Hitting the Mark: Tracking Ministry Success
by Steve Caton
Sometimes I miss school. Not the learning — learning never stops. I mean the grades. Before you start thinking I’ve lost it, think about your children’s report cards or your own experiences in education. Most of the time, the teachers make it clear what students are being graded on. Attendance and participation. Completing tests with correct answers. Grammatically correct and well-structured papers. In some classes at least, grading is the closest thing to an objective measure of success that most of us ever see, and that stops after your last graduation.
But I’ve found that if you look for it, there are metrics and measurements of success in many places, though they’re often not as clear as the grading rubrics our teachers used. If you want a measure of how well you’re managing your finances, you could check your credit score. If you want a measure of your performance at work, your boss could probably [give] some metrics you’re being scored on. What about your church’s ministry? How can you tell how healthy your ministries and your members are?
A lot of people rely solely on intuition to measure the health of their churches, and while intuition is valuable, it’s still subjective — and it can miss a lot. The behavior of the people in your church is indicative of what they believe, what they value, and how valued and connected they feel they are. And behavior is measurable. Would you feel a greater need to check in on Mr. and Mrs. Johnson because you feel like you’ve not seen them as much lately, or because they used to attend their Small Group every Thursday night without fail, and now have missed four out of the last six gatherings? If you’re not capturing and monitoring facts, you run the risk of letting people quietly slip out the back door.
3 trackable metrics for measuring ministry health
Attendance. Keeping track of someone’s attendance at worship services, small groups, and other events over time can give you a picture of what their ‘normal’ is — and if that’s changing. Taken for everyone attending a certain kind of event, it can show you how well your programs and events are reaching people. If you’re pouring extra resources into your kids’ summer events, trying to get more kids in the neighborhood involved, but your attendance numbers aren’t growing, that’s a sign that you need to try something different. On the flip side, if David has begun attending more regularly and started going to a small group, it’s a sign that he’s gaining a sense of belonging in your community and plugging in somewhere that will help him grow in his faith. These are important things to know!
Giving. Oftentimes churches will track giving because the IRS requires it, but not leverage the strategic value of the information. Tracking the giving patterns of individuals is a powerful indicator of engagement and discipleship but it is rarely viewed that way. Individual giving metrics can tell you a lot about someone’s spiritual walk and personal needs. When someone gives for the first time or starts giving more regularly, it’s a sign of increased commitment — to your church, or even to God. If, on the other hand, someone’s giving suddenly stops or drops dramatically, it could be a sign that they’re feeling disconnected, or that they’re experiencing financial hardship. In either case, knowing the change in their giving patterns gives you the chance to reach out to them.
Serving. The Bible calls pastors and teachers to equip people for works of service, and the people of God to serve the body. How many people in your congregation are getting involved in your service opportunities? Are you finding opportunities that suit them and inviting them to those, or are you putting out blanket pulpit calls for nursery workers? How well people respond — or don’t — to your serving opportunities will tell you how well your invitations are working. And when someone takes the plunge and begins to serve for the first time, you know they’ve taken a big step in their spiritual walk. This helps you stay connected to individual people’s lives as well as the bigger picture of your ministry.
3 obstacles to success
I rarely get pushback on the value of tracking these metrics. What I do hear is a lot of justification for why it’s too hard to do. Unfortunately, nothing worthwhile is ever easy. The ability to push through any obstacle comes from two things: awareness of what the obstacles are, and a vision of why overcoming them matters. I can help with the first issue by sharing the most common obstacles I’ve observed.
Too much freedom: Good leaders don’t micromanage. They cast vision, define ‘riverbanks’, and then give people the freedom to figure out the best way to execute. The problem is that many leaders forget that defining the riverbanks isn’t just about policies and procedures. It’s about defining culture and processes, as well as how you expect people to operate within them. You can’t just let every leader do things the way they want and expect to gain a consistent and meaningful view of what’s happening across your entire church.
Low expectations: Because we fear we won’t be able to attract and retain good leaders, we often set the bar of our expectations very low. In doing that, we fail to recognize that truly effective leaders thrive on expectations. It’s how they know they are being successful. If you tell your a small group leader that part of caring for people and leading them into a deeper relationship with Christ means taking attendance for their gatherings each week, and they refuse to do it, they shouldn’t be leading a small group!
Disconnected systems: Processes and expectations must be supported by robust, holistic systems. Using different systems and tools within every ministry team leads to massive gaps that make tracking metrics nearly impossible. Whether it is your church management system or Excel spreadsheets, make sure every team is operating within the same system and set of tools as much as possible.
Not everything in life is perfectly measurable, but where we can measure, we stand a better chance of being effective and successful. Your church ministry is no different. Tracking metrics can help your ministry reach the community at large and the individuals in your care — and make for a healthy church.