Many readers of this blog are in the non-profit world. We are involved in Church, Interfaith Engagement, Refugee Resettlement, LGBTQ Civil Rights, Anti-Racism Education, Anti-Poverty Work, Gun Control, and other change-the-world efforts. Non-profits are busy organizations with a lot going on. Churches, in particular, are often so program-centered that it’s become our predominant culture, as if a full calendar equals an active and faithful congregation.
But what if being busy does not actually equal effectiveness?
I recommend The Stanford Social Innovation Review and specifically this article by Kathleen Kelly Janus is a reminder that outputs (busy programming/activity) is not the same as impact (actual transformation.) It’s important to assess our ministry in terms of results. What difference are we making? What measurable good is coming from our efforts?
One of the points that The Poor People’s Campaign: A Call for Moral Revival makes (and Liz Theoharis makes it in Always With Us: What Jesus Really Said About the Poor) is that – if we are still providing shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry, etc. – we need to ask ourselves: why there are still homeless and hungry people in our midst? Do we believe that there will always be poor people? And if so, why do we believe this?
- Because Jesus said so? (Note: we are misreading the text if we think so.)
- Because human beings perpetuate systems that keep people poor?
In all the busyness of our ministries and service, what actual impact are we making? Are there fewer homeless neighbors? Are there fewer hungry children? Are there more poor high school students going to college or learning trades?
Is our point that we are busily serving and we subsequently congratulate ourselves? Or are we trying to shift systems in hopes of institutional change?
Kathleen Kelly Janus calls for us – as institutions – to measure our work in new ways. Instead of merely taking attendance, we need to be more curious and creative:
- Worry less about “impressive numbers” (e.g. “We served 1000 breakfasts to the poor last year!“) and assess individual relationships that move people towards having their own homes/kitchens. Who are we connecting to available services? How transient is our population? Have we been serving the same people for five years?
- Track “longer term outcomes” in the lives of those we serve. Follow up on those who have “graduated” from our programs. (Again, this is about relationships.)
- Tell the truth about our programs. We who want so much to do good and are dependent upon the donations of others need to be honest about what’s working and what is not working.
The institutional Church has enormous power to transform the world for good in the name of Jesus. Or we can perpetuate busy-ness which is often about appearances more than transformation.
It’s a topic for our leaders to consider as we hope to do more effective ministry.
Image of student protesters outside the Florida State House which resulted in the first gun reform legislation in over twenty years this past week. It’s a start.