EVALUATION & How to Thwart the Tendency to Over Evaluate the Needs of Congregants & Under Evaluate the Needs of Non-churchgoers

By Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 5/13/16.

“Churches usually spend way too much time polling their congregation’s opinions, and thus their programming is shaped by their congregational perception, and not community needs.”

Someone once said organizations can have a “paralysis of analysis.” And I believe this is created because we over analyze churchgoers instead of reaching out to analyze non-churchgoers needs.

This is exemplified when students share measurement tools they have found online, in hopes that these tools will help them evaluate programming.

But, often such tools are not focused on meeting the needs of non-churchgoers residents, but rather in assessing if the ministry is meeting the needs of the church.   Here is an example one student found:

1.    Our greatest challenges are … (check all that apply)

ο    We don’t know how to connect with people who need help or with community partners.
ο    We sense our efforts to help people are often abused.
ο    We can only provide short-term solutions, not real transformation.
ο    We struggle to mobilize church support for helping people who are not members.
ο    The people we help don’t seem interested in the gospel or in our church.
ο    Community needs are overwhelming; we don’t know where to start.
ο    We aren’t equipped to plan or manage community-oriented programs.
ο    We don’t have enough resources to engage in substantial ministry.
ο    We are uncomfortable dealing with people from a different ethnicity, culture or economic class.

Adapted with permission from Ministry Inventory Guide: Assess Your Church’s Ministry Capacity and Identity by Heidi Unruh (2007), http://www.fastennetwork.org. Original source: Jay Van Groningen, Communities First: Through God’s Eyes, With God’s Heart (Center on Faith in Communities, 2005), p. 4-5

Now, don’t get me wrong – this is a good assessment, but not of program effectiveness in meeting community needs. Rather, this is an assessment of how the church feels about its programming.

While this is important, it is really more important how the “community” feels about the programs and their ability to meet their needs.

Thus, effective evaluators will want to poll community satisfaction and consider this as more important than church satisfaction.  (The reason I am so adamant about this is that churches usually spend way too much time polling their congregation’s opinions, and thus their programming is shaped by their congregational perception, and not community needs.)

Understanding community satisfaction can only be ascertained by assessing the community (and the example above primarily measures church satisfaction with ministry, i.e. it is focusing on the church, in lieu of the white harvest).

The best approach usually is to create avenues for community feedback, such as focus groups, etc..  In fact, I have written how a church can do this (2004, pp. 100-104) in Growth By Accident, Death By Planning, in a chapter titled “Missteps with Evaluation.”  The “8 Corrective Steps” for evaluation are church and community focused.  Some of you may want to peruse these steps, they are field-tested and should help 🙂

Whitesel, B. (2004). Growth by accident, Death by planning: How not to kill a growing congregation. Nashville: TN. Chapter, “Missteps With Evaluation.” Section, “8 Corrective Steps to Regain Growth (with Evaluation).” Pp. 100-104.