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Why Christian Ministries Should Measure Results: A Response to the mantra "Aim for Faithfulness Not Results!"

“The kingdom path links success to obedience rather than outcomes.” That is the mantra from ECFA's new book The Choice: The Christ-Centered Pursuit of Kingdom Outcomes. Nonprofit consultants Hoag, Rodin & Willmer have been publishing articles in multiple outlets (like OUTCOMES magazine) to push this message to faith-based nonprofits. Since Excellence in Giving clients fund many faith-based nonprofits, we care about the accuracy and consequences of this message. Unfortunately, the baby is being thrown out the door with the bath water.
In a recent article, the authors conclude, "We pray it will inspire further discussion into this critical topic for everyone in churches and Christian ministries who seek to be instruments of God to produce kingdom outcomes for his glory." I can't say I'm an answer to their prayers, but I will further the discussion. Since I have designed processes for measuring outcomes, I will direct my comments toward their critique of metrics.
The main argument in the book and the articles is: Because some ministries can have ungodly motives when measuring outcomes, no ministries should count results and pursue more money based on good results. This line of argumentation takes its cue from the age-old logical fallacy of "appeal to motive," or the circumstantial Ad Hominem argument. Just because a faith-based nonprofit stands to gain from better performance does not mean it is misguided or deceptive to pursue it. Eliminating outcomes measurement because some people do it for the wrong reasons is a sloppy diagnosis. But Hoag, Rodin and Willmer believe the Bible tells them to stop. As a Bible professor myself, I find their biblical condemnation of counting results unconvincing.
The Bible Counts Ministry 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

Despite the Bible counting results, Hoag, Rodin and Willmer create a false dichotomy where measuring results is "worldly" and being obedient is biblical. To do so, they take Bible verses out of context and insert them into their line of argumentation.
When the authors expediently pull out the principle from Rom 12:2 ("do not be conformed to the pattern of this world") and make it support this false dichotomy, it is a dangerous misuse of the Bible. The meaning of the text is ignored and therefore the principle is applied in a way the apostle Paul never intended. In the context of Romans 12, Paul was calling believers to a self-sacrificial way of living marked by humility, service, love, hospitality, perseverance, etc. rather than the selfish way of the world (read the sacrificial language in Romans 12:1 and the practical applications throughout Romans 12:3-21). Paul was not making a case about the worldliness of measuring and reporting results. Hoag, Rodin and Willmer have unfortunately ripped a verse out of context to support a meaning they want, even when clearer parts of Scripture do not support it. As a result, they throw around phrases like "worldly metrics" and the "world's values" as if the Bible plainly condemns outcomes measurement.
So why do they think God condemns counting results?

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. 

Quality Matters

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.

 


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Tags: Effective Philanthropy, Impact, Nonprofit Performance, Performance Standard


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Thank you for the critique

Paul, I think your critique of The Choice is on target. I read the book in May, and in fact, read several sections multiple times just to be sure I had a good sense of the authors' thesis and intent. Like you, I found much of it helpful... especially portions relating the use of people for organizational gain.
However, also like you, I found that much of their argument related to measuring the results of ministry is based on a false dichotomy. Unfortunately, it seems Dr. Hoag and his co-authors have had the misfortune of meeting only Christian leaders who have either eschewed measurements of ministry growth (many of which completely legitimate and biblical) or who have so embraced measurement of results that they have become idolatrous.
My experience at Maclellan Foundation suggests to me that this is too simplistic. We have the great blessing of interacting with dozens of ministry leaders each year that are fully committed to walking in the power of the Holy Spirit but also fully committed to finding "hows" of ministry that are most impactful for the Kingdom. I fully agree with you that the "what", the "how" and the "what happened" must be integrated in order to evaluate whether a ministry is effectively stewarding the Kingdom resources entrusted to it. From the perspective of the strategic giver, faithfulness alone cannot be the only value by which we understand and compare various kinds of Gospel initiatives. Sadly, many Kingdom resources are wasted in ministries that are simply unfruitful despite the faithfulness of the wonderful Christians involved.
Thankfully in his dialog with you below, Dr. Hoag's responses are more nuanced. For that I am grateful. I did not get that impression reading the book, and I hope others will have the benefit of reading these entries.

