Measuring transformation or accumulation?
It is absolutely no secret that this blogger is suspicious of and articulates the dark side of Church Metrics, which is the use of quantitative data to evaluate the quality of a church’s ministry or clergy leadership.
However, while we’ve taken great care to be champions of “better ways” rather than just critics, so far we have not offered a substantial alternative to the church metrics.
A Chart to help with Outreach Evaluation
At a district meeting in my new ministry context, we were given the following chart to gauge our outreach efforts and to help with planning. I’ve spruced it up and made it more clear, but it’s from The Externally Focused Quest: Becoming the Best Church for the Community by Swanson & Rusaw. You can view the original chart here in Google Books but here’s my version:
Basically the idea is that you place a dot or something in each square to indicate where your church has a program or person or offering regarding outreach and its frequency. Then you evaluate. Are there a ton of programs that happen yearly and raise money (or donate materials ie. “things”)? Are there more programs that happen weekly and have lots of volunteers? You can see how this splits our outreach into categories to see where the needs are.
The authors of the chart outline that there are two movements that make a church more vital over time:
- Movement vertically (from money to projects to people): our hearts grow stronger for outreach the closer we get to people in need, so movement from giving money during a church service to committing to a project to working face-to-face with people “grows” the heart and allows God to work more clearly in it.
- Movement horizontally (from yearly to quarterly to monthly to weekly): for our members advanced in age or decreased in ability, their only viable option may be to open their wallets more deeply as they contribute to the church financially more often. Likewise, some members may not have the money to give, but can volunteer more often as their schedules allow. Both are indicative of growth in affection towards outreach.
Thus a church that is growing in a heart for missions would have a good balance across the chart, though if it were weighted, more dots in weekly personal outreach is the strongest.
So this is a great chart. But it’s not only great in a utilitarian way for your congregation (feel free to borrow it!), but also to illuminate the dark side of church metrics in the United Methodist Church as it stands.
A Tale of Two Churches (Or only “One” to the UMC)
I have an example chart here. What I did is I filled it in with TWO different churches that have filled in the same reporting number (dollars, people, people served) with very different actions. So you would compare the two oranges. Or compare the two reds. Check out the chart and we’ll outline it below.
You can see how the activities are different but both involve outreach. But here’s the confounding piece:
BOTH churches would report the exact same number to the church metrics website.
For example, One church could (following the blue boxes) have one individual spending 52 hours once a year on a VIM trip. The other church could mentor one child one hour a week and spend 52 hours in outreach. They would be quantitatively the same (52 hours reported at the end of the year) but qualitatively different (one served one family’s house, the other served 50 children on a regular basis).
Is one better than the other? Not really. But when you start to add up the two comparisons together, look at what you get.
For example, Detroit churches (I picked them solely because theirs was high-up on a google search!) have this page outlining what would and what would not be counted in the vital signs dashboards. I went through and categorized the above based on that page’s outlines. YES, donations to Lifewatch and donations to UMW would be counted in the same category (not kidding!). And look at the two very different churches that would report the same “metrics.”
- Church #1 does a yearly event for homeless, provides space for AA groups, volunteers for Beth Moore’s ministries, goes on a yearly mission trip, has once-a-year giving families and external donations go quarterly to a non-United Methodist groups. They support non-UMC events and see their mission as an exchange interface. They are on the way towards congregationalism.
- Church #2 does weekly job training with the homeless, involves itself with quarterly worship services for dependency groups, volunteers at an after-school ministry, and mentors children weekly. Their donations go to United Methodist groups and their families give less but more frequently. They support UMC events and see their mission as an interaction interface on a regular basis in this strongly connectional church.
Quantitatively, they would report identical reports to the United Methodist powers-that-be. But I would dare you to find anyone who would say that church #1 is more vital than church #2. The same numbers generated do not replace the picture of a church more involved on a deeper level and with a budget more spread-out than dependent on a few kingmakers in the congregation.
Why? Because what we are counting in church metrics is not even part of our mission.
The Mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It seems that the things we should be counting are about transformation, not accumulation.
My fellow seminarian David Scott at Boston University School of Theology articulates this disconnect between metrics and mission here:
As a Wesleyan, I believe that we are responsible for responding to God’s grace through faithfulness and service. Furthermore, I believe that we have a responsibility for encouraging and equipping each other in our faithful obedience to God’s call to service. Finally, I believe that some metrics can assist in that process of mutual accountability.
Such metrics would measure not raw numbers of members and money but instead try to assess the ways in which the ministry of the church has contributed to the transformation of the world. In the language of non-profits, they measure outcomes (how things are qualitatively different because of your work) and not outputs (how much of something you’ve produced).
Which is more important? To a church dead-set on sustaining itself, outputs are more important. To a church dead-set on transforming the world, outcomes are more important. One is easy to count, but the other is not invisible either.
David Scott continues with individual questions.
Such metrics would ask all church members questions like the following: Have you (and how have you) grown in the knowledge and love of God in the last year? Have you (and how have you) sought to more faithfully live out your Christian calling in the last year? Do you feel like you have more or less of the knowledge and skills necessary for effective ministry than you did a year ago? It would ask pastors similar questions, but also questions like this: Have you developed in your understanding of your vocation? Church leaders, pastors, and district superintendents would be asked: How is the world different because of the ministry of this church? Where has the Kingdom of God come into being because of the work of this church?
These are individual-focused, for sure. But taken as a whole, they address the same goals as the chart above: how has the church’s heart been stretched and their commitments redoubled to the community around them? How do visitors get connected? How is the church maintaining multiple points of entry?
These also address questions of the needs of the community rather than the needs of the few in the hierarchy. Does the community need things? Does the community need projects/unifying events? Does the community need people workmanship/mentoring? Sure, one of the church’s groups may do these things. BUT is it sustainable (are new people joining)? Renewable? Able to hand off to the next generation?
If metrics looked more like this chart, they would be harder to quantify, that is true. However, I believe they would be on the way towards a church metric that would count what I believe ought be counted.
- How does the chart help measure transformation? How does it still fall short?
- Are there ways transformation could be championed in your context rather than an accumulation of professions, money, and programs?
- How might you convince the hierarchies that such evaluations are measuring transformational outcomes?
Discuss. Welcome to our visitors and all comments are appreciated!