I expect this is a question many leaders ask themselves in some form or another. When you spend your time, energy, and other resources on something, you want to believe that it is worthwhile. You also want to be getting the most out of this investment, not necessarily personally, but in terms of moving toward your goal. So it’s natural to question whether or not what you are doing is worthwhile and if you are being as effective as you can be.
By default we usually think bigger is better. If the ministry in question is big and touches a lot of people, this must be good. If the ministry is small and not reaching many people, we are tempted to think it is failing.
But just because a ministry is large does not mean it is effective in reaching its goals. Nor does it necessarily mean it is leading people to any significant spiritual growth. (I’m not assuming that spiritual transformation is the goal of every ministry, though I struggle to think of a more important one.) A large ministry may well be effective and doing something worthwhile for God’s nation1. However, this isn’t necessarily the case just because it is large.
The size of a ministry itself is insignificant as a measure of effectiveness for God’s nation. (I will also say that, while “decisions for Christ” are great, a ministry which has nothing but a lot of “decisions” isn’t necessarily being all that effective either. There may not be any change in a person who indicates a “decision for Christ” if there is no subsequent follow up and training.)
I’ve learned that much of the important spiritual work in one’s life happens in the context of relationships over significant time and under ordinary circumstances. Relationships generally necessitates a small context. So it is quite possible that a small ministry (which very well may not even be official) could be as effective if not more effective than a large one. However, just because a ministry is small does not mean that it is doing anything worthwhile either. Once again, the size is insignificant as a measure of effectiveness for God’s nation.
So the big question is, if I can’t measure effectiveness by size, how can I measure it? To a certain degree, one can gauge effectiveness by the growth of those being ministered to. However, this can be difficult to judge and is only noticeable over longer periods of time.
This leads me to conclude that the most important thing for us to do is to listen to and follow God’s leading. The degree of usefulness to God’s nation could be quite difficult for us to tell. But we can trust that God knows. God can see the big picture and knows how to accomplish his will.
Viewed this way, it ought to be apparent how it is imperative for us to follow God’s leading. I hope to be willing to follow Jesus even if it means doing work which doesn’t seem to be big in terms of numbers. After all, Jesus says that he will leave the ninety-nine found sheep to go in search of the one (see Luke 15).
In light of this, if many people put years of effort into a ministry, and only one person is brought nearer to God, was it worthwhile?2
1 A.k.a. “the kingdom of God”; since there aren’t many kingdoms still in existence in our present world, I prefer to use “nation” in its place in order to better communicate the original meaning.
2 Again, size can’t be the measure. I don’t want this to be used as an excuse for doing ministry poorly.