This is a blog I wrote for the Vision Room, published in July, 2015.

People often ask how the ministry is going. It is a simple question, and often garners a simple answer like, “Fine”, “Busy”, or “Growing”. Those answers are OK to start the conversation, but they really don’t provide much insight. When digging into why we get those pat answers, I discovered it was because people didn’t really know how their ministry was doing. Many pastors knew how they felt about the ministry, or how they felt about themselves, but a rare few measured and monitored performance of their church or their ministry team.

Performance Matters

As church leaders, we have the most important job in the world, with current and eternal significance. If we believe so strongly about the job, then that job deserves the best performance we can muster. So how do we define and measure performance in a ministry? More importantly, how do we improve? In order to truly improve our performance requires three key steps – Define what good looks like, Monitor performance against that standard, and finally Execute change to improve.

Define what good looks like

A key cause of poor performance is poorly set expectations. Setting expectations for performance must happen at the individual level, through a job description, and a ministry team level through a mission statement and business plan. A quality job description includes three sections – the purpose of the role, the activities and tasks the individual is directly responsible for, and how success in those activities will be measured, both objectively and subjectively.

A ministry team must have an idea what they are trying to accomplish, within the context of the church’s mission. If the team is new to mission statements and business plans, I recommend starting with the resources at Building Champions. This organization provides great guidance for how to create your mission, and a simple business plan to move you forward.

Monitor Performance

Setting expectations is a great start, and now it is time to monitor how we are doing against that standard of excellence. I suggest three types of metrics for each ministry team or leadership role.

  • Track some hard numbers. How many baptisms did we do this year? What percentage of attendees are in small groups? How many people in our church gave money each month in the last year? These are the types of things you put on a graph and publish to the team.
  • Trust your intuition. The graphs are great, and only tell part of the story. How you feel about the ministry, or how others feel about it, is equally important. Do we look forward to coming to work every day? Is the team getting along well, or is there tension? How would you rate the level of collaboration in your team?
  • Get an assessment. There is great value in getting an unbiased assessment of your ministry, based on an objective standard of excellence. Your numbers might be stable or even improving. You might feel good about your ministry operations. However, we are all blind to the things we don’t do well. It is common in an assessment to discover things we didn’t even consider as important are the lynchpin to taking the ministry to the next level. Church Community Builder offers assessments of four key leadership roles: Volunteer Coordinator, Connections Pastor, Finance and Generosity Leader, and Executive Pastor.

Execute Change

You have set clear expectations for performance, and now you have your assessment results and your metrics trending on a nice colorful graph…now what? The purpose of all this is to know what behaviors need to stay the same and what needs to change. If the metrics you track can’t change your behavior, stop tracking that and find something meaningful. When using metrics to drive behavior change, we examine the data in three sequential steps.

  1. What – What is the data telling us? What is included in this data? How was it calculated? As an example, “we had 560 people on Sunday.” Does that mean in the main worship service? What about kids, or youth, or volunteers? Before we can make a judgement about the data, we must understand what the number represents.
  2. So What – What does the data mean to us? Is that more or less than last week or last year? How does it compare to our goals? This is the time you make a personal judgement about what you see. This is good, bad, indifferent. In church we often talk about not judging, and this is the time to do it. We are not judging the character value of our team, we are forming an opinion about our performance. This is the time to be very clear and direct. To learn more about the power of being direct, read this article from Rob Cizek.
  3. Now What – What are you going to do differently tomorrow, next week, and next month? Is this a behavior you can change on your own, or do you need to demonstrate some expert change management in the team or church-wide to make it happen? How long will it take to make the change? Then, how long until you expect results? If we are trying to increase visitors, we might place radio ads on the local station. That will take some time to create the ad, then they will have to run a few weeks before we know if it worked. Lastly, are the metrics we are tracking going to tell us if we made the right decision? Add “I heard it on the radio” to the connection card to know how people heard of you.

Your Next Move

There is a lot involved in tracking and improving performance in your ministry team. It would be logical to start at the beginning and revisit job descriptions and mission statements. However, I recommend you start with metrics. Start tracking the data you think is important. You may not get the metrics just right, but they will likely be close. Then, you can watch the trend while you are working on the business plan and job descriptions. In addition, starting with metrics tends to reveal the quality of our data, which is likely to become a metric in itself. Start tracking and iterate on your thinking with your team.