"How" the book & articles make the argument confuses "what" message is received

Gary -
I imagine we would have to sit down to figure out the different ways we use words like how, what, strategies, evaluation, outcomes, obedience etc. to make sure we don't talk past each other. For example, if you are simply using different language to call leaders to have a clear Christ-honoring mission and measure the success of strategies to accomplish it, then we are on the same page. Your book provides a good caution to avoid just pushing for big numbers to propagate an organization (if I'm understanding your overall point). And I do appreciate your book's commentary about the misguided motives leaders can develop.

My push back is the way you make your point. Some of the language you all have used creates a false dichotomy and then links that dichotomy to supposed biblical teaching. That's what I critique above. I believe defining success and determining if you are succeeding are interconnected elements of good leadership in a ministry. The "what," the "how," and the "what happened" are all essential. Focusing on the results of your strategy to fulfill the mission does not necessitate an unrighteous or disobedient leader. You acknowledge this in your book when you write, "This does not mean that production-driven leaders are not obedient, or that steward leaders will not report the results of measured growth and increased impact." However, you do say it is "mutually exclusive" to (1) obey God and (2) focus on ministry expansion. You conclude the motive behind measuring expansion is inherently wrong. So you make statements promoting "obedience rather than outcomes." Intentionally or unintentionally this either/or approach overreacts to the possibility that growth can become an idol. When you argue that the "kingdom path" means the "metrics change" to more qualitative outcomes like conduct and character, that's great. But that point gets lost when you write, "Success is measured in terms of faithfulness not results." It sounds like a leader could do whatever he or she feels God wants done (assuming it does not violate the teachings of Christ in the Gospels), and regardless of the outcomes or execution of plans, it would be faithfulness. The subjective nature of that approach has just as many dangers as the objective nature of expansion plans. I'd recommend a little more care in communicating the message so it does come across like the baby (strategy and measuring outcomes) is being thrown out with the bath water (bad motives behind growth goals). The call for measuring character and quality in addition to quantitative results/outcomes is a sufficient message without the unnecessary dichotomies.

Response to your question

Strategies get at the "how" we do what we do, whereas the activities we are accountable for are the "what" we must do. In the Choice we share that so many have focused on the "how" as if they can control outcomes, that many (including us at times) have gotten off track on the "what" we must do by way of focusing on the "how" over the "what". We are calling for a focus to "what" we should do linked to obedience, and the "how" follows, that is evaluation and assessment. We never through it out as you argue, just explained the way to utilize it in a manner that helps leaders avoid the traps of control, idolatry and pride. Hope that is helpful. Your comments make me wonder if you've read the Choice. I'd be happy to share a free copy with you. If so, send me an email at gary.hoag@generositymonk.com

Question for Gary Hoag

Gary - Thanks for joining this conversation. Question: In your paradigm, do leaders change strategies after measured results show little progress or do they simply stay faithful to what they feel God is leading them to do? This question gets at what a leader is truly accountable for.

Clarification

In the Choice, Rodin, Willmer and I argue that when we aim at righteousness (obedience, faithfulness, abiding), results (fruit) represent a byproduct that we celebrate from God and measure while assessing activities we can control and that are a part of our stewardship, but when we aim at results we often drift to the sins of control, idolatry and pride trying to make things happen, outcomes under only God's control. I hope this is helpful for you.

Metrics = vital signs

At Young Life here in NYC we have engaged Global Scripture Impact -- the research and evaluation arm of the American Bible Society -- to help us derive and implement metrics.

The reason we are doing so is at least two-fold. First, we do indeed want to be able to show impact to foundations and donors who ask about it as a part of their decision-making. Second, the metrics process itself is helping us know -- as will certainly the tool we create by the fall -- our own best practices and also keep us accountable to pursue them, while also focusing us on the "spiritual growth" of our constituents (kids) rather than merely count kids who stand up at camp and say they've accepted Jesus. We want to be able to show longitudinal growth among these kids -- discipleship -- which we believe will make the "common good/common grace" argument that much stronger as well.

Therefore, we see metrics and outcomes measurement as making us more effective as an organization while at the same time positioning us to engage more and broader donor publics.

You should be a presenter at the next Stewardship Summit

The Summit would be a great forum to advance discussion on this important theme.

http://www.stewardshipsummit.org/register/presenters.asp

Outcomes

Thank you for writing this. My team read the ECFA (Great Organization) Newsletter article and felt deeply troubled by this line of thinking. Without measurement and results, how can we steward the worshipful giving of our FAITHFUL donors. Measurement is not about judging ones faith, it is about what difference did we make in their life.


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