The last two weeks we have posted about how to evaluate as a church board, and what to evaluate and why. But one question remains: what should you do with the information you collect? Now that your board has actually conducted a thoughtful, imaginative evaluation of your congregation’s ministry, what should you do with the report?
Let’s start with a couple of things you should not do.
You know that closet off your church office, the one with all the shelves of office supplies? You know the top shelf, the one you need a step ladder to reach? That is not the place to put your newly minted evaluation documents (even if you might find the last set of evaluation documents in that exact place).
And you know that issue that came up in your board discussion a few months ago? The one where you were alone in your viewpoint? The purpose of the evaluation is not to go through every single page until you find the one data point that might, if read at just the right angle, support your viewpoint.
Evaluation can help your board to learn and to change. And that learning and changing can support you as a group to refresh and even rethink your story of yourselves as a congregation—who you are, what you care about, and how you are present in your community.
But an evaluation report cannot do that crucial, life-giving work unless you put it on your board meeting agenda and into conversation with the initial assumptions that structured the evaluation in the first place. Do those assumptions still hold? How does what you are learning change the story you want to tell about yourselves going forward?
Living in a culture with so many voices and so many competing stories of meaning and purpose, the story your congregation is willing to share is crucial to its vitality. Programs will not change people. Clever ideas about how to be church will not move a world where narratives of exhaustion, despair, and hopelessness have too much traction. Two decades into the 21st century, people are yearning for a story that will change the tilt and arc of their life. For the church to answer that yearning, it has to really know its story and be willing to share that story. In many ways, that begins with actually paying attention to what you can learn from the evaluations you do.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus encounters Bartimaeus, who is described as a “blind beggar.”
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. – Mark 10:46-52
“Blind beggar” was the story long told about Bartimaeus and, presumably, the story Bartimaeus had long told about himself. His own moment of learning and change came when Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Assumptions always melt in the face of learning.
What is the role of the crowd throughout the story of Bartimaeus?
Given that Bartimaeus was obviously blind, why do you think Jesus asked him, “What can I do for you?”
Thinking about your own life story, when has the arrival of new information forced—or helped—you to revisit and revise that story?
What happened to the last evaluation your church conducted? Did the board discuss the findings? What assumptions melted? What changed in the telling of your church’s story?
Can you, together, identify two or three assumptions that you are making about your congregation as you structure your next evaluation? Can you hold on to those, and bring them back into conversation with the report when you actually get it?