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Why You Must Evaluate Your Ministry and How You Can Do It Well

Here’s why it’s important to evaluate your ministry and many practical ways to find out if your ministry is making the grade.

“Class, Take out a piece of paper and a pencil.”

Remember how your heart raced when a teacher blurted out those words?

Pop quiz!

Ugh! You’d rather do anything than take a test. Right?

As painful as tests were at times, they provided our teachers with a helpful way of assessing how we were growing as students. In the same way, giving your ministry tests can also help you assess the growth of your children, staff, programs, and procedures.

When was the last time your ministry had a checkup? Looking at the details of your ministry will help guide your ministry as you seek to live out God’s calling to change children’s lives for Christ. A ministry of excellence is clear on its ministry progress and is continually adapting, changing, and growing to meet the spiritual, emotional, and social needs of its children and families. Where is your ministry? To find out, take out a piece of paper and a pencil…

Why Evaluate

Evaluation is only effective if you have a clearly defined purpose or mission statement. If not, do that first. How can you know if you’ve hit the target if you don’t know what the target is? Evaluation helps you know if you’re achieving what you’ve set out to accomplish.

Evaluation helps your planning process; helps assess the progress of your children and families in fulfilling your ministry’s purpose statement; and also helps you know what to communicate to children, parents, volunteers, and your church family. Evaluation examines the difference between your vision and what you’re currently providing to help create new ministry goals and plans.

What to Evaluate

Evaluating or measuring your ministry results against your purpose may seem rudimentary, but many churches make little or no effort to assess results, either in terms of ministry program objectives, ministry procedures, or children’s and family’s satisfaction. To decide what to evaluate, begin with clear, defined values, goals, and objectives that are consistent in fulfilling your ministry’s purpose. From your clearly defined goals or vision, evaluate all that you offer. For example, does your curriculum meet all the objectives as defined in the values you’ve established for your ministry? Is your facility child-friendly, inviting, and representative of your ministry? Do the programs you offer meet the spiritual, emotional, and social needs of children? What is your parents’ satisfaction level with the ministry you offer to children?

It’s easy to place our primary focus of importance on the big picture. However, it’s in the details that the big picture is clearly brought into focus. A great architect once said, “God is in the details.” Evaluating and paying attention to all the details and aspects of your ministry turns it into a ministry of excellence.

When to Evaluate

To improve your ministry with children and families, evaluate the details of your ministry daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually — carefully examining what you’re doing and accomplishing.

For example, you may assess your facility and what it communicates about your ministry by doing a weekly walk-through, taking note of the physical condition of the rooms and equipment. From this evaluation, develop and implement goals and plans to help with maintenance and improvement. At the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, we complete a weekly facility maintenance report for each room, hallway, entranceway, and restroom in the children’s ministry area. Details of this evaluation tool include equipment and facility repair needs, room cleanliness, and needed supplies. From this report, we develop a weekly action plan with the church facility ministry and the children’s ministry team.

You, also, could implement an evaluation tool after each weekend for your Sunday school. What went well? What could be improved upon? Other evaluations may be quarterly or yearly, based on the time and length of the ministry. Of primary importance is that the details of your ministry are evaluated on an ongoing basis throughout the year.

How to Evaluate

When deciding how to evaluate, it’s important to choose a variety of methods. By using different tools, you’ll have a more comprehensive review of your ministry. The results of your evaluation should also be put in writing for future review and use.

The following are examples of evaluation tools.

Ministry Reports

Ministry reports may include a weekly facility report as discussed above, a monthly review of the financial report, a weekly review of Sunday school or weekday programming, or an achievement report.

Brainstorming Evaluations

This is a great way to gather ideas, perceptions, and information about your ministry. During a brainstorming session, reject no ideas or thoughts; all ideas are discussed and evaluated. This is an evaluation method that has been used effectively at our church with our children’s ministry volunteer leadership team, staff, and children’s volunteers. In these brainstorming sessions, we’ve examined such topics as identifying the spiritual and emotional needs of our children; answering the question “Is our worship child-friendly?” or “What’s the state of our children’s volunteers?” During a brainstorming session, it’s helpful to have a guided and specific list of questions to keep the participants on track. From these brainstorming evaluations, develop action plans to meet your ministry objectives.

Round-Table Discussion Groups

Round-table evaluation involves meeting with selected focus groups of four to 10 people to discuss current ministry programs, issues, concerns, future needs, hopes, or dreams. These people can be children, parents, volunteers, or leadership teams.

For example, to evaluate and collect information on a key issue, invite a selected group of participants to a morning coffee or weeknight dessert. Children would love to eat pizza or ice cream with you! Establish ongoing round-table groups to evaluate the details of your ministry. By involving people in the process, they’ll take ownership of the ideas and be passionate about seeing the vision realized. You can use the same format for the brainstorming evaluations to guide your round-table discussions.

Parent Surveys

This method of evaluation is important when you understand that part of your ministry success depends on parents’ and children’s faction with the programs you’re providing. You can conduct effective surveys on a quarterly, semiannual, or annual basis. Parent surveys assist in collecting information about perceived strengths, weaknesses, and interests. Research recommends that you survey all parents/children at the start of the Sunday school year to collect bench-mark data to assist in planning. By giving the same survey periodically over the course of the year, you can measure, change, and redirect your course. It’s also helpful to have parents and children provide feedback on special programs immediately after the event.

The likelihood of a survey being returned depends on how easy it is for the participant to complete the survey. It’s more likely that a participant will complete the survey when he or she is able to choose a multiple-choice response with a clear value, such as 1=Needs to Improve; 2=Fair; 3=Good; and 4=Excellent. A survey response may be as simple as True or False. You may also want to allow for brief comments and remarks at the end of the survey.

Quarterly Purpose-Statement Evaluations

As a ministry leader, it’s critical to compare your current ministry offerings to your purpose statement. Make a list of what programs and ministries you’re offering to fulfill your mission. What do you want to keep? What needs to improve? Which things needs to change? What things aren’t in line with your ministry values? What needs to be added to help fulfill your purpose statement?

In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul writes, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” Paul urged the Corinthians to examine and test themselves to see if they were really growing as Christians and actively seeking Christ’s presence and power in their lives. We should do the same with ourselves and the people in our ministries.

Using a Rubric for Evaluation

The use of rubrics has become a popular trend in the field of education. A rubric is used in schools as not only an easy method for evaluation, but also as a way to determine the quality standards of a particular assignment or program. The rubric method can easily be used as an evaluation tool for ministry-to help determine a program’s effectiveness as well as set standards for excellence.

A rubric contains four basic components: a benchmark or standard of performance; a desired goal or result; elements that need performing to achieve the result; and clear criteria of acceptable and unacceptable performance.

After having volunteers complete a rubric, take the process to the next step. A rubric lets you pinpoint weak and strong areas of satisfaction. In your weak areas, set a goal to work toward. Specific feedback gives clear direction to leadership in how to make changes.

Debi Nixon is the children’s ministry director at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas.

Want more articles for children’s ministry leaders? Check these out.

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