Assessment for Church Leaders I: Determining Outcomes
How do you know if your programs are succeeding or failing?
Do you trust in numbers? Or how you feel you did after the conference, lesson, retreat?
Do you trust in the unsolicited feedback that people give you? If people rave about your sermon, does that equal “success”?
We need a more reliable way to measure “success.”
Anyone who has preached or taught for any length of time knows the feeling; someone approaches you after the lesson or the sermon and tells you how powerful it was, how it spoke to them. Feels good, doesn’t it?
But as they talk about the impact of the material on them it becomes clear that they didn’t understand what you were saying at all.
YES, God can use us in ways we don’t intend. And God can speak through us in ways we weren’t planning; the Holy Spirit is big enough to do that, praise God.
But the Spirit uses us best when we are prepared, prayerfully, intentionally focused on where we think we’re going; “Which of you when building a tower doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost?”
Your definition of “success” should be part of your planning from the beginning.
When you sit down with your team to plan a retreat, a quarter of Sunday School, a missions event, spend time at the outset discussing what success will look like. Don’t settle for vague or nebulous answers: “Everyone will be happy!” or “Marriages will be changed!” Keep drilling until you get to specific, measurable changes in your people’s behavior.
(In the education world, these specific, measurable changes are called “outcomes”.)
Here are some examples of specific, measurable results for the church:
- If you’re planning a missions weekend:
- 60% of the people who take part in the missions weekend will go on a missions trip to work alongside one of our missionaries in the next year.
- At the end of this year, we will see designated giving to missions increase by 35% over last year.
- If you’re planning a marriage retreat:
- Three months after the retreat, 80% of the participants will remember the conflict resolution techniques we taught them.
- Six months after the retreat, 60% of the participating couples will report using the communication techniques we taught them.
Can you think of other church- & ministry-focused outcomes?
At my church, I am preparing to teach a Sunday School class on seeing the entire Bible as a single story in six parts (a scheme adapted from N.T. Wright.) One of my outcomes is that the people in the church will know what the six parts of the story are, in order.
To help them learn this, I will go over it repeatedly. I have structured it to be memorable (helpful hint: always alliterate.) I will use it in every Sunday School class, I will refer to it in my sermons, etc.
And how will I know they have learned this? Simple: I will ask them. Not once, but repeatedly. I will ask them at the beginning of the next week’s class. I will ask them in conversation between Sunday School and the worship service. I will ask them immediately after the first lesson. I will ask them in a couple of weeks, and in a couple of months.
So: the first part of finding a more reliable way of determining the degree to which a program succeeds is defining your outcomes, what success looks like. The more specific and measurable, the more focused on behavior, the better.