December 8, 2009

Why Evaluating Is Hard

Yesterday I began thinking about how we do evaluation in church ministry, especially in the arena of learning & teaching. Today and tomorrow I want to look at 4 reasons (not all of them, just 4 I quickly wrote down) why evaluating is difficult in the church's educational ministries. The first 2 are more theoretical; the second 2 are brutally practical, whether you're the teacher or a member of a small group. Today's 2 issues are primarily leadership issues:

1) Our Goal Is Different
There is no getting around this one. As the church our goal in "education" isn't the same as our local schools or universities. In those settings, the primary goal is Information Transfer; in the church our goal should be Life Transformation. And let's face it; that's a lot more difficult to measure. In school, they hand you a test or give you a pop quiz every once in a while to measure your learning. That just doesn't work in the church. How do I know? Because our problem isn't knowledge; it's application. If we were to give tests at church, most of our people would be straight A students, but they would be failing the real test. Since our goal is different we have to figure out how to measure our teaching & our learning in a way that is different as well. This is where the second problem comes in.

2) We Don't Establish Any Benchmarks
Sadly, most church leaders haven't been trained on how to evaluate teaching & learning. How do I know that? I'm a seminary student, & in one of our text books, the section on evaluation was all about tests & how to write better test questions. That's great if I'm planning to become a professor, not so much if I'm in youth ministry or education ministry. Because leaders aren't properly equipped to evaluate, they often assume that as long as nothing is going wrong, everything must be going right. Our problem is that we haven't identified for the people in our ministry what the next step in their growth looks like. Remember, it's not about our acquiring more knowledge; it's about practicing what we have learned in order to become more like Christ. If we're not leading people to the next step, we can't expect them to find it on their own. Some will find it because they're motivated; others will stumble upon it accidently, but most people will simply spend most of their lives frozen in spiritual time. It is vital that we as leaders, both paid & volunteer, identify the next step(s) for the people we serve. Once we've done that evaluating where we really are is a lot easier.

For those of you in leadership, how do we get everyone to understand that information isn't our goal; instead it's transformation? How have you identified the next steps for your people? Have you seen a change in the quality of ministry since you established those expectations?

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