Why Christian Ministries Should Measure Results: A Response to the mantra "Aim for Faithfulness Not Results!"
Hoag, Rodin and Willmer believe, "Success is measured in terms of faithfulness not results." Therefore, "We must look beyond measuring our church in terms of numbers, our schools in terms of enrollment, and our evangelistic efforts in terms of conversions." To support their aversion to results, they instruct ministry leaders to stop using the "world's metrics" based on this biblical reasoning: "In Romans 12:2a, Paul exhorts us: 'Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.'" What worldly pattern do they believe Paul is describing? "In modern terms, we try to make things happen and chart our progress using the world’s metrics." They believe the Bible commands ministry leaders not to manage toward outcomes and use metrics to track progress. So the question is: does the Bible condemn counting results?
The Bible has no problem reporting ministry results. The very first record of evangelism and church growth in the New Testament summarizes the story with numerical results. Luke (the author of Acts) reports that people were baptized and about 3,000 new believers were converted in one day (Acts 2:41) with more converting daily (Acts 2:47). John 6:66 reports how a bunch of Jesus' followers walked away from him after he called them to a higher commitment. 1 Kings 19:18 reports the number of Israelites who had remained faithful to God--7,000 in Elijah's day. Counting the number of people on God's team and reporting positive and negative changes to that number is biblical.
Taking Bible Verses Out of Context
Measuring Outcomes Doesn't Require Bad Motives
Counting numbers can distract any leader from higher priorities. It is possible to get lost in the pursuit of bigger, better numbers and overlook the quality of your work. That's why I love the book's critique of growth-oriented leadership that overlooks character and quality in the process. Quote: "The key to grasping eternity-oriented metrics is realizing that the quantitative is subservient to the qualitative. Could this be why the modern church has so many professing Christians and so few disciples of Jesus Christ?" I am constantly asking church-planting ministries to show me how they measure church health not just church growth. It isn't being done. That needs to change.
However, Hoag, Rodin and Willmer assume every ministry focused on numerical results is doing it for the wrong reasons. They summarized the corrupt motives of ministry leaders wanting results in a recent ECFA book promo article: "We want our ministries to post better numbers comparably speaking so that we will have higher charity ratings and so that more people will give us more money" (ECFA article, page 2). Is that the reason all ministry leaders use for tracking results? I don't think so. Ministry leaders may want to raise more money because they believe the numbers show the effectiveness of their model. The motivation may be passion for serving people well.
Hoag, Rodin and Willmer also denounce comparing performance. Why? The reasoning goes, "Instead of competing to get above others, we compete to get below them." (ECFA article, page 2) The argument is designed to denigrate competition as a "worldly" practice. It presupposes outperforming other ministries is done for the sake of outperforming other ministries. The only motive is self-aggrandizement. That is not universally true. Benchmarking performance can just as easily reflect a desire to help others in the most effective way. Ministry leaders can compare performance to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different ministry models.
Tracking numerical results doesn't have to originate from a desire for more money or squashing the competition. It can be driven by a desire to learn from what's not working and celebrate or scale what is.
Hoag, Rodin and Willmer have overreacted against numerical results. They believe counting results just builds one's earthly empire. In their opinion, metrics should be "qualitative rather than quantitative so that our efforts target growing God’s eternal kingdom rather than our earthly one" (ECFA article, page 1). We don't have to embrace the either/or approach.
The call for tracking the quality of one's work in addition to the quantity is a beneficial message. So thanks to Hoag, Rodin and Willmer for the reminder! Jesus did teach that his true followers could be judged by the fruit in their lives (Matthew 7:15-23). Any good outcomes measurement process must go beyond measuring the scope of impact to measuring the depth or quality of impact. Reporting the number of hands raised after seeing the Jesus Film (which over 200 million people have done in the past 35 years) does not capture changes in character and conduct--the essential fruit in the life of Jesus' followers.
Identifying the right "qualitative metrics" is difficult. Jesus even mentions in Matthew 7:15-23 that false prophets will act like they are following his way without really knowing Him. But I have just returned from Uganda where we are tracking the growth of Christian character and knowledge of God in millions of children. It is hard work. It takes a meticulous design of your survey instrument, but it can be done.
The Bible provides both the paradigm for counting results and the emphasis on evaluating deeper developments of character, obedience and knowledge of God. So faith-based nonprofits should measure quantitative and qualitative results like Acts 2 and Matthew 7 suggest. Tracking both faithfulness to Jesus' teachings and numerical impact is a "biblical" pattern for measuring Kingdom Outcomes.
I'd welcome your thoughts about measuring ministry outcomes and any response from Hoag, Rodin and Willmer.