Faith Works 8-8-15
Measuring progress on multiple levels
In many non-profits and social service agencies, there's a tool for tracking how things are going that's been borrowed from the business world, called a "dashboard."
It's a tool which is basically a set of graphic images, clever graphs or designs of data presentation that resemble fuel gauges or speedometers, that you get at regular intervals. A "dashboard" is a quick scan access of the question "how are we doing?"
It also is a response to the modern truism "we become what we measure." Or, as has been said in fields like community policing or social justice "if it isn't measured, it stops mattering."
For a business, you can have a dashboard that tracks sales, obviously, expenses, staffing and absenteeism, and in more elaborate versions, ongoing customer satisfaction surveys. And the question is whether these metrics are going up, or going down; are things getting better, or are we heading backwards from where we want to go?
I'm not aware of many church bodies that use a dashboard, but I'm sure they're out there. For a larger faith community, it can be a good way to check-in without just dumping numbers on people. But what would go on the dashboard for a church?
Actually, most congregations do have a sort of dashboard mentality already. In general, folks want to hear at board or cabinet or session meetings: how is attendance doing, what's going on with giving, where is our total membership? You can refine that down to tracking how many baptisms per month or quarter (and how many deaths or departures to transfer out); some might track sub-categories like Sunday school or midweek prayer meeting attendance.
Attendance, giving, membership: those are the implicit dashboard items for most church leaders. They don't tell the whole story (giving may be up, but if expenditures are up more, then you might be missing something!), but it's how we shape our narrative. Or, "what's measured is what's meaningful."
So the question gets asked "what else can or should we be measuring?" What other gauges should go on the dashboard?
One suggestion I've heard is to put mission and ministries beyond the church walls up there along with attendance and membership figures. How many meals did we serve last month, or in the previous quarter? What percent of our members participated in a mission or evangelism project of the church? How about the percentage of total budget or income that goes to outreach and mission? Have we reached 10% for the congregation, or has that been slipping back a percentage point per year for a while?
And even the "satisfaction" measure used by some businesses might have an interesting potential in a religious community. How might you randomly inquire of a sample each quarter "how are you being fed by your involvement here?" Or even more challenging: a regular survey in the wider community: "what do you know about our congregation?" Could that be done in a way where you could track if those efforts to share your message are doing better, or not so much?
For Christian communities, the call is to "go, baptize, make disciples." We can measure miles traveled in our going, certainly we can tally the baptisms of the newly faithful, and disciple-making activities may need attendance sheets or evaluations that tell those in charge how they're working and serving those who participate.
Are attendance, membership, and giving your major dashboard instruments where you worship? Can you think of other ways to keep track of where you're going, and how fast you're moving, plus where the fuel gauge sits, for your church family?
This is an instrument panel that's going to continually be rebuilt, even if the main dials in the center stay the same.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about dashboards you have consulted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.