By Meghan Hatcher

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.

Redefining Success

Mother Teresa famously told her biographer, “we are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful.” Oof. That hits me in my core. If I’m honest, sometimes I conflate external success with faithfulness. But they’re not actually the same, are they?

I know many ministry leaders who face a similar temptation to assume the programs, events, and ministries they lead are faithful if, and perhaps only if, they’re “successful” from a traditional standpoint. But I believe we’re called to something so much deeper than mere “success.” 

Try this thought experiment: Imagine a time in your ministry when you felt totally inspired and aware of God’s presence and love. What caused you to feel that way? Was it the number of people who showed up at a ministry event or program you’d planned? Or was it a moment of authentic connection between people or a situation that was undeniably filled with the Holy Spirit? 

Traditional metrics of success like participation numbers, dollars, and attraction don’t usually spark joy because they can’t measure transformation by the Spirit. The Spirit can’t be pinned down by our endless attempts to hustle and “succeed.”

This topic of ministry assessment invariably comes up in my work to guide faith communities and leaders as they reimagine ministry in their contexts. How do we measure the effectiveness of an innovative ministry? This is a critical question for people of faith to ask, especially because innovative ministries must intentionally seek to subvert traditional metrics. 

Measuring the Unmeasurable

At the Innovation Lab, we often talk about measuring a ministry’s effectiveness based on the transformations arising in people’s lives as they participate. But transformation isn’t always quantifiable or concrete. 

I’ve been wondering lately about the questions a church or organization can ask to measure transformation, celebration, and joy. In other words, how can we measure the Spirit’s movement in our ministries? Here are a few questions I’m thinking about.  

  • Are the kids/people/participants safe? By “safe,” I mean physically taken care of and free from potential harm. I also mean, are the people participating safe and encouraged to be the fullness of who God created them to be? Are they safe to show up with their full selves, to not hide or condense themselves to feel worthy or welcomed fully into the ministry?
  • Is each person learning that they are an integral part of God’s Big Story? This question refers to everyone in the ministry: adults, young people, leaders, volunteers, staff, clergy, lay people, longtime church members, new people, etc. How is everyone involved invited to connect their personal life stories with God’s story and movement in the world, and what impact is that having? 
  • Is each person learning that they are a called, gifted child of God? Is the ministry creating spaces for people to participate at the level they’re ready for and in a way that nurtures their unique gifts? Are the people leading/facilitating/hosting intentionally seeking opportunities to uplift and name the gifts they observe in participants? Are people encouraged to share their gifts with others in the ministry? 
  • Is the wider faith community actively welcoming the people participating in the ministry? Too often, new ministries and the people who participate in them aren’t welcomed fully into the wider life of the faith community. This is unfortunately true of many community engagement and outreach ministries. How does the ministry instead bear witness to the reality that ALL people have a place in the body of Christ? How is the wider faith community actively living into this reality? 

I don’t know many ministry leaders who would say they’re in ministry just to get people to show up to the stuff they plan or to reach a giving campaign’s goals. But too often we measure effectiveness as if we believe that! We’re in ministry because God graciously sees fit to work in and through us and the faith communities we serve to bring about transformation in people’s lives.

If we measure transformation, we’ll be more faithful, not merely successful. 

The Innovation Lab exists to help you innovate faithfully in your context. Our tools and resources can help you develop transformational ministries.