General Ministry

Chuck Bomar planted and is Lead Pastor of Colossae Church in Portland, Oregon and is founder of both CollegeLeader (www.CollegeLeader.org) and iampeople (www.iampeople.org). He is author of 8 books, including the highly anticipated releases of Better Off Without Jesus and Losing Your Religion. When he is not traveling the country speaking at conferences or consulting with church or denominational leaders, he is home with his family, the place he loves to be more than any other. Chuck and his wife, Barbara, have three beautiful daughters: Karis, Hope and Sayla.

We all talk about college-age people being “disconnected” from the church. I think that’s pretty clear – and obvious. But, how do we define a “connected” person? What is the criteria by which we determine whether or not someone is connected?

If we can’t determine the criteria we won’t ever be able to see whether or not we’re doing what we’re saying ought to be done. Let me begin the discussion by listing out ways in which I don’t think are proper criteria for determining this. Then, you can put in your thoughts and we’ll see where this goes.

  • I don’t think attendance in a church service defines connected.
  • I don’t think being involved in a small group put on by our college ministry defines connected.
  • I don’t think serving in a ministry defines connected.
  • And, I don’t think attending events defines whether or not someone is connected.
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  • We can describe connected, but I don’t think we can measure it. I chuckle everytime I hear of a college group’s “success” put in numerical form.

    When crisis hits (relationally, financially, a tough spot in the family), to where and whom do college students turn/run? If it isn’t to people in the church, then they are not really connected to us. (Or us to them.)

  • Josh Mann says:

    The ol’, ‘we can’t measure what we do,’ line. It’s the biggest excuse and facade that ministries have been hiding under for far too long. Industries that matter far less than ‘ours’ with just as difficult to measure outcomes as ours have been finding a way to measure effectiveness for some time. You’re just not trying hard enough and letting yourself off to easy. So basic questions like attendance and percentage in small groups fail to capture the essence of an effective college ministry? So did deeper, what are healthy indicators of an effective college ministry or connected student. I have a feeling Chuck is going to tell us.

    I also find it humorous, Jeff, that you talk about not being able to measure connected yet two sentences later you articulate a measurable outcome, just a better one in your opinion. You’re telling me you can’t measure ‘to where and whom do college students turn when crisis hits?’

    Not attempting to be a blog-basher, just a provocateur saying just because we’ve measured the wrong stuff in the past doesn’t mean measuring was the problem. I personally want nothing to do with a ministry that can’t clearly articulate its desired outcomes and track its progress in achieving them. How do you know if you’re improving or effective?

  • chuck bomar says:

    Josh, thanks for your thoughts. I would like to make it clear that I was not saying we can’t measure it – I hope you saw that. I was simply saying what I don’t think are proper measurements and asking for your thoughts on what you think are in fact proper ways in which we can measure effectiveness. I’ve stated that an improper outcome for measurement is attendance at certain things. It seems as though you agree…? So, for the purpose of having a healthy discussion, what would you say are proper measurements or outcomes we ought to be using?

  • Mike says:

    I totally agree that attendance to just one of those definitely would not mean a person is connected.

    I think that attendance can be a good indicator of connectedness, but not attendance at just one thing. I think if people are actively participating (i.e. involved in a small group, attending large group meetings, going to socials) in many things then they would probably say they “feel” connected. Is that true for all people? Certainly not. But for most, I’d say yes.

    Another indicator is commitment in the sense that, are people willing to invest and give of themselves towards the group’s goals? If so, I’d say they are connected.

    Just a couple of my thoughts for ya! Great site, Chuck!

  • Josh Schuler says:

    So, I have wrestled with this one for years as well. It does feel like the gravitational pull of society is to measure connectedness through attendance, or participation in programs, events, etc. For a while I pushed back on this, but then I took a marketing class and my perspective has changed. Now, I still use the term connected, but it does not refer to, or attempt to measure, spiritual formation or maturity. “Connected” simply means informed of, and participating in, communication channels. So, how many unique hits we get on a website, who follows us on facebook or twitter, or how many show up for an event, shows us who is aware of our communication channels. In essence, it answers the question of how big our “reach” is.

