On March 18, 2015 Lyle E. Schaller died and the church lost one of its greatest leaders. Christianity Today called Schaller the “dean of church consultants.” He authored 55 books and edited another 41. He published thousands of essays and journal articles. His newsletter “The Parish Paper” had over 200,000 subscribers from 28 different denominations. In a 1988/1989 survey he was named the most influential Protestant leader in the United States. All-in-all he had a pretty impressive resume.
Even more important for me was the fact that he had a profound impact on me. I may have read more of his books than any other author on the subject of the church. Those books deeply impacted my thinking. I especially love the fact that he wrote two books specifically for small-church leaders.
In a book entitled 44 Questions For Congregational Self-Appraisal, he talked about the importance of asking the right questions (pp. 12-14). Although he wrote about seventeen yeas ago, his point is still relevant today.
Two sets of questions
Schaller suggests that there are two sets of questions that a church might ask in trying to appraise itself. The first represents typical questions that are often asked.
- Do we have enough money to pay our bills? Have our total receipts been increasing or decreasing?
- What is the condition of our real estate?
- Is our membership going up or down?
- Is worship attendance up or down?
- How is our Sunday school doing?
- Are our people reasonably happy with how things are going here now? If they are unhappy, what can be done about that?
- How many dollars are we spending for others to do missions on our behalf? Is that total up or down?
Schaller then suggests a different set of questions.
- How many lives are being transformed through our ministries? Is that number increasing or decreasing?
- How effective are we in challenging, enlisting, training, placing, and supporting our people as volunteers in off-campus ministries?
- What is the new outreach ministry the Great Commission is calling us to pioneer? How do we reach and serve the people that the churches in this community currently are not reaching? How can we help other congregations learn from what we discover as we pioneer new ministries in obedience to the Great Commission?
- What are we doing to support the work of others in fulfilling the Great Commission in other parts of the world?
- As the years roll by is God challenging us to identify and accept a new role as a Kingdom-building church?
- (maybe) What changes do we need to make to enable us to reach and serve a broader slice of the total population?
The right questions can make all the difference
A couple of weeks ago I wrote in a blog entry entitled A Small Church With A Huge Heart about a church in Nova Scotia that God used to bring a refugee family to Canada. Not only did that church experience the joy of being involved in the lives of a mother and her five daughters but they influenced other churches to become involved as well.
As I outlined in the story, that church began by asking the right questions. Rather than asking how they were going to do it, they asked how could they not do it in the face of so much suffering. The result was that the church moved ahead in faith, overcame the obstacles and experienced the wonder of being used by God to do what many thought couldn’t be done.
Whatever you might be doing in your church, taking time to ask the right questions and then finding the right answers can make all the difference in the world.
The first set of questions that Schaller provides are the questions that churches in survival mode might ask. Their focus is on the externals (budgets, property and numbers).
The second set is all about mission. It is about changed lives and ministry. It is about what God is doing and what he wants to do in the future.
What a difference the right set of questions makes.