The why and how of using evaluation at your church

Photo by Štefan Štefančík

When I first started studying to be a pastor, one of my professors told me that church leaders should initiate their own evaluation by requesting feedback from congregants. As a nervous aspiring pastor, I didn’t like that idea. Being my own worst critic already, I didn’t want any additional evaluators.

My professor explained that when church leaders initiate evaluation, it creates a healthy routine of assessment and growth. Without an evaluative process, we might cultivate an awkward or toxic environment in which rumors become the only feedback to reach leadership. 

Evaluation, when done well, can be an extremely healthy process not only for ministry leaders, but also for entire churches. Similar to routine doctor and dentist appointments that help us become as healthy as we can be, assessment can help church leaders strive for their church’s best. Evaluation both communicates an openness to growth and helps initiate that growth. Our team at the Fuller Youth Institute built a comprehensive assessment based on the six core commitments from Growing Young with this goal in mind.

Evaluation communicates an openness to growth and helps initiate that growth. (tweet that)


The “Why” of Evaluation

Self-initiated evaluations are important for churches because they can help change the mindset and culture from within. Rather than putting up defenses against change, evaluation communicates that a church is willing to adapt, and helps the church take steps in that direction.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck contrasts two mindsets people tend to take on when considering their abilities:

1. Those people who hold a fixed mindset believe their ability is based on fixed attributes such as innate intelligence or aptitude for a particular skill. 

2. Those who hold a growth mindset believe their ability is developed through learning, persistence, and effort. 

Dweck finds that a growth mindset leads to more development because it promotes active learning and the persistent pursuit of progress, even when it’s tough. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, is less flexible and leads to less growth because people tend to give up when they decide they don’t have the necessary skills or natural abilities. (Read her book here.)

Churches and church leaders can adopt similar mindsets one direction or the other. Choosing to implement evaluation reflects leadership that is open to change and desires to improve—this helps feed a growth mindset. When we’re aware of our areas of strength and opportunities for growth, we can prioritize the shifts that need to be made first.

In addition to communicating that a church is willing to grow, evaluation helps initiate that growth. It identifies strengths and weaknesses. It incorporates perceptions of the church across the congregation, rather than relying on a few opinions. While leaders may be hesitant to take strategic steps when relying on limited knowledge, evaluation gives them real data to make informed decisions. 

In short, if leadership begins with listening, evaluation simply helps leaders listen better.
 

The “How” of Evaluation

The challenge of evaluation is that the setup process can be hard and time consuming. Personally, I love building surveys and leading a good focus group, but I know that’s not everyone’s favorite afternoon pastime. To help churches sidestep the difficulties of constructing a good evaluation process on their own, our team worked for the past year to build an assessment based on the core commitments described in Growing Young. We’ve built this assessment so you don’t need to fuss with many of the logistics. (Check out the Growing Young Assessment here.)

Below are a few next steps you can take to bring this evaluation to your congregation starting now:

1. Form a team of key leaders.

When it comes to implementing a churchwide initiative, it’s best to have others at your church on board. Before launching your assessment, form a team that will champion the survey, review results together, and help shape next steps. Include a cross-section of people from your congregation: leaders, volunteers, parents, and young people.

2. Share the assessment in multiple ways.

If you want the results of your evaluation to be accurate, you’ll need to make sure all appropriate groups from your church are given the opportunity to participate. To distribute the assessment well, you’ll need to send it out widely (emailing it to all church contacts, announcing it before worship services) and deeply (targeting specific groups, such as college or young adult ministries). Be sure all groups are included, paying special attention to those that are gone for part of the year due to winter or summer vacation. Monitor responses to make sure people are following through, and only close your assessment when you’re satisfied that everyone who should participate has had enough time to do so. If you use our Growing Young Assessment, our team has created a suite of resources to help you set up an adequate timeline, communicate effectively, and track responses as they are completed.

3. Discuss results with your team and congregation and determine your next steps.

After closing your assessment and generating your report, read through and reflect on the results individually and as a team (we’ve built in a guide for this too). Which areas should your church work on first? Are there specific aspects of those commitments that require focused attention? If there’s anything you don’t understand, let us know. Each churchwide assessment includes a complementary coaching call with a member of the FYI team. 

Be sure to follow up with your congregation to tell them about how you’re using the results of your evaluation. Keep them informed along the way as you take next steps, and give them opportunities to get involved. You’ll likely find participants to be more supportive and empathetic when they see the process firsthand.

As you seek to help your church become all that it is called to be, we hope evaluations like our Growing Young Assessment will provide you with the direction you need as you move forward and grow in a healthy way. Max De Pree, a longtime friend of Fuller Seminary, wrote, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality” (source).

Define your church’s reality today. Find out more about the Growing Young Assessment here.