37. Assessing Hands-On Mission Projects

While attending a recent meeting, I had a delightful opportunity to renew an old friendship, and to catch up on her various ministries as a layperson in a large congregation.  She has a heart for missions, and offers her time, talent, leadership, and support to numerous excellent local church and conference-wide initiatives that involve youth mission projects, Habitat houses, and international hands-on immersion experiences.

As our conversation meandered through the varied and rich ministries her local congregation offers, I was reminded again of the importance of focusing on fruitfulness, results, impact, and changed lives rather than just measuring inputs, efforts, and resources that we give or offer.  Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations includes a chapter on fruitfulness and excellence.  One of the observations in the chapter is that when we are unclear about our purpose, our objective, and our desired outcomes, then we fall back into measuring inputs.  We congratulate ourselves on all the good effort, time, and talent we have put into a ministry, without much regard for or attention to what difference the ministry has actually made in the lives of people.  For instance, many churches take great pride in their youth ministries, and celebrate the new youth room, the youth vans, the excellent youth director, the outstanding youth sponsors, and the generous youth ministry budget in their church.  However, all these are inputs and resources we put into the system.  Whatís the result?  How many lives have been changed, and how have they been changed?  These are the key questions, the questions of fruitfulness.   The purpose of a youth ministry is changed lives, and so the most significant questions focus on how many youth are touched, how is their faith nurtured, are they learning to pray and to worship and to serve?  In short, are they growing in Christ?

In the conversation with my friend, we began to talk about how ìfruitfulnessî could be evaluated in an extensive mission-focused church like hers.  How might a church with many major hands-on projects regularly begin to learn, improve, and deepen the practice of Risk-taking Mission and Service even more?   

Imagine a church that decided to assess the true impact of its hands-on building projects upon the persons and communities they seek to serve.  They might consider asking for the assistance of someone indigenous to the ethnic and language context of the people they are serving, (perhaps unrelated to the church able to evaluate more objectively and less defensively), and contract with the person to visit those families the church has served six months after completion of the work project.  The assessment conversation would ask questions about the experience from the perspective of the recipients of the ministry.  ìWhat was it like to have these people come and work on your house?  Were the forms and processes clear and easy to follow and understand?  Did you feel prepared for the project?  How did it make you feel to have people work on your house?  How did your neighbors and your family respond?  Were you treated with dignity? What would have helped make the experience more positive for you?  Has this experience shaped your faith or your perception of the church?  What has been the lasting impact?  What would you like to see the church do differently in the future when they seek to help families such as yours?  If you had it to do over again, would you invite this church group back to your house again for such a project?î

Wow! Imagine what a church could learn from that kind of assessment.  The results might help the church move beyond bricks and mortar, hammers and nails, boards and tiles as the measure of impact and ministry.  They might learn to do better at communication, person-to-person relationships, and cultural sensitivity.

Imagine if the same work team decided to assess the impact on those who have served and who have offered themselves as volunteers in the project.  Imagine an evaluation form that volunteers might complete immediately after the work experience, and perhaps another brief one a few months later.   It might prove incredibly helpful to the church mission leaders to know how the volunteers assess the level of communication, preparation, expert support, etc.  And imagine how helpful it would be to know if participants felt connected to the group, how the experience shaped the faith of volunteers, and what people learned about themselves, about God, about others, and about the mission of the church.   Imagine if the evaluation included a question such as, ìBased on this experience, can you see yourself serving on another team sometime during the next five years?  Is there someone youíd like us to invite on the next mission initiative?  What further service do you feel God might be calling you to in the future?î

Whatís the purpose of such assessment and evaluation of mission projects?  To help us do Christís ministry more effectively and more extensively so that the lives we touch and the ministries we perform are done with excellence to the glory of God.

How do you and your church evaluate your mission projects?  Whatís the real and lasting difference you make in the lives of others, and how do you know?  Whatís the impact on the life and faith of project participants and volunteers?

Yours in Christ,
rs