After you have listened—long and hard and well—there comes a time when you must face the difficult task of discerning what you’ve heard. Out of all the babel and white noise, after all the rabbits chased and rat holes descended, when everyone has been heard and all has been said, what do you have?
Good listening involves more than a ready ear and an attentive look. Good listening means being aware of repeated themes, recognizing the patterns and precedents, distinguishing between the significant and the peripheral, and tuning into the heart of your church.
Top Ten Questions to Ask in Analysis
- What ideas or themes does God seem to be encouraging as I pray and study his Word? (Exploring this question will lead to a sense of God’s calling.)
- How do I see churches in the New Testament ministering in ways that I can also see my congregation ministering? (This question will help you find precedent and authority for the mission of your church.)
- As I think about our church, what kind of people has God brought together to form our congregation? Are there clusters of spiritual gifts or competencies or experience sets that I need to pay attention to? (E.g., lots of people in the medical field; management types; people with a heart for benevolence. It is important to build a mission on who your church is and what your people can do rather than to build a mission on who you wish you were and could do.)
- What are our church’s greatest resources? Financial? A commitment to involvement? A spirit of harmony and peace? A position of influence? A particular skill set? Knowledge of God’s Word? (God can always bring more resources to a church. But a sense of mission begins by recognizing what God has already brought to your congregation. A mission that will require large financial resources, for instance, is probably not a good mission for a poor congregation.)
- What kinds of ministry has our church been effective at in the past? Do these ministries cluster in any particular way? (E.g., around a benevolence emphasis … foreign missions … marriage enrichment … teaching … worship … children. If God has already worked effectively through your church to serve children or to change lives in Honduras, these ministries are a good starting point to consider how God might work through your church in the future.)
- What interests or passions among our members came up repeatedly, regularly, across the board? Where does the heart of our congregation seem to lie? Is there any unifying theme, common thread, that weaves through the DNA of our church? (A mission requires passion. No mission, however noble or worthy, should be adopted by a church that has no driving passion to accomplish it.)
- Who are the leaders God has given to our church? Where are their passions and interests? In what areas of ministry are they equipped to lead and encourage the work of this church. (A mission without leadership is just a failure waiting to happen.)
- Where are the greatest “felt needs” in our community? Are there needs that seem to cluster under one or two main areas: racial harmony … literacy … integration of immigrant populations … building neighborly relationships … poverty and homelessness … teen issues … marriage struggles, etc.? (A church, when possible, should always choose to address the area of greatest concern or felt need. Why scratch something that doesn’t itch?)
- Where is the heart of our community? Where are its attentions focused? What area of work could our church undertake that would make the most significant and most appreciated contribution? Is there a difference between “urgent” and “important” issues … issues that are of current but transient interest and those that are more fundamental, systemic? (For a mission to have “legs,” it needs to be sustainable … something the church can address in the long term.)
- Most importantly, as a church establishes its mission, it needs to ask synergy questions: Where do our interests and gifts intersect with a ministry mandate from God and the needs of our community (or world)? Which needs in our community match up with the gifts and skills and resources with which God has blessed us? (The more correspondence there is between kingdom business, a church’s skills and gifts, and a world’s needs, the higher the likelihood that a mission will “fit” and be effective.)