Today, my friend Chris Grace introduced me to a concept that recent social psychologists refer to as “The Liking Gap.” In simple terms, when people converse with others, they normally think that the person with whom they have conversed leaves the conversation liking them less than the other person in fact does. In other words, most people view themselves as less likeable than they are.
The moment Chris mentioned this (new-to-me) insight, I found myself drawing an analogy in my mind to something I have thought about for many years, something I decided (only today…) to call “The Ministry-Impact Gap.” I have observed over many years of doing ministry that when people do ministry, they typically think that their level of ministry impact is less than what it actually is.
Think of a young adult who volunteers with the middle school kids at his or her church youth group. Say that that youth leader spends time leading a small group of six guys or six girls, meeting together with them weekly to talk about passages from the Bible, listen to their struggles, and do their best to love on the kids. In my experience, people who serve in such ministries typically think that nothing or very little is spiritually moving in those kids’ lives. It sometimes even feels to them like babysitting—and little to nothing more.
I want to let you in on a secret. I have talked to many college students (since I spend lots of time with college students) who look back on their middle school years as the period when God really started working on their hearts. Moreover, those same college students often can pinpoint one particular youth leader who made a particularly significant difference in their spiritual journey. Furthermore, in most cases, the college students I have talked to about this have never gone back and thanked their past youth leaders for the spiritual impact that was brought about through the faithful service of regular meetings with them when they were in middle school.
Are you discouraged in ministry today? The likelihood is that you are having a greater impact than you think you are. I hope that God will encourage you with this thought.
Now, unlike “The Liking Gap,” which has at least one carefully controlled study supporting its conclusions, I have never seen a study on what I have called today “The Ministry Impact Gap.” But I think that this would be a great study for someone working on a Doctor of Ministry. Is there anyone out there pursuing a Doctor of Ministry who hasn’t landed on a dissertation topic? Perhaps you would like to construct a study that might indicate whether my hunch is correct. Is it true that people doing ministry often think that their ministry impact is less than is in fact the case? I think that this is probably the case, but I would love to see if someone can find a way to conduct a helpful study to demonstrate whether this hunch is or is not correct.
But don’t ask me to be your advisor. I just want to see the results of your study!
 Chris Grace, Ph.D., is a social psychologist who teaches psychology and directs the Center for Marriage and Relationships at Biola University.