Evaluation Part I
Giving the Gift of Evaluation to Your Ministry
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“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisors.” Proverbs 11:14 (TNIV)
“I know I don’t know what to do, but I also know I don’t want to ask for help.”
As soon as one of our volunteer leaders made this confession to me, I immediately knew I had two issues to deal with. The first issue was this leader’s lack of adequate training. He believed that he did not possess the level of skill he needed to do his job well. Since I am the Student Ministries Pastor, I am the person ultimately responsible for the development and the empowerment of our team. Given his feelings of inadequacy, I had clearly failed to provide the necessary skills and training he needed.
The second issue was his reticence to ask for the help. Leaders will not always have all the answers they need; however, a defining characteristic of effective leaders is their willingness to search out solutions to the problems they encounter. In other words, leaders are able to determine where to go, who to ask, and when to get the help they need. The author of the above Hebrew proverb affirms that the gift of guidance and outside counsel of others helps ensure deliverance, safety or victory for our people. Without this ability to ask for help, we are in jeopardy.
The conversation that followed was a learning experience for both of us. The leader received the additional training he needed and desired, and I gained new perspective on how I train, empower, and evaluate our leaders. Yet, I began to wonder if this same dynamic existed in others on our team. Were other volunteers feeling ill-equipped? If so, would they ask for additional help? Was I doing an adequate job as their shepherd? This honest conversation prodded me to thoroughly examine how I was going about my work. I began to ask questions like:
- How do we provide our staff with the training and skill they need to do their job well?
- How do we ask for help when we do not know what to do next?
- How do we evaluate our ministries to ensure we are doing the right things in the right ways?
- How do we go about creating processes of continuous improvement for our people?
I am still searching and do not have all the answers I need, but one tool that has been tremendously helpful in our quest to provide solutions to these kinds of questions is an organizational assessment tool called the SWOT Analysis. SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. SWOT is not a new tool; in fact it has been around for so long that nobody really knows who invented it. 1 Many people know what the SWOT Analysis is, but in my experience, few leaders understand what it does and even fewer people still know how to use the information a SWOT analysis creates to evaluate and enhance the efforts of their ministry and their ministry leaders. Acquiring these skills can put a leader in a stronger position to offer the powerful gift of evaluation.
The Four Elements of SWOT
Peter Drucker says, “Most of us underestimate our own strengths. We take them for granted. What we are good at comes easy, and we believe that unless it comes hard, it can’t be very good. As a result, we don’t know our strengths, and we don’t know how we can build on them.” 2
Accurately assessing our strengths in a ministry context can be a difficult task. We may be in a context that does not allow us to share such things, or we do not want to be perceived as arrogant or prideful. So, we either keep those successes to ourselves or simply never see them at all. As a result, many of us do not know what we do well, what we should replicate, and what to celebrate with our staff.
Identifying our strengths brings two primary benefits. First, we see more clearly what will bring health to our organization in the future. We are immediately encouraged to keep doing certain things because they are producing the fruit we have hoped for. Second, we see what we should be celebrating. By identifying specific Strengths, we are able to thank our team for specific contributions and can celebrate the things that are working well. Our leaders deserve the encouragement and the opportunity to see how their contributions are making a significant difference.
Questions to Help Understand Our Strengths: 3
- What are we doing well?
- What can we celebrate?
- What are we doing that is producing the outcomes we desire?
- What should we continue doing because we do it better than most?
Unfortunately, just as we often don’t take the time to identify our own Strengths, we are often afraid to look at, much less articulate, the weaknesses of our ministry. We rarely name and speak of the things that are not going well. However, if the culture of our organization values truth and openness, then we must be willing to voice both the positive and negative aspects of our work. There still seems to be this lingering fallacy that to acknowledge that something is not working is to either devalue an individual’s contribution to the organization or to call into question the effectiveness of the entire organization. Neither is true. A call for continuous improvement is not a criticism of our work or calling. It is the natural result of our calling. To quote leadership guru Max DePree, “The first job of a leader is to define reality.” 4 To look honestly at a situation, and to define reality, is to speak the truth. It is not placing blame, it is not accusing anyone of wrongdoing; it is fulfilling the first responsibility of leadership.
Questions to Help Understand Our Weaknesses:
- What is not working well?
- What can be improved?
- What needs to be removed altogether?
- How can we avoid asking, “Who is to blame?” and instead ask, “What went wrong?” and “How can we avoid that in the future?”
A friend of mine once described their ministry experience as more of a “here it comes, there it goes” kind of existence. They could envision what they wanted their ministry to look like, and experienced it at times, but the ministry team was unable to hold on to the positive aspects of their work before it disappeared. The successes left as quickly as they came. I would guess many of us have experienced this dynamic to some degree, and we know how tremendously frustrating it can be when the “there it goes” occurs more than the “here it comes.” By identifying the upcoming Opportunities God might be bringing before us, we are better able to respond to the doors He might be opening instead of blindly racing past them.
Questions to Help Understand Our Opportunities:
- What can we take better advantage of?
- What we can leverage given the natural strengths of our church and community that we benefit from?
- What things outside our organization will help us achieve the results we are looking for?
Existing both outside and inside of our ministries are Threats: some minor, some imminently dangerous. They may be obvious (You only have one volunteer and she’s moving away next month!), but they may also be relatively hidden (Your students’ parents remain disconnected from youth ministry). Threats rarely disappear on their own. We might be tempted to intentionally look past them; however, just because we ignore them, that does not mean they will go away. The longer Threats are ignored, the more damaging they become. However, Threats can be minimized and even neutralized when we approach them honestly, directly, and thoughtfully.
Questions to Help Understand Our Threats:
- What must we pay attention to?
- What will jeopardize our efforts?
- What things happening in the world outside our church need more attention and examination?
Identify Critical Issues
As you go through this SWOT assessment and as you begin to evaluate on paper, you will inevitably discover issues that catch your attention, some of which will surface multiple times. This will begin to bring new insight that you have never seen before. You may uncover an alarming issue for the first time. In our ministry, we call these “critical issues.” Critical issues are defined as the issues a leader must address in the next 6-12 months to either maintain health or to avoid crisis. Critical issues require immediate attention and timely action.
The critical issue that surfaced in the conversation with my leader was that “our leaders are not as well trained as they would like to be.” Leaders need to be well trained in order to add to the overall health of the ministry. However, if we failed to add additional training in the next 6-12 months, our leaders’ lack of training, knowledge and skill would guide our ministry into an unhealthy state if not an impending crisis. As a result of identifying that critical issue, we are now able to think through potential solutions to that problem. Honest, critical self-evaluation will lead to continuous growth, excellence, and learning. Your own ability to identify your ministry’s critical issues will become a Strength of your ministry. This is a gift worth celebrating.
- Spend a few minutes listing your ministry’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. If you have the chance, invite a few other key leaders or students to do their own SWOT analyses also.
- How can you celebrate the Strengths of your ministry?
- Based on your SWOT analysis, what are the “critical issues” in your ministry that need immediate attention and action? What must be done soon in order to maintain health? What must be done soon in order to avoid crisis?
- What are some possible solutions to address those critical issues?
- What other resources are available to help you?