Three Reasons Why Outcomes Research is Important
Many (dare we say most?) ministries don’t invest in research because most of them don’t understand how research would benefit them. If they did, then more would prioritize research. Doing outcomes research produces three things that are critical to mission success and growth:
- More significant ministry impact
- Lower operating expenses
- Increased fundraising income
This is not an exaggeration. Many case studies show the connection between research and significant mission improvement.
Different Kinds of Research
Revelatory research & data is, by design, intended to inform a ministry about what is working and what needs improvement. Oddly, many ministry leaders don’t seek to know this from their data. Rather, research is often just an exercise in counting to discover how much activity has occurred, with little curiosity for why or how it occurred. Counting results only reveals a part of the story with the insightful data left out.
For example, revelatory research and data surveys are used for church attrition studies. They help discover how to improve and increase church planting methods and growth. Counting the number of churches planted 3 to 5 years ago reveals how many have survived over time. The data should lead to an important qualitative question: why did certain churches survive while others didn’t? Was it because of the church planting location? Was persecution a greater factor? Was it because of church planting methods and training? Were there other things that hindered the establishment of strong churches?
Seeking Answers to the Why Question
Initial research, such as church attrition studies, can give you clarity on what needs to change for greater results to happen. Gathering numerical data naturally leads to another research method called qualitative assessment. Don’t let this term intimidate you because much of your most significant ministry impact will be revealed through qualitative assessments.
Qualitative assessment asks questions that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no reply. In other words, it seeks information through explanations, such as someone’s opinion based on their observation. Furthermore, when looking for insights about ministry outcomes, it is important to seek a balanced perspective. This is done by talking with all stakeholders, such as church planters, area coordinators, the pastor’s wife, church members, including women and youths, and others. Some ministries even survey non-believers to discover their observations about what happened to that former church and why? Qualitative research should not be limited to just failed churches. It can also provide insights as to why strong churches are growing.
Qualitative assessment is a tool that will allow your ministry to discover how God is moving in and through your ministry. However, be on guard for cynics. Some people might think qualitative assessment as an invasive tool intended to find fault with their work. But implementing this sort of research with a positive mindset can help you learn how to improve and growth your ministry with the resources God has entrusted to you. This attitude needs to be adopted by the whole team.
Ministries proactively engaged in data research, enhanced with qualitative research for process and results improvement sets them apart from other ministries. This is important because donors are increasingly seeking additional supporting data beyond just relying on anecdotal stories from the field. Ministries who have implemented enhanced research and data methods to verify their impact are viewed more favorably by donors. It would be advantageous to educate your current donors on the benefits of improved verification and how it translates into good stewardship on their part. They will begin to wonder why the other ministries they support don’t do this. This works in your favor because the donor starts to ponder why they don’t invest more exclusively in your ministry. Once the donor reaches this level of trust with your ministry, they will also become a fantastic advocate for your ministry.
Written by Steve Roa
Steve is a GACX Research Consultant and Moving Missions Board Member