I was recently asked to work on an evaluation process for ministries. After doing some preliminary digging, I determined that there is no widely used standard by which to assess the effectiveness of faith-based programs. There are different tools that can be purchased and modified to measure various categories. I’m sure there is a wide variety of private in-house documents that organizations use to measure what they believe to be the most important aspects of their programs.
The subject of evaluating ministries is sensitive and tricky. When I put the question of assessing ministry effectiveness to friends on Facebook, I quickly got a number of replies indicating that they are “led by the Spirit” and it is God who is responsible for the outcome. I understand this approach, but there is also the side of the coin that requires an accounting of how wise we are with the investing (stewarding) of resources entrusted to us.
While you cannot directly compare business and ministry investing, there are certainly principles that you would want to see in any organization that uses your resources. Are employee salaries in line with like organizations? Are administrative costs disproportionate? Is the mission being fulfilled? Is the ministry transparent and trustworthy?
After attending a class about giving, I realized just how many of my charitable contributions required little to no thought, didn’t really mirror the passions I had, and certainly didn’t require any accountability. There were several ministries that automatically deducted my financial gift from my back account or credit card. It had been going on for years, and for whatever reason (probably laziness) I never took stock of how effective or impactful those donations were. I can’t even say “the Lord directed me to keep giving.” I simply stopped thinking about it.
In the business world, return on investment (ROI) is a big deal. We expect the numbers to trend in the right direction. Poorly performing companies are quickly discarded for those demonstrating success.
Jesus had pretty impressive figures in His ministry. He took 5 loaves and 2 fish and fed more than 5000 people. He trained 12 key employees and had only one position vacated. He changed the world in 3 work-days!
But measuring the effectiveness of faith-based organizations is tough. If Organization A has a $1 million annual budget, what do donors expect for their money? What if I told you that $700,000 of it went to salaries? That percentage might instantly give you a bad impression. But what if you knew that the $700,000 paid for 20 salaries, and every employee was engaged in teaching nearly 100 school-aged girls who had previously been unable to receive education.
Now consider Organization B which has the same annual budget. This organization distributes donated Bible study materials to prisons. According to its website, it uses only $100,000 for salaries. You are unable to determine where the rest of the budget goes. Organization B is also unable to determine how many of the materials actually end up in the hands of the prisoners, because the prison staff is overworked and unable to track this statistic. In the last two years the organization has produced only three letters from prisoners thanking Organization B for the life change they experienced through these materials.
If you had to choose A or B, where would you put your money? Many would reply that through prayer, they would make a determination based on where they felt led. This is a valid answer, but wouldn’t it be helpful if there were a standard by which overall effectiveness could be measured?
I’ve long heard the quote “God loves you so much that if you were the only person on earth, He would have sent Jesus to die just for you.” It is a profound one to consider. But can this principle be applied to an organization? That is, if the ministry impacts only one life, is it worth it?
These are questions that we all have to struggle with independently. But I hope there is a struggle!
May we be a people of prayer, contemplation, and obedience. In the process, let each of us also engage the mind that God has given us, to reason and research. While the ultimate answer to our inquiry of how to invest our resources may come from divine inspiration, I challenge us all to discover the details of where our dollars might be used most effectively.