I stumbled upon a prayer this week called, “For when you’re tired of broken systems,” and this excerpt remains lodged in my mind: Oh God, how blessed are we who cry out to you: Empower us to see and name what is broken, what is ours to restore. Guide us to find coherent and beautiful alternatives that foster life, hope, and peace. Help us to use our gifts with one another in unity. Blessed are we who choose to live in anticipation, our eyes scanning the horizon for signs of your kingdom – heaven come down – as we wait.1

In our work with churches and other faith communities, we often find that the way success is measured is a broken system. 

One of the Innovation Lab’s foundational beliefs is that innovation in ministry requires innovation in how we measure a ministry’s effectiveness. Why would we undertake the process of innovating only to measure the innovative ministry by outdated metrics? 

Yet in many contexts, assessment metrics focus too narrowly on transactional measures – people and dollars that can be counted – rather than a broader focus that measures transformation in people’s lives and communities. 

In many contexts, assessment metrics focus too narrowly on transactional measures.

As Christians, we are people who profess to believe in resurrection and new life. This is in fact THE hallmark of the Christian faith. But too often, our ministries are still using metrics that tell stories of loss, despair, and death – declining participation and attendance, declining financial resources, and denominational and church conflicts. 

If we are truly resurrection people then we must trade these narratives of scarcity and death for the reality of hope and new life.

How to Measure Your Ministry’s Real Impact

It’s easy to simply critique the current system. But as the prayer above points out, we need God to “guide us to find coherent and beautiful alternatives that foster life, hope, and peace” instead. 

Our task then is to partner with the Holy Spirit to identify tangible signs of transformation in our ministries, which are beautiful alternatives to transactional ministry metrics.

At the Innovation Lab, we’ve developed a process to help ministry leaders and faith communities discern new ways of measuring effectiveness. Step 1 begins with naming tangible transformations that might happen in an individual’s life or in an entire community because people participate in a given ministry. Step 2 is to translate those hoped-for transformations into metrics that can measure whether the ministry is fulfilling its purpose. 

Drawing on asset-based community development, we think about transformation at five levels of change, according to a framework we developed called the “Ladder of Assessment.” Each level leads to increasingly consequential transformation in an individual’s life and faith that could eventually lead to broader community change and create a sense of public good. 

The rungs of the ladder, from top to bottom, are: 

  • Level 1: Awareness changes 
  • Level 2: Attitude changes 
  • Level 3: Knowledge changes 
  • Level 4: Behavior changes 
  • Level 5: Community changes and public good 

Once a ministry leader or faith community collectively names hoped-for transformations at each level, they’re ready to discern new metrics.

When brainstorming unique metrics for a ministry, it’s helpful to identify both the metric to measure and the questions that need to be asked to measure it. These are questions that might be asked of the staff or volunteers leading the ministry, of participants themselves, or simply be observed whenever the ministry takes place. 

For example, rather than simply counting how many people show up to a ministry event, perhaps a new metric to pay attention to is “holistic participation.” This could mean a person’s ability and willingness to show up with their full self and contribute to the ministry, not simply passively participate. 

The questions that might be asked to measure this metric are: In what ways were ministry participants able to use their gifts, skills, and/or resources during the event? How many people had this opportunity?

Identify both the metric to measure and the questions that need to be asked to measure it.

Measuring holistic participation, rather than simply numeric, captures a truer sense of the transformation taking place as people are encouraged to not only physically attend, but to contribute the many gifts God has given them. 

When leaders, faith communities, and denominations begin measuring more of what matters, the Church will be able to testify to and model “beautiful alternatives that foster life, hope, and peace” instead of merely transactional metrics. That is indeed good news to a world in desperate need of new life and resurrection hope.

If your faith community feels stuck using transactional metrics, visit the Innovation Lab to explore how we can help you reimagine ministry assessment. 

About the Author: Meghan is the director of the Innovation Laboratory at CYMT. She holds degrees in journalism, sustainable development and applied sociology, and a Master of Divinity. Meghan has served diverse faith communities through pastoral leadership, youth ministry, new church development, community engagement, and ministry innovation.

  1. Excerpted from “For when you’re tired of broken systems,” The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days, Kate Bowler & Jessica Richie (2023). ↩︎