    These communication channels are simply part of a matrix to encourage students to take their place in the body of believers.

    For measuring the “Important stuff” I would suggest Willow Creek’s Revel Survey. What is really important is seeing people moving from pre-christian to christ-centered. That is true for children to adults. Willow Creek has done a really good job describing events, or understandings, that are catalytic for people as they move along the continuum. We measure how many of these catalysts we offer each year, and we also survey the church to take a snapshot of where people are at. Using the provided survey, we get an objective, measurable picture of the health of our church and ministry. Use it a couple times and you can even begin to see trends.

    If anyone wants some more information about the tool we use, drop me a line and I can unpack that for you further.

    grace & peace

  • Josh Schuler says:

    typo in the above post…..should be “REVEAL” survey

  • Timotheos says:

    So far, it seems, we have danced around the simple and the obvious, and that is that connectedness has to do with relationships. First, the church, historically, has been defined as “the continuing presence of Christ in the world”. So, of primary importance is a well-developed relationship with Jesus. Second, out of this flows relationships with others in the Body of Christ. This, ideally, takes place on several levels.

    We tend to think too much on the subject of measurements and connectedness, and need to recover the simplicity of plowing into others lives as far as we can, and using the means of grace and the Spirit to shepherd others along as well as to facilitate and foster relations with others in the church.

  • Chuck says:

    Timotheos, good thoughts – and I would agree connected ought to be defined in the context of relationships, more than attendance. But, what are some outcomes we can see to know whether or not this is happening? That’s the real question, I think.

  • Chuck says:

    Josh, I appreciate your thoughts a ton!!!! Good stuff. I guess my one question would be whether or not someone is “connected” if they simply know what’s going on? I’m not sure I would define connected simply because they’re being communicated to – or have access to communication channels. Am I wrong to suggest that true connection would mean communication happening from both ends? That may or may not be the case from a marketing perspective, but would you agree that is a proper understanding from a ministry perspective? Or, do you have more thoughts that could help me understand….?

  • Chiming back it, to clarify my contradictory remarks in the first comment.

    We can’t measure it numerically. (Poor place to put my period above.) I currently don’t work in college-age-specific ministry. When my wife and I did each year we had (numerically) 300-450 college students “connected” in some form to our church and campus ministry. But were all of them “connected”? Nope, which is why I chuckled (and chimed in) everytime I heard the # tossed out as evidence of God’s movement.

    Yes, by one viewpoint, we were the “biggest” and most “successful” college ministry in town, but all that was pure garbage for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ and seeing the students know Him.

    Correct my thoughts; I’m learning here. I welcome Chuck’s further remarks in more blog posts. This is his blog, and I’m just messing around in the sandbox.

  • Timotheos says:

    Here is a “take” on measuring connection. Article 29 of the Belgic Confession of 1566 states that we recognize the distinguishing marks of Christians “namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works. Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.”

    I would say this is the outcome we want to see with students.

  • Josh Mann says:

    I really enjoy this type of conversation and appreciate you, Chuck, for getting the conversation started. You ask at one point, “what are some proper measurements or outcomes?” For that to happen, I think we need you to operationalize the term, ‘connected.’ It really can and does mean different things to different people. However, for the sake of this conversation, one we’re all interested in, before we can measure connectedness we need an agreed upon definition of connectedness, as conceptual of concrete as it may be. The danger in objecting to other’s ways of measuring connectedness by looking at the measurements alone is that we might be operating from two different definitions of the same word.

  • Chuck says:

    jeff – good thoughts. i understand where you’re coming from and appreciate your input!

