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Converting squishy ministry goals into clear measures

By Eric Seiberling

An old saying states, "If you don't know where you are going, it only takes a minute to get there." Having goals is essential for any organization to be effective. Goals provide specific direction, a yardstick to assess effectiveness and a long-term way to improve the efficiency and capacity of an organization. They translate activities into directed action that moves the organization forward.

Scripture shows goal-setting, measurement and pruning are biblical principles. John 15:1-17 shows God as the gardener of the vineyard, where God evaluates and cuts off branches that do not bear fruit. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25: 14-30 shows that God expects growth of what God has given and we must account for the results. The idea of accountability runs throughout the Bible, but why do churches shy away from measurement in accountability?

Churches often think that goal setting is for the corporate world. It is seen as trying to quantify the unquantifiable. How do you measure spiritual development? How do you measure the moving of the Holy Spirit? However, the issue runs deeper. In the church, relationships are highly valued. Goals, measurement and accountability can create conflict in the church. What happens when someone fails to meet goals? What happens when one person meets his or her goals and another does not? This can create tension, conflict and fear in the church.

Objectives, goals and measurements are tools, not weapons

Goal setting is sometimes feared because it has often been used in a punitive context. People receive raises or lose their jobs based on how they achieve their goals. In churches, people have used measures to drive out pastors or staff members they did not like. They can also damage your sense of self-worth if used solely to evaluate if you are good at your job (paid or volunteer).

Objectives, goals and measures help define what success looks like and how to know when you have gotten there. Imagine putting someone in a car and telling them to start driving. They would ask, "What is the destination? How do I get there? Does it matter what speed I go?" Church leaders often assume people know where to go and how to get there, no matter if they are paid staff or volunteers.

Turning squishy ministry into measurable goals

Think about the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) and how the servant given one talent could have benefited from this approach.

  • Set objectives: Grow the wealth of the landowner.
  • Define goals and measures: Double the number of talents of silver prior to the landowner's return. The measure is comparing the number of talents the servant received and returned to the landowner.
  • Measure progress: What is the change in talents over time? Are they growing or declining? If the date of the return of the landowner is known, is the growth on track? If not, is the growth comparable to that of the other two servants?

Would the third servant have buried the talent of silver in the sand if objectives, goals and measures had been defined? Absolutely not. He could have asked the other servants for help or invested the money to move toward the objective. How could the story end differently?

The same is true for ministry. Defining what is important creates focus and alignment for each staff member and volunteer. It helps people define the most important actions and how to measure if a ministry is working or not. It also provides an indicator if people need help or guidance to get back on track before a major crisis occurs.

Defining objectives, goals and measures in ministry

Take time for each ministry position from the pastor to staff to volunteers to define objectives, goals and measures.

Set objectives: A pastor may need several objectives to meet the span of his or her role. For a volunteer, it will likely be one. Objectives focus on what truly matters. The goals and the measures indicate whether you are moving toward that objective. In addition, look at each person's number of objectives. Is it too much for one person to do? Who will support them? Clear objective setting can also measure workloads and if people more time, support or resources to get it done or if the task should be given to someone else.

For example, normally the objective for the vacation Bible school coordinator is to have a successful VBS. What does that mean? Why do you have VBS? Why is it important? What does the church hope to achieve? Is it to develop spiritually the children already in church or is it to reach unchurched families as part of an outreach event? Even if it is both, clarity in the objective is critical for success.

Define goals and measures: Goals and measures must be tangible. Take the time to establish measures that assess both the quality (the impact or effectiveness of the program) and the quantity (number of people or the efficiency of the program) related to the objective. Once they are agreed upon, what goals do you want to achieve for each?

Continuing with the VBS example, quantitative metrics could include: number of children attending per session, number of children who could repeat a memory verse, amount collected for the missions offering and so on. Qualitative measurement could take the form of a follow-up survey sent to parents or a nightly meeting with volunteers on what went well and what needs to be improved. The VBS coordinator could then set the goal for the number of children who will attend each night and then work to get sufficient registrations well ahead of the event to reach the goal.

Measure progress: For measurements to work, they must be taken and shared on a regular basis. How will you collect and compile data? How will you share it? How will you use it to improve your progress toward the goal?

In the VBS coordinator example, let's assume the goal is getting unchurched families' children to connect with the church. Measurement could take the form of number of registrations prior to the event, number of children attending each night during the event and how many children come back after VBS is over. For example, if a large number of children come the first night but do not come the second night, do improvements need to be made in the execution or is it a scheduling issue with another event in the community? Also, comparing the percentage of registrations to attendance to returning after the event can provide valuable insight on what area needs to be improved and well as providing benchmarks for the next year.

Objectives, goals and measures build community

Providing clear direction and measures can help everyone be more effective and provide a common way to understand if people and programs are on track or need corrective action. By focusing on what you can do to help others succeed, this can create community and not destroy it. Together, people can solve a problem that would otherwise be invisible.

In addition, sometimes measuring effectiveness is the only way you can identify if a person is in the wrong position to leverage their gifts and graces. Everyone wants to do a good job, but may not have the skills or abilities to succeed. Churches can identify ways that person can better serve and feel they are strongly contributing to the body of Christ.

When used properly, objectives, goals and measures can help the church to be more effective and efficient in its mission. When combined with the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ and the insight of the Holy Spirit, it can lead to radical transformation of our faith community and our world.

Use "Vital Signs" to monitor progress

VitalSigns is a tool developed by Brick River through GCFA. This tool allows you to track your weekly worship attendance, professions of faith, small group participation, missional participation and financial giving for your congregation. It is a tool designed to help congregations follow their progress on the goals that they set for each year, based upon the goal-setting challenge initiated by the Vital Congregations work. Sign up now to record your weekly VitalSigns.