when dealing with the complexity of multiethnic ministry. System thinking is required.[1]

An important element connected to systems thinking in church planting is an economic one. The economic fragility of ethnic church planting initiatives when they are just beginning, as well as the fact that supporting churches are in decline generally (which reflects a general disinterest in participation in religious communities) produces a certain but implicit expectation of failure.

Changes in the dynamics of the community and society are rarely considered in ethnic church planting initiatives. Additionally, leaders do not consider a systemic analysis for a systemic approach. Some leaders are not open to a systems approach, fearing a need to change ecclesial dynamics to reach people. They believe a systems approach implies a change in theological values, even though this is not true.

The revival of the postmodern church must include a revision of its colonial and ethnocentric missional perspective. The church must adapt to the dynamics of the community to which it belongs. Before faith, God exists; before the church, the community exists.

True revival involves a church that can become a missional instrument to the pre-existing community, instead of the community changing its dynamics to become part of the church institution. Therefore, the logic of filling church sanctuaries is wrong and, ultimately a deformation, although filling sanctuaries with people is the missiological ideal of many church planting leaders.

As a result, social and economic aspects need to guide the entire planning and development process of the missional initiative and always with the logic of adaptation and innovation. Mark Deymaz, in The Coming Revolution in Church Economics, explains:

[S]ustaining innovation based on assumptions rooted in the past will not likely be enough to provide for the financial needs of local churches hoping to grow, multiply, and impact their communities. What is needed is disruptive innovation where church funding is connected. The entirety of our understanding must change. Indeed, leaders today must learn to think and to act in ways different from the past if they are to see churches well-resourced and sustained in the future. [2]

How do we evaluate the development of ethnic missions, considering the lack of an initial structure as a church? It is precisely in this sense that evaluation and systems-thinking will benefit the mission. Church leaders must look at church planting in a systemic and non-linear way.

What are your thoughts on this perspective? How could developers and cabinets address these issues and create a systems-thinking church-planting process?

Feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you want to have a strategic conversation around this topic.

[1] Soong-Chan Rah, Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church (Moody, 2010), 185.

[2] Mark Deymaz, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019), 30–31.

Dr. Marcelo Gomes is the Director of Training & Church Planting Systems with Path 1 at Discipleship Ministries.

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