  • Chuck says:

    Timotheos – well said my friend! Now the tricky part is figuring out if we’re actually leading people toward that end. Most of our contexts would want some sort of immediate measurement of “effectiveness.” Of course there are all kinds of definitions for that term, so this is where the rubber meets the road – so to speak.

    That said, do you have any practical thoughts on what may be appropriate measurements we can use to: (1) see whether or not we’re leading people toward the proper end, (2) that those in contexts where “results” are desired from leaders?

    Any thoughts (anyone has) on this could be a great help to some!!!!

  • Chuck says:

    Josh, I agree. some of the discussion is working toward defining that. I’ve clearly stated the ways in which I don’t think define it – which implies I already have a definition I hold to. But this blog series is less about me blurting out my definition as it is collectively hearing thoughts – and possibly shaping all our definitions. So, for the sake of this discussion, how would you define connected…?

  • Travis says:

    Is my life or others’ lives changed or being changed because of a relationship with a college student in our ministry, and is there a noticeable change in the student’s life for their involvement in our ministry?

    There can only be a connection if lives are changed by knowing them!

  • I would suggest connectedness is entirely subjective but would be measured in terms of relationships. Participation in the means, but relationship is the ends.

    Much love bro.

  • Micah says:

    I agree with Travis, I think we see goals being met and connection happening when “fruit happens”. I am referring to the “Fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23). When you can see change and fruit happening in a person’s life, then there is transformation and growth happening. (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, etc.) We are constantly in a process of transformation into Christ’s likeness…striving to be more connected with the body of Christ (loving and caring more for others, giving of our time, possessions, or gifts, and much more). Because we as followers and fellow disciples can exert as much energy as we want into inviting others to get involved in the ministry, investing time in relationships, or participating in social gatherings (which are great things to do), but ultimately the Spirit has to bring transformation and from that we can see “connection” to the Body and the Father.

    I was shown a great resource from an article written by Dallas Willard called “Looking Like Jesus” (later made into a book called “The Great Omission”) that had a diagram called “The Golden Triangle of Spiritual Transformation,” which is about being centered in the Mind of Christ (Phil. 2:12-15; Rom. 13:14).
    It starts with Joy (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:1-5). In the midst of difficult circumstances we are to “consider it all, joy”. It’s an assurance that nothing can separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus.
    Next, is Grace; the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives on a daily basis (John 3:5; Rom. 8:10-13; Gal. 5:22-26). Regarding the presence of God in our lives on a daily basis.
    And, last are Disciplines; putting on a New Heart (Col. 3:12-17, 2 Peter 1:5-10). It takes training and an effort, it’s not about earning spirituality.

    When we see these things happening, we are seeing spiritual transformation happening in a person’s life.

    I hope this helps or at least makes sense.

  • abbie says:

    Do they feel like they belong.

  • Timotheos says:

    Chuck, maybe I’m still not getting at your direction of questioning, but, by now, it is probably evident that I approach ministry from a very historical, biblical, and theological perspective. In my view, the more we are connected with historic Christianity the less we need to reinvent church to meet expectations of others. That being said, I know that on a practical basis what many in leadership are looking for are the bottom line of numbers, and participation in services and programs.

    Yet, it seems to me that the true evidence, historically, of whether students are heading in the direction we want is if they have a posture of humility toward the preaching of the Word, the practicing of the sacraments, and obedience to church discipline (I’m not talking about punishment here, but having a submissive attitude of accepting spiritual practices that will foster Christian maturity, e.g. prayer, fasting, and giving). These, then, are the appropriate measurements of genuine Christiantiy.

    If we are fully engaged in relationships with students that move in this direction, we are then able to communicate with leadership on how this process is coming along. The evaluative grid is one that seeks to understand if individual believers are vested in the outward forms from deep inner conviction. The end of this is a changed life, which becomes evident to all.

    I hope this helps a bit.

