How Do You Measure Success?
During our first day at the Externally Focused Small Groups Innovation Lab, Eric Swanson shared some of the conversations he’s had with churches around the country. When he asks them about their churches and ministries, leaders typically talk about Inputs, Activities, and Outputs, rather than Outcomes or Impacts. Here’s how Eric defined these:
Inputs – what churches typically invest in their efforts (staff, facilities, budget, property)
Activities – the programs associated with the church or ministry (worship, Sunday School, small groups, youth, children’s, men’s and women’s ministries)
Outputs – the number of people involved in the activities
Outcomes – changed lives
Impacts – the results of changed lives over time
The first three – inputs, activities, and outputs – relate to the ‘how’ of ministry. They represent elements of the model that we’ve chosen to employ as we live out our calling in the community. For most churches (and other organizations), the ‘how’ is relatively easy to identify, measure, and evaluate, therefore they are quick to enter our minds and color our conversations about ministry.
But there are dangers to focusing on the ‘how’ of ministry. Too often our means become an end to themselves, and when it comes time to change, we find we’ve become too attached to the way we’ve being doing what we’re called to do. The ‘how’ becomes a core part of our identity. Changing the ‘how’ threatens to take away something of who we are.
Another danger surfaces in the form of apathy. When we ask members to sacrifice and serve for the ‘how’ of ministry, the significance of what they are doing gets lost. People become frustrated because their efforts seem to do nothing more than sustain “the institution”. Giving declines because members fail to see beyond the budget categories they are asked to maintain.
Finally, focusing on the ‘how’ can gives us a false sense of success. When can feel as if we’re ‘winning’ when the numbers are up, even though we may be in for a devastating crash. Only looking to the ‘how’ presents an incomplete picture of reality, often blinding us to the dangers that lurk just around the corner.
The ‘how’ is important, but we can’t stop there. We must always keep the other two categories in full view.
The outcomes and impacts represent the ‘why’ of ministry. Changed lives and their long-term results are the reasons we do what we do. The ‘why’ is what matters at the end of the day. No matter how things change around us, our ‘why’ stays the same. But ‘why’ is more difficult to quantify. It isn’t as easy to measure impact and life change. That’s one of the reasons I believe we default to the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’.
I also believe it is more challenging to invest in the ‘why’. To pour ourselves into the business of changing lives involves deliberately facing the messy realities of humanity. It requires an openness and authenticity on all sides that is rare in our culture. And it can get very, very ugly.
But the ‘why’ is our calling. We cannot continue to ignore it.
What about you, your church? Do you focus more attention and energy on the ‘how’ or the ‘why’? Which do you invest more time and resources in? What changes are necessary to keep the ‘why’ in full view? Are you willing to do so?