the shape of leadership

Measuring Ministry Effectiveness in a Coronavirus World

What does successful church look like today?

Chris Colvin on April 30, 2020

Chances are, a lot has changed in your community since the last time your church met in person. As we all look forward to getting back to normal, it’s hard to imagine what the new normal will be. But two things have remained the same: your mission and vision.

As we navigate these waters of uncertainty, we are definitely doing things differently. Going to the grocery store can seem strange. Talking to neighbors while out on a walk takes on a whole new tenor. And the way you lead your congregation has certainly been transformed.

One of the ways your church ministry is different is in how you measure success. In the past, it was pretty simple. There were indicators you could watch go up or down. Attendance and first-time guests, salvations and baptisms, and even small group enrollment were signs of your church's health. How do you gauge your effectiveness now?

The work of the pastor has not stopped. If anything, it’s sped up and increased. It’s always good to know how to evaluate the things you are doing. But what’s the right outlook to have?

Churches have shifted from external measures to internal motivators. This isn’t the first time some pastors have made this move. But now it’s born of necessity. It’s difficult to translate online attendance to in-person seating, for instance. Much of this is still brand new.

But what does it mean to move from external to internal means of assessment? For one, the numbers don’t matter as much as the level of impact.

In the past, you may have had hundreds of people show up for an outreach event and a percentage of them responded by accepting Christ as their Savior. But how do you determine the impact of drive-through benevolence or livestreaming of worship?

The short answer is you can’t. Instead, success of your church is going to be weighed by the strength of individual testimonies. Begin to look for those members who are stepping up, leading watch parties or inviting others to church on social media.

You can also dig into the stories of those who are making a decision online to follow Jesus. These internal motivators of life change are more likely to have long-term effects than any external management tool could predict.

Reach, Engagement, Outcomes

Another way to measure the success of your church’s ministry is by getting back to the basics. For years, you have relied on traditional means of evangelism to grow your church. No matter how young or old your congregation, the primary means of increasing church attendance was probably word of mouth and personal invitations.

Now, without the advantage of in-person services, that strategy has to be shelved. But the work of the church is not. Reexamine those results and consider what was really behind them to begin with.

Those in marketing use three terms to describe the effectiveness of campaigns: reach, engagement and outcome. Reach is how many people become aware of your church through advertising, direct flyers or even just driving by your building.

You’re still looking to make disciples, but that may look completely different in a digital context.

Engagement is how many of them make a move after the first contact. In other words, they may either throw the mailer away or put it up on their fridge as a reminder. Finally, the outcome is whatever you hope your first-time guests will do, like make a decision to follow Jesus, join the church or attend a newcomers dinner.

During this pandemic, you may need to reassess these three markers and determine what a “win” looks like in this environment.

For instance, your reach could be how many people see your livestream while scrolling through Facebook, or how many receive the email or text reminder about an upcoming service. Engagement would then be a click-through. Respondents click on a link to visit the stream or your church website. Outcome remains largely the same.

You’re still looking to make disciples, but that may look completely different in a digital context. The reach, engagement and outcome technique does not have to be limited to streaming your weekend service. There are multiple ways in which churches are currently working with their communities.

You could measure the success of your reach by how many people are contacting your church for assistance. Engagement may be people stepping up to lead a virtual small group. And outcome may be based on how many groceries are handed out on a weekday.

Establishing Goals

While the means and measures of outcomes may be drastically different, you still need to set goals for success. But again, those goals may look nothing like the traditional ones you’ve set each year or quarter in the past.

The goals you set during this pandemic need to be realistic. Take into account the personal needs of staff members and volunteers. Do they or someone they live with have an underlying condition that makes them susceptible to COVID-19? You may have to adjust your expectations.

On the other hand, goals should also be motivating. If they are easy to reach or have no direct correlation to your mission and vision, how effective are they? Goals that are challenging, even during these times, can be a great catalyst for continuing the efforts of the church.

In fact, many times the people you lead will come up with new ideas for effective ministry, if you empower them. Goals have the ability to empower. Don’t shy away from them.

The New Normal

No one knows for sure how long this pandemic will impact our lives and ministries or what the long-term outcomes will be, but we can trust God with the results.

You may have concerns about how this situation will affect your church in the future. What if churchgoers discover online service is easier and skip attending more often after in-person services resume? Or what if they find another local church online and decide to switch?

It’s easy to focus on the negatives, but there may also be some positive outcomes.

When you release the power of your individual members, they will respond in the power of the Holy Spirit. Many of them have probably taken a backseat for years, thinking they didn’t have a call on their lives. Now, out of necessity, they are doing more ministry than ever before and realizing God wants to use them.

We can look back with longing and look ahead with hope, but neither will help us measure success today. What does effective ministry in this time of crisis really look like? Each pastor’s context will be different, for sure.

Accept that your current context is nothing like it’s ever been or may ever be again — and trust God to multiply your ministry for His kingdom.

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