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To measure success, first you need to define it

To measure success, first you need to define it

There is an ongoing debate over what constitutes success for a church?  Is it growth?  People served? Or maybe giving?  And how can you measure spiritual growth?

Well, the Harvard Business Review has an article out looking at management of mission driven enterprises, using All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, CA.

The Episcopal Church officially reports that All Saints has about 8,000 members. Is that good? Would 9,000 be much better? All Saints Rector Ed Bacon (if you’re not Episcopalian, think of him as the CEO of the enterprise) doesn’t believe those are the right questions. “Sure, we love to see big numbers,” Bacon told me. “But what really makes our hearts beat fast is transformed people transforming the world. Membership isn’t our business. Turning the human race into the human family is.”

Every Episcopal congregation is expected to complete an annual survey known as the Parochial Report, which largely attempts to measure membership and financial status.  But as the article points out, membership especially is poorly defined and difficult to measure;

Do people become members of the flock when they make financial offerings, or make a habit of attending services—or must they appear on a mailing list, or have formally graduated with a new-member class? I couldn’t get a definitive answer from either the national church or parish administrators. I came away believing that the “member” designation, as Shakespeare wrote about reputation, might be “earned without merit, and lost without deserving.”

Seeing the difficulty in defining membership and deciding that wasn’t their actual goal, All Saints wanted to measure engagement and spiritual growth.

But All Saints decided to focus on something other than the membership rolls, however well calculated. Instead, its leadership wondered how to gauge the transformation of people that Bacon identified as the real objective.

They developed software tools to track engagement and will soon introduce tools to enable parish leadership to better understand the talents and passions of its members.  However, they also realized that development of resources through individual giving was both important to fulfilling their mission, but was itself a kind of measure of engagement.

Engagement is not the only objective All Saints needs to think about; the church must be financially healthy to keep doing its work. But these two objectives are undoubtedly aligned. All Saints’ fundraising data shows with great consistency that, for every additional year a person pledges, their pledge increases by 8%. That’s a rate of return most investors would take in a heartbeat, and it bespeaks the commitment that comes with deepening engagement, not continuing “membership.”

The HBR case study speaks to the importance of defining an organization’s identity and mission first in order to define what success might mean.  Likely, most Episcopal parishes will not have the resources to bring to bear that are available to All Saints.  Also likely, the Parochial Report isn’t going away with its narrow points of focus.   However, a church that seeks to thrive should have a clear idea of what “thriving” means for that community in order to develop tools and the discipline to regularly evaluate its efforts and be willing to make adjustments based on that feedback.


posted by Jon White



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The Rev. Cn. Dr. Rob Droste

Here in the Diocese of New Jersey, we’re working from the idea that increased health and numerical growth in a congregation is a direct result of how well we form new Christians and nurture the ones we have. In other words, health and growth in all areas of congregational life is a function of lifelong, intergenerational Christian formation.

I’d think it’s correct to say that transformed lives (perspectives, attitudes and behaviors) are a major marker of the presence of Jesus – and transformed life is what we hopefully offer those who are not now his disciples. We’re currently exploring how one goes about understanding and celebrating (and if possible, measuring) such a change in a meaningful way. Measuring engagement, as mentioned in the article, would be one avenue. It’s qualitative, sure, but offers useful data nonetheless.

Another important, also qualitative, direction might be useful. I have to wonder if we’d learn something important if we asked clergy and laypeople to self-report about changes over time in our perceived relationship with God in Christ, our attitudes about others (especially those different from us), changed preconceptions about God or Jesus, changes in how we treat others (say family members or co-workers), developing commitment to spiritual practices, our relationship to Scripture, our relationship to money, etc. While these are highly subjective and necessarily anecdotal, they might still provide useful information as we seek to create healthy communities of Christians. We could only hope to see changes in these areas and many more as the result of faith in Jesus Christ.

Jay Sidebotham

RenewalWorks, a ministry of Forward Movement, has embraced this challenge, measuring spiritual vitality in congregations through an online inventory that explores the church’s role in spiritual engagement, along with personal spiritual practices and the call to service to people in need. Glad to know of other efforts to measure vitality of congregations not in terms of attendance or pledging units but in terms of transformation.

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