  • Hello,

    Yes I would agree/disagree with Chuck when he listed the points that are not sufficient for being connected in the church for college aged students. I agree in the sense that just because someone may meet anyone of those criteria you inputted, that doesn’t suffice being connected; they at the same time, don’t necessarily indictate that you aren’t connected. Some may meet anyone of those criteria and be connected to the church, and at the same level not meet any of the criteria and be connected which is difficult (or vice versa). I also agree that just having the information (criteria listed from Chuck) when you are measuring may and can be insufficent when bringing in the factors I will state below. I believe most understand the point I am making. There’s more than just “doing/saying” things that are church “welcome.” I feel it’s more of a heart and spiritual issue as to whether or not your connected. You can “do” all the “right” things and just coast along, but if your hearts’ not in it, then your disconnected. Now I came off topic just a bit, but I believe it’s necessary to understand what the issue may or could be to be able to define or measure it. The church should be a family, and that being said, it would make it easier to know who and who is not connected within the church “family.” For example, those of us who have siblings and both parents, for the most part, know the character’s and heart’s of each family member (just an example you don’t need both parents and siblings to do this….it can be friends etc). They all may go to church every week and “complete” the criteria listed by chuck and totally be disconnected or connected. Additionaly, they may do all of those things, but totally dis-represent the church and it’s morals/principles outside of its “gates.” I’m not pertainting to those of us including myself who fall short everyday and of course give a bad representation of Christianity. We all do, this is not the issue I am addressing. I am addressing those that “play” the “i go to church, and I am a good person.” So when Chuck lists the criteria that is not sufficient….this is my explanation as to why it’s in-sufficient. Not because the actual deeds would be in-sufficient, but it’s because of the indiviual(s) that mis-represent that criteria mixed with the ones that truly have “good connected minds” that cause the criteria to be inaccurate. How can we measure it then? By knowning those in the church like you would your own family/friends…for instance, it’s like saying…..hmm I recognize that person or this person, but don’t know anything about them…..It’s going to be difficult to measure something that can be so abstract. As we have discussed, you can’t physically do something to show you are necessarily connected. It’s the heart, mind, and spirit that comes into play. A way to make it more sufficent to decide whether one is or isn’t connected is by knowning them on a personal level. And knowing what that exactly is…is difficult to pinpoint. It’s easier to say what is not or could not be for sure. When it comes to deciding how to measure one’s connectivness within the church we must first know them. This would help paint a more accurate and reliable determination of the indiviual.

  • chuck bomar says:

    Timotheos, again, thanks for your thoughts. I think you are really adding to the discussion here. it seems though that you may be directly defining more of what it means to be successful in ministry. i’m not saying that people being connected and success can be separated though! so, are you saying that true life change means they’re connected…and without transformation they are not connected?

    B Will – I like the personal and intimate measurements.

  • Timotheos says:

    Yes, I would say that transformation is evidence of connection because one cannot truly change apart from the community of the redeemed. If there is no transformation it may not necessarily mean there is no connection because one could be in process whereby the inside work has not yet shown itself outwardly. Again, this takes doing the relational work with a student to know if this is the case or not.

  • Steve says:

    I’m not sure how to define “connected” but here’s a way to test for it:
    * If the person were to leave the church, would they experience a sense of loss? Would the remaining members of the church experience loss?
    * Do the person’s relationships in the church encourage spiritual growth? Do they evidence the fruits of the spirit (not just connection, but spiritually healthy connection)? Is involvement in the church a life-giving experience? or is church involvement merely a diversion, or a chore?
    * To borrow a phrase from Young Life, have you “earned the right to be heard” when you speak truth to difficult situations in their life?
    * Do they sense that what God has for them cannot be fulfilled apart from relationships with other christians? (i.e., the “one another”-type commands that were introduced by Jesus in John 15:12ff)
    * As leaders, do we sense our repsonsibility for the part that we play in promoting their spiritual health? (Heb. 12:12-15)

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