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Harvest time: Are your programs producing?

SUMMARY: The big questions for evaluating programs are: “Is the program or ministry working?” and “How can it work better?” Fall is the time to harvest crops. It is also a good time to see if your church’s ministries are producing the harvest you want.

Which ministries should we evaluate?
Ideally, you should evaluate all programs and ministries on a regular basis—annually is ideal. However, your church size, budget and the number of programs, ministries and activities likely will dictate the frequency. If you can’t evaluate all programs every year, analyze a set number every year and rotate until you have evaluated all of them. Then start over!

Compare your church’s strategic goals to the program’s purpose and goals.
The two sets of goals/purposes should fit together. Even if a specific program or ministry receives an extraordinary review, that doesn’t mean it should continue or go unchanged. That decision must come when it is reviewed in light of the church’s overall goals and objectives.

What is a good evaluation process?
Program evaluation should be systematic. The evaluation itself should have goals; be well-planned, apply processes universally; and measure what you want to measure. Make sure to answer these broad questions:

  • Is the ministry or program still critical or does it take away from other goals of the church?
  • Does it represent a good investment of time and money?
  • Are criteria identified to measure progress? What are they?
  • Is this ministry serving a small audience well but using significant resources that could serve a larger audience better?

Grab some help. A committee or members interested in the program or ministry can evaluate it and provide valuable insight. While they may not always be objective, they can provide context. Ask them to answer some open-ended questions to identify what works, what doesn’t and what they would do differently to make the ministry more effective.

Use numbers and words.
When evaluating, think quantitatively and qualitatively. Identify how many church members participate or how many people the ministry affects. Ask how much the program costs. Measure whether attendance changed over the years. Don’t ask, “Do you like this program?” Instead, ask people to rate the value of the program to them. This allows you to evaluate in shades, not just black-and-white responses.

Use in-person interviews or online surveys to gather responses from participants and from congregation members who may not be involved but have a financial stake in the activities. (SurveyMonkey is a great resource to create a quick online survey. You can send an e-mail with the survey or post a link on a website. Ask up to 10 questions free. For more information on gathering qualitative data and building excellent surveys, read “Moving beyond anecdotes: developing local church member assessments."

Assign dates.
Create a timeline with deadlines for collecting answers, evaluating results and making recommendations.

Analyze results for guidance.
Once you have compiled the answers in a spreadsheet, matrix or other comparative tool, you should be able to see each program’s effectiveness in terms of the goals of the ministry or program and the goals of the church.

Take action.
The evaluation process is worthless unless it spurs action. Plan what will happen when the evaluation is complete. Most likely, changes will result. Don’t forget that most people are uncomfortable with change. Plan in detail how you will announce and implement changes. Working this out in advance will make the transition smoother.

Following this plan once a year—or whenever it makes sense for your church—will help to keep programming fresh, effective and interesting.