Metrics That Matter

Part of the general buzz I heard during the Leadership Summit on Wednesday was suspicion regarding the metrics that have been chosen and identified by the Call to Action and the Council of Bishops for evaluation. Some of this suspicion is certainly due to fears regarding how the data will be evaluated, and concerns about punitive responses to inabilities to increase the numbers. But much of the concern seemed centered in the fact that the data points being evaluated are in fact the same data points that have been used for the past 20-50 years in evaluating ministry. There seemed to be a disconnect for there is all the language of doing a new thing, and yet it seems like we are being told that the same old thing is what will lead us to new vitality. That is possible, for it could very well be that the old thing has been ignored and needs to be reconsidered. Yet, there is almost a sense that this set of metrics has been tried and found to be wanting, and that maybe new measurements would be more helpful.

I have written here before that I think the most important thing in the entire Call to Action report is the parenthetical definition of church vitality that is for the most part lost in the pages of the report. That definition, which to me gives much more direction that the indicators of vitality, defines vitality as:

“…the dynamic, forward leaning, state of engagement that connects people to God, each other, and the world in profound ways.”

It hit me this morning that the proposed metrics struggle to meet the goal of vitality because they fail to be forward looking. Things like church attendance, small group participation, etc. are important for the provide a snapshot of where we are in a moment, but by the nature of the data they collect they always are looking back at how we did rather than where we are going. Looking in the rearview mirror is helpful in evaluating the effectiveness of what we have done at a particular point in time, but provides no indication of where we are headed nor if we have a road map for how to get there. Without some sense of a future orientation of a congregation, bishops and cabinets (and pastors as well) can’ really discern whether a congregation’s slowing down is due to a major malfunction or simply a case of not having one’s foot on the gas. In the latter case, it could be that all the connection needs to offer is a simple push, while in the former case, major work may be required to keep the church from life in the scrap yard.

What are examples of forward leaning metrics? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Does the congregation have a clear and concise mission statement that is clearly communicated to all?
  • Has the congregation established goals for the year and what specific plans have been met for meeting those goals?
  • Does the church leadership regularly engage in prayer with one another, seeking God’s will for the future of the congregation?
  • What opportunities are being offered for training new leaders, including discipleship for younger generations which moves them into leadership?
  • How are you helping church members identify their spiritual gifts and provide opportunities for the exercising of those gifts?
  • What are you doing as a congregation to provide for the growth spiritually, emotionally, and professionally, of your staff?
  • There are, of course, many other metrics that could be considered that are more forward looking, that recognize the dynamism of the congregation, and consider the state of engagement that leads folks to be connected to God, one another, and the world in profound ways. What are some of the metrics that matter for you, which you think provide indications of potential vitality, and which lean forward with anticipation to where God is leading us?

    – Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

    3 thoughts on “Metrics That Matter

    1. Agree with this idea, Jay and appreciate your fresh insights on issues. You have spoken a truth here – both about the angst behind the general buzz and the way we have dealt with numbers in the past. The difficulty we all struggle with in setting forward leaning evaluative tools is that numbers are easier to manipulate for evaluation than words and stories. Your questions assume the people have some deep conversation, and in vital churches, they already do. Hopefully, there will be congregational conversation about implications behind the numbers and attempt to propose serious/missional numbers for the year(s) ahead.

    2. Jay,
      I woke up at 4:30am this morning worried about this whole metrics thing. I calculated that, if it takes an hour a week to do the metrics work, it will opportunity cost Methodism $51,000,000 per annum: and be totally “rear-view.” Of course, it will re-inforce hierarchy and diminish the ability of the church to talk amoungst itself rather than simply up the chain. What really bugged me? That we were told to stifle personal communication so that there would be enough bandwidth.

    3. Your comments bring to mind the age old debate in social science research between quantitative and qualitative approaches to meaningful inquiry, Jay. It seems as if you are proposing a more phenomenological understanding of congregations and the UMC, at large. The questions you pose are vitally important, but they are harder to quantify and type up in a report by a denomination, but they are definitely key indicators of congregational life.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, my man!

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