Measuring what mattersLEADERSHIP Friday, June 1st, 2012
By Ronald E. Keener
Leadership book offers secular – and God-honoring – ways to lead faith-based organizations.
Many arguments have ensued among church leaders over whether practices that work effectively in the business world have a place in Christian organizations. Metrics, for one, is a concept that many successful companies embrace to drive performance and clarity of goals; however, many church leaders still struggle about what to measure and how.
In his book, In Pursuit of Great and Godly Leadership (Jossey-Bass; A Leadership Network Publication, 2012) Mike Bonem illustrates through the experiences of scores of church, university and ministry leaders how secular practices can be applied with faith-driven organizations to encourage growth, effectiveness and excellent stewardship.
Bonem responded to questions from Church Executive about the practice of meaningful metrics, which is covered in depth in his book in the chapter “Do You Measure What Matters?”
What are metrics or measurements? Aren’t those for businesses only?
Metrics are simply a tool that helps to define our goals and to tell us if we’re making progress. You may think that “goals” are another business term, but I think of them as a way to make a vision tangible. If the vision is to make a difference in a community, decreasing the drop-out rate at the local high school might be a specific goal. Metrics for congregations will look different than for businesses, but they are still quite applicable.
How should churches measure growth and results? Are there inadequacies in how churches use metrics?
Everyone measures growth in attendance, but few even try to measure spiritual growth. Everyone measures the growth in their total budget, but few measure the growth in money given away to outside ministries. Everyone measures new members who come into the body, but few measure the number of “missionaries” commissioned for ministry. Congregations need to wrestle with hard-to-measure standards that are more closely linked to their missions. The typical metrics – attendance, budget, new members – focus everything internally. They make it hard to turn outward and focus on the church’s broader mission.
What is so complex about measurements in the church?
The simple answer is that the things that matter most are the hardest to measure. It’s hard to measure transformed lives. It’s hard to measure marriages that are saved. We don’t have the same kind of quantifiable bottom line that a business has.
Is there a better way to communicate results?
The business-oriented approach focuses strictly on numbers. But the ministry approach will always come back to stories of how God is at work and how lives are being changed. In other words, the metrics should support the broader narrative.
How should we deal with measurements and accountability with staff and volunteers?
If a church has developed top-level metrics that are mission-driven, then it’s only natural and appropriate to create the next level of metrics (those that relate to individual staff members or ministry leaders). In business someone might be fired for not “hitting their numbers.” The conversation about missing a target should look much different than in business, but too often we don’t even have the conversation in ministry settings.
In what ways do metrics matter for churches, for the lead pastor?
Metrics, when they are used properly, clarify and support the vision for the church. They remind everyone, “This is the hill that God has led us to take right now.” When people want to point to other “hills,” the pastor can acknowledge the worthiness of these alternate ideas but then refocus everyone on the task that is before them.
You say measurement is a tool to give a strong indication of health or effectiveness, but not one to be used apart from godly wisdom. Do you have a good example of this?
Because our ultimate goals can be so intangible, most metrics are simply surrogates to give an indication of success. Therefore, ministry leaders need to have their antenna up for other signs that something isn’t right. One church was seeing great results, but the pastor became concerned by the number of failing marriages, so he called a “solemn assembly” to focus on this issue and then launched other related initiatives. The issue wasn’t surfaced by metrics – it was identified through the promptings of the Spirit.
What do you want the reader to know or do after having read your book?
I hope that readers will realize that metrics can be powerful, useful tools. Measurement is not the enemy, and it’s not unspiritual. I also hope that readers will gather a small, diverse group of leaders to talk about how they can measure what truly matters for their ministry.