There is a good chance that one of your end-of-the-year assignments is to write an annual report. Every year I put it off until the due date because it seems to me like one of the least significant things I do, but even in that exercise (which is really for the rest of the church to know what I’ve been up to this last year) it gives me an opportunity to look at the year in review and to consider the year ahead.
Now for me personally, that one-page report which takes maybe a few hours to put together doesn’t do justice to the art of evaluating where we’ve been.
A few posts ago I put together a post called “Options for Event Planning” and one of the points I hit on was that after an event is over, we have a great opportunity to evaluate how things went and if this was the type of event we could build off of for a future event or if it was more of a one and done activity.
What if we took that idea of evaluating and applied it to all that we did?
What if after a year’s time we sat back and looked at everything we taught, did, organized with an honest yet critical heart because we wanted the next year to be that much stronger?
Friends, there is a perception out there by many in the church that all we do with students is play games, eat food and go on really fun trips.
And yes, those things have a great purpose, but if the core of what we do is approached with a lackadaisical attitude, we will probably further that perception.
AND – What if in our evaluation we weren’t the only set of eyes doing the evaluation but we pulled in students, parents, church leaders and anyone else we might consider having value in helping us get stronger?
BUT – Wait a minute.
Did I just suggest that we open ourselves, and the ministries we lead, up to being evaluated by others too? Yeah, I did.
Well, I was at a conference with our students last week and the speaker (Mark Matlock – President of YS) was teaching on the church, and he challenged the students to evaluate their churches, and while a part of me cringed because it meant my students had me under the microscope, the truth is that it happens all the time. This just happened to be a moment that they were freed up to take part in the process.
So, as you close out the year, I want to spend the rest of my time writing about four benefits I am observing that happen when we evaluate, and speak to some of the things we might want to evaluate.
Benefit #1 – By offering people an opportunity to give feedback, we present ourselves as leaders who care about the needs of our people, and show that the plans we make aren’t just based on what we see and understand on our own.
Benefit #2 – It also allows for good practical criticism to be given to us. We all have blind spots and things that we need to see, and opening up the process to those around us helps to widen the lens of what we see.
Benefit #3 – This is a variation of the first benefit, but by offering opportunities for others to help us evaluate we create ownership in our ministries (or we increase that ownership), and isn’t that a big part of being the church?
Benefit #4 – By fostering evaluation we not only up the ownership level but we open up the door for new persons to step into leadership, or at the very least to gain a perception of the church that the church wants their feedback.
Now, by all means, we are called to lead and in the end, we have to own the decisions that are made, and sometimes the feedback we get doesn’t get the full picture or other related issues, and in those instances we again have an opportunity to pull people into the process.
And sometimes we just have to say “no” to a certain direction and if we do, we have our reasons but hopefully even then, we can get people to see our rationale and the issues related.
That’s a whole different rabbit trail to go down so let’s get back to the issue of evaluation. As I try to wrap all this up, there are two final questions that I’ll throw out for us:
1.What are the issues to evaluate?
2.How can we collect evaluations?
Follow up on Question #1 – As far as naming the issues and items worth evaluating, this would be my list.
-What spiritual fruit can you see happening in the lives of your students because of what you partook in?
-Were the time, place, and logistics effective and workable for your students and families?
-If you had an event with a budget, did you break even or as expected?
-Were you able to clean up and use the facilities in a way that made everyone happy?
-Did the time go according to plans, and would any adults who helped say that they did what they planned to do and were willing to do?
-What would your students, leaders, parents want to tweak if you did it again?
I’m sure there are a lot of other items worth evaluating, but this hopefully gets you started and to see that events and the opportunities we have to be with students don’t end when the last student leaves and we lock the door.
Evaluation is good. For four years in a row I took our students in HS to work at a warehouse for Operation Christmas Child as a part of regular Wednesday night youth group, but this year I moved it to a Friday to keep youth group as a normal night. In retrospect, I have 1/3rd of the number of students going as I did prior so for evaluative reasons, next year I might be wise to switch back to a Wednesday night.
Follow up on Question #2 – What are some ways to gather feedback?
-Ask students casually what they think. Do the same with their parents.
-Digitally, via email or an online survey hosting site like surveymonkey.com, gather feedback
-Host listening sessions where you hear what students and parents have to say
-Process your ministry with the appropriate boards, leadership and your pastor
-Record your feedback and look for similar themes
I’m hoping that all of this at the very least gets you and me thinking about the ministries we work with and how they can be strengthened.
I’ll leave you with these words from Colossians 3:23 which says – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…”
Rev. Mark Johannesen is pastor at Word of Life Lutheran Brethren Church in LeSueur, Minnesota.