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.

CONTEXT & How To Conduct a SWOT Analysis to Understand Your Org. Context

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 8/24/15.

I help students and clients conduct baseline analyses of their community and their organizations. To do this I encourage them either in the classroom or with their leadership teams to begin by answering the following questions about the organization’s “S.W.O.T” (i.e. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).  Thus, to begin to analyze your organization with a SWOT analysis, begin by discussing with your team (or classmates) these questions:

1) Have you led in the past an organization similar to the one your fellow leaders has described? If so, tell her or him about any special strengths, weaknesses, external opportunities, and/or external threats that in hindsight you encountered.

2) If you do not have any first-hand experience with such a context, then from an outside perspective what do you see as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in your colleagues’ situations?

3) And finally, tender your analysis of the above in the form of a S.W.O.T. analysis. In other words, share your analysis in the following form:

(Look at the following internal factors, i.e. factors under your control):

S = Strengths.
Strong points or core competencies that are internal to the organization.

W = Weaknesses.
Weak points inside the organization.

(Consider these two external factors, i.e. factors not under your control but which you can only react to.)

O = Opportunities.
Possibilities created by factors that are outside of the organization or beyond the control of the organization.

T = Threats. Concerns that are also outside of the organization, i.e. beyond the control of the organization to eliminate.

So, with your colleagues (or class) pick one of the two first questions and tender some insights from your perspective in the form of a “SWOT” analysis. You don’t have to cover all four of the SWOT areas. But tender your insights on a couple or more.

This will help you begin to develop a holistic SWOT analysis of everyone’s organizational context. So now it’s your turn! What potentialities, limitations, possibilities and problems do you see ahead for some of your colleagues’ organizational contexts.