Impact measurement and why you need it
They Did What?!
The mission agency leader was stunned. He had no idea of the sort of impact their mission was having on jailed young men. Of course, they were a captive audience, but it’s how the Gospel was communicated that made the difference. Many of these young inmates were finding hope and a new identity in Christ. But the prison ministry wasn’t part of the mission agency’s work. It was a pleasant surprise for them to discover that people they had discipled were taking the Gospel to prisons with nobody directing them to do so. There were a few other important insights gained from the impact evaluation they conducted of their ministry work.
You Never Know What You Might Dig Up
When you do impact evaluation, you never know what you might dig up. The voluntary prison ministry was a pleasant surprise. But there may be some unpleasant surprises too, like discovering that out of the 630 churches planted, only 112 still exist after only two years. Wouldn’t we want to know that so we can address the problem by improving church planting strategies? We’d also want to know why the 112 churches still exist. What are they doing that is helping them to thrive? It could be replicable.
Two Ways to Measure Results
Impact measurement isn’t necessarily just counting the number of people saved, churches planted, and Bibles translated, although that is a start. Measurement also seeks evidence to confirm how many people really did receive Christ, how that changed their life, and the difference new believers are having on families, friends, communities, social, and economic conditions. These are called indicators of success. It’s what donors give their money for and ministries work so hard to achieve; that lasting growing change. Impact evaluation is also a way to know how we are increasing results with the resources God has provided (Mat. 25:14-30).
1. Quantitative Measurement
This is the easiest, thus most typical way ministries account for success. It is generally simple to gather statistical data from workers to answer the “how much” question. But as mentioned earlier, a necessary second step—which takes a bit more work—is to conduct a survey to validate the numbers reported. Including this second step should confirm a ministry’s good work and this gives donors more confidence to keep giving.
2. Qualitative Measurement
This kind of measurement seeks to answer the “so what?” question. Numbers can be mind-numbing, intangible, and even unbelievable. The goal of qualitative evaluation is to discover the difference that more churches, Bible translations, Jesus Films, etc., are making on people and their community. It is what makes number reporting more meaningful. It’s about listening to people’s stories. That helps us gain a window into their world following a project or a campaign. Gathering enough stories begins to paint a picture. It shows trends developing or gaps that exist. Knowing this helps a ministry ramp up or shore up for greater results. It also provides more satisfying reports for donors who ultimately care about people’s lives.
It’s a Choice
One reason ministries don’t do impact evaluation is because of what psychologists call the overconfidence syndrome. It’s the result of self-enhancing behavior. Ministry leaders want to assume they are producing good results. Others are afraid of what they might discover if they evaluate results. Some just want to be seen in the best light. God provides seeds for sowing. (2 Cor. 9:10). We need to know how much fruit we are bearing with those seeds.
Proverbs 4:7 tells us to seek wisdom and understanding. In terms of ministry evaluation, one way to gain understanding is to test our confidence and assumptions by enhanced learning through impact evaluation.
- Seek positive and negative feedback
- Provide a little more rigor to evaluation
- Use mixed methods (counting, interviewing, listening, enquiring further)
Finally, doing impact analysis may reveal some major gaps in your strategy. Today’s mission strategy is focused on working with nationals, the people who are moving their mission forward in their own region and country. Impact analysis will often reveal that the results they achieve with the resources they have are greater than what western mission models are achieving.
Ongoing learning is essential to mission growth and success. Doing it through impact evaluation will encourage workers and please donors. That makes for a healthy growing mission.
About the Author
Gilles Gravelle is the Executive Director of Moving Missions
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