Probably in every town, there is that one unfinished building project people drive by and just shake their heads. In the city the two of us live in, there is a giant hole in the ground that is the only remnant of a two billion-dollar (yes, billion with a “b”) construction project encompassing 175 acres now sitting empty on a major highway as a monument of poor planning. The investors, business owners, and construction crews never intended to just dig a giant hole and not finish the project.
People want to finish well at whatever they are attempting to do. All of us long to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
This is why an important part of business in a church is measuring or evaluating performance. The ultimate goal of measuring or evaluating performance is being able to understand and respond effectively to what is going on. Establishing specific measures of success, testing whether or not the actual performance of the task meets expectations, and being accountable for the completion and outcome of the task is the essence of this evaluation.
Prioritization Filter: Is It Worth Doing?
If there is alignment between your strategic plan and your operational plan, there are choices that still need to be made in the planning process. No church, no matter how big, has unlimited financial or personnel resources. With this in mind, how can you prioritize your needs and requirements and ultimately decide what ministry programs to fund?
Operational planning is the mechanism for prioritizing ministry activities and resource needs. A decision grid for aiding in this prioritization and planning process considers three primary questions of impact, importance, and influence:
- Impact: Is the reasonable impact of your ministry worth the investment of resources and effort, or is there a better way to have the same impact?
- Importance: How important is the value of your ministry program in the eyes of the beneficiaries (recipients and participants of your ministry) and the general community?
- Influence: How do major donors and outside economic factors affect your priorities?
If a ministry program does not make an effective and efficient impact on the problem you are trying to solve, addresses a problem that is deemed not important to start with, or only exists because of irrelevant outside influences, then it’s time to ask some serious questions about whether the ministry program is worth the time, effort, and money. A wise steward recognizes that priorities need to be made and not every ministry program idea needs to be funded.
Ministry Success Is Sometimes Subjective
We acknowledge that, ultimately, success in ministry can be viewed very subjectively. Some of the spiritual aspects of ministry just cannot be assessed in mere numbers. How do you measure if a person is twenty percent more Christlike this year than last year? How do you measure if a person is praying ten percent more effectively? How do you do a cost analysis on a life changed by the gospel? It is even foolish to think in these terms. Your ministry belongs to the Lord. You cannot force your ministry to succeed or force your people to grow. Your role involves cultivating an environment where the Holy Spirit can do his work in the lives of the people in your care. Spiritual growth is exactly that: spiritual.
However, there are questions a good steward needs to ask: Does your ministry program accomplish what you designed it to do in the first place? Do you see evidence people’s needs are being met? Do you need to keep doing what you are doing as a church, or change things (or even drop some things)?
Evaluation happens any time you ask a staff member, “How do you think things are going with the ministry?” Evaluation happens any time you have informal conversations with your volunteers or the participants in your ministry. Evaluation happens any time you survey your people to find out what they like and don’t like about your church or a particular program. Evaluation happens any time you assess your people to discover what they have learned. Evaluation happens any time you visit a class and observe what is going on. The key is to always be asking and watching. If you wait until someone complains or until the people stop coming, then you have waited too long to address the problem.
This post is adapted from Smart Church Finances: A Pastor’s Guide to Budgets, Spreadsheets, and Other Things You Didn’t Learn in Seminary by George M. Hillman Jr. and John Reece (Lexham Press, 2020).