In my ministry career I have been exposed to these three levels of measurement. Some I have used for my benefit when they showed my work in a good light and have used them in my defense when they didn’t. Keeping score is always a temptation. It is Satan’s trick to keep the unimportant things at the top and the important things in the shadows. However, having a good dashboard can bring light to lies on the other side too.
I was working at a church in transition (same work as mentioned before) and there was a “feeling” that in the past few years (I had been there 5 at the time) the number of students had went from 350 to 250. I was being questioned as to why we had lost so many students. I was curious myself why this was happening, because I had said throughout my career at this point, “Numbers aren’t the thing, but they do tell a story,” and I wanted to know what was this story. I dug into some numbers and rosters. What I realized in this situation was that when I started there, there were only around 280 students and presently there were 275. Somewhere someone decided to round up to 300 with just their words (it was easier to say 300 than 275) and the “feeling” was that there were actually 350 (as if a minister of any kind would have a lower count than the actual, ha!) Also recently with some leaving our congregation and another congregation in town (same denomination) seemingly growing (also another false feeling) the “feeling” was that we were down to 250. After looking at who was on the roster and actually participating in Bible class, devotionals, camps, mission trips, retreats, and service projects the hard numbers, the dashboard, told a different story, one that was truer. While this fact-finding and dashboard ended the concern, almost worry, about our “declining” youth ministry, it wasn’t proof to me or my co-worker that all initiatives were being met. Honestly, some of those initiatives could not be measured.
Kids returning to the same event every time we offered it or watching their enthusiasm for worship, class, or an event was enough measurement for us to feel confident in some of the programs we were offering.
Those things that were immeasurable at the moment became clearer as students graduated and lived on their own. You could say that those who became ministers, missionaries, stayed in church, married, had children, became church leaders meant our initiatives were met. However, that would also mean that those who, following high school or college, were imprisoned, addicted to drugs, divorced, atheists, or who simply quit attending church were a failure of ours. That’s really impossible to say either of these things, since there are too many factors beyond the ministry that could affect these paths. Not to mention that even though students may end up on one of these paths following school, they could easily end up on a different path later. It is immeasurable to us and in my opinion it should stay that way.