Ministry and Metrics by Gary G. Hoag
Governing boards often require ministry leaders to use a variety of “metrics” to report results. These “metrics” often reflect the desired outcomes of ministry activity. Consider some examples of this practice: a Christian school might report enrollment figures, a medical ministry might tabulate the number of patients served, and a ministry focused on evangelism might count conversions.
These types of qualitative metrics report the fruit of the ministry, and in today’s ministry climate they regularly serve as the basis for charity ratings in sectors and are promoted to increase charitable giving. Though connecting results to ratings prevails in business today, this tendency poses at least three threats to the ministry world.
First, leaders can be tempted to make decisions in order to inflate figures. To illustrate this, let’s envision a Christian school setting. Administrators might decide to lower acceptance requirements to increase enrollment in order to boost “donor confidence” that the school is growing and, consequently, somehow more “worthy” of support.
Second, staff may shift their focus from providing quality service to increasing the quantity of those served in an attempt to exceed projected targets. For a medical ministry, this could cause the quality of care to diminish at the expense of delivering numbers to present a positive annual report with more clients served than the previous year.
Third, givers tend to think that they can control outcomes through their giving when, in reality, only God controls outcomes. For an evangelism ministry, leaders and staff may be tempted to send messages that gifts of certain sizes can save a specific number of souls or reach a number of cities, regions, or even people groups for Christ.
All these temptations lure ministry leaders to use metrics to get money. In antiquity, approaching benefactors as such was said to reveal the malady “the love of money” and this thinking was deemed idolatrous (cf. Philo, Special Laws, 1.24.3). Furthermore, the NT says that ministry leaders must not exhibit this trait (cf. 1 Timothy 3:3).
So what path should ministry leaders take with regard to metrics? We must rework them! God desires obedience over outcomes: our part is obedience and His part is outcomes. Few texts illustrate this better than Acts 2:42-47.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Notice ministry leaders focus on faithful activities and it is “the Lord” who adds to their number. The NT writers are not against counting results (cf. “five thousand” respond to teaching in Acts 4:4). What the NT ministry leaders never do is take credit for results or use them to convince people to give! So how should ministry leaders use metrics?
(1) Measure and report faithful activity.
After Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13-14), Luke reported the cities in which Paul and Barnabas preached. The responses to their faithful activity ranged from receptive to unreceptive. They did not try to control outcomes; they resolved to minister faithfully, as obedience is the basis for any fruitfulness.
(2) Report results humbly and give God glory.
Who added numbers to the church? Luke reports that the Lord did (Acts 2:47)! How did the Jerusalem Council debate on circumcision get solved? The Holy Spirit guided them (Acts 15:28). Readers of the NT can find more examples of this pattern: results are reported humbly and God gets all glory.
To the ministry leaders reading this post, I conclude with this charge: Stop using metrics to get money! (I have done this. It’s sin. Our right response is to repent and change directions.) Map out and measure what faithful activity looks like in each sector of God’s work, so that reports demonstrate obedience and faithfulness. Lastly, should God bless the ministries we serve with fruitful outcomes, be sure to share results in a manner that brings God glory.
Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D. (New Testament, Trinity College, Bristol, UK), serves as a visiting professor at TEDS and Northern Seminary and ECFA Press Author/International Liaison among other roles. He is known widely as “the Generosity Monk” because he has dedicated his life to encouraging Christian generosity. His most recent book published by the Institute for Biblical Research is Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy.
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