Ministry Evaluation: A Gift You Cant Ignore
“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 knew I had two issues to deal with.
The first issue was this leader’s lack of adequate training. He didn’t think he had the level of skill he needed to do his job well. As the Student Ministries pastor, I was the person ultimately responsible for the development and empowerment of our team. Given his feelings of inadequacy, I had clearly failed to provide the training he needed.
The second issue was his reticence to ask for help. Leaders will not always have all the answers they need. However, a defining characteristic of an effective leader is the 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. Without this ability to ask for help, we are in jeopardy.
The conversation that followed with this volunteer was a learning experience for both of us. The leader received the training he was missing, and I gained new perspective on how I train, empower, and evaluate other leaders. Yet I began to wonder if this same dynamic existed between others on our team. Were other volunteers feeling ill-equipped? If so, would they ask for 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 volunteer staff with the training and skills they need to do their jobs 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?
These questions aren’t easy to answer, but one tool that has been tremendously helpful 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. Even fewer leaders know how to use the information a SWOT analysis creates to evaluate and enhance the efforts of their ministry and its 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 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 don’t know what we do well, what we should replicate, and what to celebrate with our team.
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’ve hoped for. Second, we see what we should be celebrating. By identifying specific strengths, we are able to thank our team for their contributions and can celebrate the things that are working well. Our team members deserve the encouragement and the opportunity to see how their work is making a significant difference.
Questions to Help Understand Our Strengths:
- 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? 3
Just as we often don’t take the time to identify our own strengths, we are typically 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 is a lingering fallacy that says to acknowledge 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 either our work or our calling. It is the natural result of living out 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 then define reality is to speak the truth. It is not placing blame. It is not accusing anyone of wrongdoing. It is simply 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 success at times. But in general the ministry team was unable to hold on to the forward momentum before it disappeared again. The successes vanished as quickly as they appeared.
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 upcoming opportunities God might be bringing before us, we are better able to respond to the doors that might be opening instead of blindly racing past them.
Questions to Help Understand Our Opportunities:
- Of what opportunities can we take better advantage?
- What we can leverage given the existing natural strengths of our church and community?
- What people, resources, or partners outside our organization could help us achieve our vision and goals?
Existing both outside and inside of our ministries are threats. Some are minor; some are imminently dangerous. Threats 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). The uncomfortable truth about threats is that they rarely disappear on their own. We might be tempted to intentionally look past them, but they’re probably not going to 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 threats to our ministry must we pay attention to?
- What will jeopardize our efforts to carry out our mission?
- What things happening outside our ministry and our church need more attention and examination?
5. Identify Critical Issues
As you assess your ministry, you will inevitably discover issues that catch your attention, some of which will surface multiple times. This process can bring new insight that you have never seen before. You may uncover an alarming issue for the first time. We call these discoveries “critical issues.” Critical issues are defined as the realities 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. They represent areas of your ministry where change is needed. You may want to complete a SWOT analysis of these issues separately in order to chart a path forward.
The critical issue that surfaced in the conversation with my volunteer was that our leaders were 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. If we failed to offer additional training over the next 6-12 months, our leaders’ lack of training, knowledge, and skill could have guided our ministry into an unhealthy state, if not an impending crisis. As a result of identifying that critical issue, we were able to think through potential solutions.
Honest, critical self-evaluation will lead to continuous growth, excellence, and learning. Over time, your own ability to identify your ministry’s critical issues will become a strength of your ministry. This is a gift worth celebrating.
- Spend 30-60 minutes listing your ministry’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Then invite a few other key leaders, parents, or students to do their own SWOT analysis of your ministry too. Gather your ministry team to discuss the insights from these assessments.
- 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 in order to avoid crisis?
- What other resources are available to help you? Who could you ask for additional help if you’re feeling stuck?
- How do you celebrate strengths in your ministry? Consider intentionally creating time and space to offer regular gratitude and encouragement to your team.
Originally published as “Evaluation Part 1: Giving the Gift of Evaluation to Your Ministry” by Mark Maines for FYI in December 2005. This version has been updated from the original.