While nine out of 10 Protestant pastors believe their congregation is making significant progress in spiritual development, a LifeWay Research study found the majority admits regular evaluation of progress is not occurring in their local church.
LifeWay Research conducted the survey of 1,000 randomly selected Protestant pastors in conjunction with another survey of Protestant laity as part of the Transformational Discipleship study.
In the Transformational Discipleship study, 90 percent of Protestant pastors agree, "We are consistently hearing reports of changed lives at our church," including 49 percent who strongly agree. Even more pastors (92 percent) agree with the statement: "Our congregation is making significant progress in their spiritual development," including 42 percent who strongly agree.
In contrast, however, the majority of pastors disagree with the statement "I am satisfied with the state of discipleship and spiritual formation in our local church," including 18 percent who strongly disagree and 34 percent who somewhat disagree with the statement.
"Making disciples is the work of the church," said Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research. "Clearly, pastors want to see improvement in the spiritual formation of the people in their church, but the question is, ?How is this being evaluated?'"
When asked "Does your church regularly evaluate discipleship progress among your congregation?" 56 percent of pastors said their church does not.
"The danger is that church leaders may assume progress based on what they want to happen rather than what is actually taking place," said McConnell.
Among the 43 percent of pastors answering "yes," to regular evaluation of discipleship progress, 97 percent agree their congregation is making significant progress in their spiritual development and 60 percent agree they are satisfied with the state of discipleship in their local church.
Of the 56 percent who answered "no" to the question of evaluation, 89 percent agree their congregation is making significant progress in their spiritual development and 37 percent agree they are satisfied with the state of discipleship in their local church.
The study revealed the percentage of pastors who regularly evaluate discipleship progress among their congregation decreases with the size of the church. Pastors with congregations of 250 and above are the most likely (64 percent) to say they regularly evaluate discipleship progress, compared with 45 percent of pastors with congregations of 100-249, 39 percent of pastors with congregations of 50-99, and 33 percent of pastors with congregations of 49 and below.
"It is critical for pastors to have an objective source for measuring spiritual growth in their congregation," said McConnell. "Assessment prevents the latest church member victory or failure from distorting the perspective of reality."
"How people really grow is at the heart of the Transformational Discipleship research and the book Transformational Discipleship written by Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley and Philip Nation," McConnell said. "Churches and pastors with a passion for discipleship produce disciples. While this is a work of the Holy Spirit and not a formulaic approach, there is a great deal that can be learned by studying those individuals who are experiencing growth."
The pastor survey also revealed demographic differences by age, region and church size:
Pastors of churches with more than 250 attendees are the most likely to strongly agree (67 percent) they consistently hear reports of changed lives at their church, and pastors identifying themselves as evangelical are more likely (49 percent) to strongly agree than self-identified mainline pastors (42 percent).
Pastors age 65 and over are the most likely to strongly agree (53 percent) and the least likely to somewhat agree (39 percent) that their congregation is making significant progress in their spiritual development.
Pastors of churches with 49 attendees or fewer are the least likely to somewhat agree (23 percent) they are satisfied with the state of discipleship and spiritual formation in their church.
McConnell pointed out the Transformational Discipleship research also generated the Transformational Discipleship Assessment (TDA), a comprehensive tool to help churches gain a better understanding of the spiritual health of their congregation and the effectiveness of their methods of discipleship. Information on TDA and the entire Transformational Church emphasis can be found at TransformationalChurch.com and tda.lifeway.com.