By Eddie Pipkin
Maybe you have time scheduled for a nap after the glorious chaos of Holy Week. Hopefully, you are getting some time to recharge, rest up, and revel in the exciting ministry you were part of over the last few weeks. As always, as ministry leaders, we’ll compulsively reflect on the events we hosted and the attempts we made to bring people meaningfully closer to God. We’ll sit around in the meetings asking what worked the way we thought it would and what didn’t. We’ll tally up our perceived successes and failures.
The key to harnessing this compulsion to analyze and assess is to have solid metrics for the process. Although ministry circles are famous for hours-long rehashes of worship services and outreach events, we struggle to put all that discussion and debate to good use. We suffer from three challenges: (1) We don’t really know what we’re measuring; (2) We are prone to measuring the wrong things; and (3) We love amorphous measurements like “the work of the Spirit.”
All sorts of things are getting measured all the time. We are natural assessors (a quality embraced and enhanced by the online universe). Check out two links from WalletHub: the first is their analysis of “The Best Places to Celebrate Easter 2018” (the top five, surprisingly, I thought, were New York, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles), and the second is a wonderful infographic that details “Easter Facts and Stats – Church, Candy, and Cash” (loaded with gems such as the $3.6 billion spent on Easter outfits, the 90 million chocolate bunnies that were produced, the 59% of us who will eat the ears of those bunnies first, and the 50% of Americans who planned to go church, a strikingly smaller subset of the 80% who said they were going to celebrate the Easter holiday in some way).
In determining best places to celebrate Easter, they identified 12 different metrics to measure in pursuit of an “ideal Easter celebration,” from number of egg-hunt events to percentage of population identifying as Christian to brunch locations to weather. The point is – agree with their methodology or not – they knew exactly what they were measuring and made their analysis accordingly.
Ministry leaders frequently have no idea what we are measuring other than two obvious heavyweights: attendance and offering. These are obviously critical and easily gathered data points for any ministry seeking to sustain its long-term health, but we have all seen the ways that exclusive focus on these measures can infect our decision making in unhealthy ways.
On the other hand, at the churchplants website, they have noted the issue of the data letdown for the Sunday following Easter in an article called “The Seven Deadly Days of Preaching”:
This is a cross-denominational problem. The Roman Catholic Church has a name for each Sunday of the calendar year. Want to guess what they call the Sunday after Easter? Low Sunday. It was renamed by Pope John Paul II in 2000 to “Divine Mercy Sunday.” That was a good call for JP2. Every pastor in America is praying for Divine mercy on the Sunday after Easter — as soon as his head usher tells him how many folks attended that day. There are at least seven such events every year. We call them the seven deadly Sundays. They are the Sundays after: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Super Bowl Sunday and the two time-change Sundays.
The two most popular data points take a precipitous plunge from the peak to the trough. Do a thought experiment in which you determine that the data measurement by which you judged success this year were not going to be the aggregate attendance on Easter Sunday, but the percentage of people you got to come back on the following Sunday. How might your planning priorities be changed by such a shift in focus? Of course, we all want the folks who joined us for Easter to come back the next week, but Holy Week and Easter absorb so much bandwidth (under the premise that if we do these things with enough excellence people will just naturally come back for more) that we don’t have time and energy to focus fully on strategies that might encourage them to engage seven days later.
We are also sidetracked by our impetus to focus on “if one soul was touched” thinking. When we have preached a sermon, and one person on the way out the door tells us that they were deeply moved, we count that as success because at least that one soul was touched. As people in the “soul business,” this perspective is important, sometimes life-saving, but it is not a great week-to-week metric, and it’s definitely not a growth strategy. (Even the movie, Ishtar, widely panned as one of the worst films of all time and a financial disaster that changed the fate of an entire studio, was considered a good flick by a third of the people who saw it.)
It’s notoriously hard to measure a “good vibe” at an event, which is one of the ways that teams gauge the success of a gathering after it is over. This is a legitimate measure. It’s important (and healthy) to have a good feeling on the morning after any major event, but to keep our evaluation honest we should remember to promote objective feedback from those we serve. This is why any event (including Holy Week and Easter) should include clear opportunities for people to comment, critique, and evaluate through surveys, open discussion options, solicitation of insights, and intentional interviews. Ask well-crafted specific questions – not just “Did you enjoy the sunrise service?” but “What impacted you the most about the sunrise service?” “What about the sunrise service did you find distracting?” “Would you invite a friend to next year’s sunrise service? Why or why not?” Diversify your survey sample. Don’t just seek feedback from your tried and true regulars. Try to connect with someone who participated for the first time or is a newcomer to your community. (This accomplishes two worthy goals simultaneously, eliciting useful data and establishing a relational connection, since anyone is flattered when you communicate that you care what they think.)
- Always build in opportunities for response, because this is a valuable tool for objective feedback regarding impact of an event or ministry. If you link an appeal to deeper discipleship with an opportunity to serve, you can immediately measure the impact of your message by tracking the people who express an interest in serving.
- Leverage the tools of social media to measure effectiveness. If you are sharing picture and video of events or articles about your ministry, and people get excited about sharing these links or clicking that they “like” them, you have an immediate confirmation of your efforts.
- Focus on metrics that matter. How many people have we moved into new small group relationships during Lent? How many service hours to the community have people engaged in during Holy Week? How many people purchased a book to read along with our upcoming worship series? These data points all measure active engagement (not just passive consumption).
- Be creative and clever in defining your metrics. For our worship leadership team, let’s have a friendly competition as to how many new names we can learn at our next event. For our Hospitality Teams, how many hands did we shake and hugs did we offer? How many questions were asked and answered at the info table? How many Bibles did we give away this weekend?
- Always define your metrics. As you begin the planning process for any program or ministry or event, always, always, always define what success will look like for you and your team on the back end. When we set out to get physically fit, this is the approach that works to keep us moving forward in a positive direction. There are lots of valid ways to measure improvement in physical fitness – different measures for different contexts. Ministry health should be no different.
I’ve tossed out a lot of ideas in this blog. I’d love to see some discussion and argument over premises with which you disagree, creative development of metrics by you and your team, your use of good metrics to promote effective ministry, failures of measurement, or taking these concepts too far. Weigh in! (This will be the metric for measuring my success for the week, so the pressure is on.)