Written in pencil on the wall of the closet in my home office are dates and lines that measure the growth rate of my youngest son. You see, my office used to be his bedroom, and from October, 2004 – December, 2008, he periodically measured and recorded his height on that closet wall. When asked why he did it, he replied, “How else would I know if I’m growing?” To him, it seemed like a natural thing to do.
It’s been said you can’t manage what you don’t measure. And while it seems natural to track results, many church leaders don’t measure effectiveness for fear of finding the answers. Cold, hard facts can reveal painful realities which force us to make difficult decisions. We can either courageously lead our churches through transition, or we can keep the status quo, thinking we’re making progress but actually having little impact.
Every number tells a story
Biblical writers counted people. Someone counted 5,000 fed, 3,000 saved, and nine out of 10 lepers who didn’t say ‘thank you.” Fortunately, today more and more church leaders recognize the importance of counting and measuring ministry effectiveness. If you’re looking to enhance your church’s ministry by beginning to measure progress, here are five things to consider.
Define your purpose
In The Numbers Game (Church Community Builder), Chris Mavity and Steve Caton say, “Many churches plan events…(but) they never consider what the outcome should be.” They say that events and programs need to work in tandem with the vision and mission of the church. If the two don’t sync up, the event should be scratched. And pastor and author Andy Stanley, in 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, encourages church leaders to clarify the win, and ask “What’s most important?” Church leaders need to define the purpose of any program or event to be able to determine if the endeavor was successful. Without a clearly stated goal, any attempt at evaluation will be hazy, yielding unclear conclusions.
Determine what you want to measure
Once you’ve decided to start tracking ministry results, the next step is to choose what you want to measure. Determine if it’s beneficial to measure attendance, visitors, total giving, per capita giving, salvations, baptisms, disciples, people serving, people in small groups, or something else. Your purpose and mission will determine what you count. But remember that not everything you count necessarily matters, and not everything that matters, can you count. Counting is simply a tool to help measure effectiveness.
Choose a method
Next, choose a method of measurement. There are several vehicles to accomplish this including simply using paper surveys, doing online surveys through SurveyMonkey, or using interactive, live polling through Interactive Church Resources. Start simple, and when you recognize the need for more detailed results, move on to higher tech methods that yield greater clarity.
Study the data
Once you’ve collected the data, you’ll need to analyze the results. If you’ve gone through the work of gathering data, you’ll want to make the effort to think through the findings. Dan Ferguson, in Score Keeping, distinguishes between a score card and the score board. At a baseball game, some fans keep a score card that indicates every aspect of the players’ game. But the score board is what’s most important. It shows if your team is winning or losing. Yes, leaders need to look at the details, but the most important question should be, “Are we accomplishing our stated mission?”
Incorporate the findings
A simple way to incorporate your findings is by asking three questions. “What?” “So what?” And, “Now what?” Since you’ve already determined what needs to be asked and measured, you’ll next want to ask, "So what?” “So, in light of what we’ve discovered, what have we learned?”Learning is going to be a key takeaway in this process. Go beyond simply examining the facts and explore reasons why the facts are true. And finally ask, “Now what?” Ask, “In light of what we’ve learned, what changes now need to be made? What attitudes need to be adjusted? What priorities need to be elevated?”
Spirit-directed statistical analysis guides decisions and priorities, and help focus organizational energy. So embrace measurement. Gather and analyze data. And evaluate the really important things to enhance your church’s ministry effectiveness.
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Mark Lenz / Mark J. Lenz is a faith-based business owner and church consultant helping churches create organizational health and bringing clarity and focus to ministry and mission.