The Activity Trap

One of the contributing factors to the general lack of missional fruitfulness by the traditional western church is the mindset that confuses the evangelistic ‘Activities’ designed to produce missional fruit with the desired missional ‘Outcomes’ themselves. This is what might be called the ‘Activity Trap’

We know that Jesus constantly indicated that he was looking for fruit from his followers as we see with the pruning of the branches of the ‘True Vine’ in John 15, the instruction to chop down the unfruitful but resource (ground) consuming fig tree in Luke 13:6-9, and in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:23.

While there are many ‘fruitful’ outcomes Jesus desires from his followers, e.g. the ’fruits of the Spirit’ listed in Galatians 5:22, it is clear that his main priority is the growing of the Kingdom by the addition of new Disciples. His priority is demonstrated in Luke 4:42-44 where Jesus was faced with a choice between continuing to heal and generally do good to the crowds in one place and moving on to proclaim the Kingdom to potential followers in other places. He chose the latter. More he emphasised this priority with what is often called the ‘Great Commission’ to his followers to go and make Disciples (Matthew 28:19).

Far too often there is not sufficient critical analysis of
the alleged gospel outcomes of a missional activity.

Jesus did not say go and run many evangelistic ‘Activities’ but activities that actually bear fruit (i.e. produce ‘Outcomes’) in terms of new Disciples. However, we see so many churches falling into the ‘Activity Trap’, that is confusing ‘Activities and Events’ with Gospel fruit, ‘Outcomes’, of new Disciples. So a report on a Mission may state as ‘Outcomes’ what are really only the ‘Activities’ of the Mission.

The best measure of a church’s missional fruitfulness is the number of what are termed ‘Newcomers’ in a congregation or Christian fellowship. A ‘Newcomer’ is someone who has joined in the last 5 years and who was NOT attending any church or fellowship previously. This distinguishes them from ‘Transferees’ from other congregations. The ‘Newcomer’ percentage has now been falling for decades in the traditional SIC (Sunday-centric, In-Drag, Christendom-Form) western churches (generally now down to a single digit percentage). That is why the ‘Unbounded Church’ concept with a documented 60% plus ‘Newcomer’ composition is likely to be more effective.

However, far too often there is not sufficient critical analysis of the alleged gospel outcomes of a missional activity, especially those of the ’Square Wheel’ variety (search for on this site). Such analysis will usually reveal a lot of resource-heavy ‘Activities’ but little to no ‘Newcomers’ (Outcomes) joining a congregation or Christian fellowship. Surely it is a non-negotiable requirement that we should analyse our missional activities to see if there is real disciple fruit and if not use our resources for something potentially more fruitful?

A major reason for the general missional malaise is that for far too long we have been falling into the ‘Activity Trap’ of believing ‘Activities’ are the same as ‘Outcomes’.

They are most certainly not!

2 thoughts on “The Activity Trap

  1. When we were taught strategic planning at work, and when we did it, we had to understand the difference between outputs (equivalent to your “activities”) and outcomes (the result we were actually looking for). We were encouraged to measure them both, because they are both important as performance measures – we want to decrease the effort (outputs) while increasing the results (outcomes).

    As we have discussed, I have found it very difficult to get any information on outcomes of several outreach events, especially any lasting results, so it seems like the measure being used in attendance, which is more an output than an outcome.


    1. Yes. My experience is that this issue is widespread. I don’t think many clergy have the work experience you had, nor are they trained in the critical analysis of their mission strategies. That is something that needs to change.


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