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How to measure success in a parish…

How to measure success in a parish…

When I was in college, I took several semesters of archery. I loved shooting arrows at targets, but what ultimately won me over was the nature of archery; you immediately know how you are doing, based on where you hit the target. Still, there was one time that I hit the bulls eye and yet I scored a zero, because I was aiming at the wrong target! In some ways ministry can be like archery, we need to not only aim for the bullseye – but we also need to hit the right target! Too many Catholic parishes and dioceses are aiming for the wrong thing and miss the target. Then when questions arise about why the results they expected aren’t happening, they are puzzled.

To further illustrate this problem, we need to understand that what we value is measured and what we measure, we generally value more. In our current Catholic context, we measure:

  • Mass attendance
  • “Involvement” outside of Mass
  • Sacraments received (i.e., the number of baptisms, weddings, Confirmations, etc).
  • Numbers of programs, events, and classes
  • etc

This means we value these things, prioritize these things, hire for these things, budget for these things, and plan to continue to do these things – even when they fail us. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with tracking whatever it is we do. Furthermore, knowing numbers (which are clearly objective) can give us a broad overview and some kind of basic metric. But, if these are the only things we track, then we are aiming at the wrong target, because we start to value these things above others. Therefore, to understand what we need to track, in addition to the list above, we need to start what knowing the correct target.

Before we name our target, look back at what we currently track and see what they each have in common. You might notice they are all numbers oriented and inwardly focussed. Yes, to measure the health of a parish, you need to know what is going on internally. Still, for most parishes and dioceses – there are no outwardly focussed goals. Nothing about mission. Nothing about conversion. Nothing about evangelization. This is where our problems arise. We are aiming everything we do at the internal Catholic community.
This is the wrong target!

The real target, otherwise known as the mission (or great commission) of Jesus is this –

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” -Matt 28:18-20

We can’t make disciples of all nations if all we do is open our doors and expect non-disciples to show up anyway!

So, how do we measure your progress and achieve your goals, according to this target? Here are a few ways to do it.

  1. Measure output more than input. If you were to go to a jeans factory manager and say – “we set a record number for the amount of material we used this quarter!”, I doubt he would be excited by that statement. But, what if you said, “we had a record number of jeans sold and we did it under budget!”, that would probably excite him. Catholics measure input (e.g. attendance) – but not output (e.g., intentional disciples converted to the Jesus). The only way to measure output is to know others and to hear their stories. This is not efficient, but necessary to a proper tracking system.
  2. Start having more conversations. One of my favorite phrases for guiding this principle home is – “fruitfulness is named more than numbered“. In other words, you will need to get to know who has become a disciple, which disciples have started to evangelize, which disciples are making other disciples, which disciples are leading others, etc. You do this through conversations.
  3. Be Wise in evaluating your output. Just as a farmer doesn’t control everything it takes to get a good crop (e.g., weather, bugs, etc), so leaders don’t control every part of what it takes to produce fruit. Therefore, you need to be wise in evaluating whether you are successful or not. For instance, every parish should expect a big drop in adult baptisms, if RCIA was shut down for a year (or more), due to the pandemic. In this case, it doesn’t mean failure.
  4. Understand the proper strategy which can help you achieve the goal. To make an intentional disciple, you have to know the process of moving someone to conversion and that you are not ultimately in control of their decision to follow Jesus. Still, there are strategies that can help you become a more successful evangelist. If our goal is to make disciples, then we need to reorient our ministries along a plan which helps us accomplish this.
  5. Don’t stop with an initial conversion. One of the “fatal flaws” of how we currently do pastoral ministry in a Catholic context is that we stop too soon. One place we tend to stop is after someone has a conversion. The simplest way to help someone at this stage is to have a more mature disciple come alongside someone to accompany, disciple, and apprentice them. This is a discipleship relationship which you can read about here, which walks someone further on the pathway of discipleship. The goal of this relationship is to help another person mature into a multiplying disciple, who can make disciples who make disciples.
  6. Sometimes success demands you stop some activities before starting others. Too often we have churches that are busy with things that distract from their mission, don’t correspond to an agreed upon strategy, and aren’t going to help fulfill a vision – because they have “always been done”. That isn’t a good reason to waste time, money, space, etc on doing something. Pruning takes as much leadership as harvesting!

Our goal is conversion of the world into disciples of Jesus. Within a parish this means conversion of our community (not just those going to church already).

Are we tracking our ministry properly? If not, we need to start changing what we aim at.

This also means regularly assessing how you are doing as a parish, diocese, ministry, etc.  We have developed a free assessment tool that might be able to help you.

Lastly, if you want to go even deeper into what it takes to renew your parish or diocese (beyond just the basics), then please consider partnering with us.

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