Wesleyan Missional Metrics, Part II


In part one of this post, which you can read below, I noted that if we're serious about moving our congregations and denominational structures, or even new ministries we're starting, from a sort of default attractional orientation to a missional orientation we have to shift what we measure and reward from attractional metrics (people in pews at worship, dollars collected or dispersed, etc) to missional ones. In the previous post I described in greater detail the missional criterion of spiritual impression. In this one, I want to help us have a conversation about the second missional criterion-- community impact-- and how it might be measured.

Now, I need to say up front, as I did at the presentation, that I got the term "community impact" not from Wesley, but actually from my six year stint working with United Way (three as a volunteer and on the board, three on staff). While I was there, United Way of America was in the process of leading a major transition both nationally and through all the local chapters-- to move us from being sort of a financial clearinghouse for programs that do some kind of good (though often in a band-aid sort of way) to being a significant player in bringing parties together who could actually address the root causes that lead to the need for so many band-aid solutions in the first place.

When I joined the staff of United Way of Madison County (Anderson, Indiana) in 2002, my title was Director of Community Impact. In my time there, the role I played shifted dramatically from being essentially "chaplain to the agencies" to being "community organizer." And we shifted from being friendly supporters of certain agencies to engaging the role of convening people to address fundamental community issues that required a lot of different players from a variety of sectors in the community to get a real change-- including issues of streamlining the ways people can get financial assistance, preparing children for college and careers, and reducing the rate of infant mortality in the African American population of our county (which was the highest in the state for any county with a significant African American population).

I see some pretty strong parallels between the transition from funding programs to working for lasting community change and the transition from attractional to missional congregational life.

a)When we were funding agencies or programs, we were basically trying to grow a campaign so we could distribute more dollars into programs. But we didn't have a good way to say that we knew those programs, in the long run, were making any lasting positive change in the community's life. We didn't have a way to help those programs indicate how they were doing that, either. And we tended to recognize as "volunteer of the year" persons who helped raise the most funds for our work or who had served on committees for a long time.

Similarly, if we're attractional, we may be more concerned about getting more bodies into our church programs-- whether that be worship, or Bible study, or committees in the institutional life of the church, or even "outreach" programs like food pantries or work with immigrants or whatever. And we're probably not doing much if anything to ensure that the people engaged by these programs are growing in any way or changing the community around them because they're part of our programs. And perhaps worst of all, we may hold up as model church members those who spend the greatest amount of time INSIDE the structures of the church-- whoever works hardest for the institution wins the highest accolades, even though this means these people may be in the LEAST helpful place to be in mission in the world.

b) When we shifted over a period of several years from program funding to outcome-based funding, there was strong resistance. Agencies wanted "their" money, and we were now saying "prove what you're doing is making a real improvement in people's lives, and how you know it is, or you get nothing." Two significant agencies dropped us entirely when we made this requirement, and talked badly about us in the community. Several other agencies resisted and made threats to talk badly about us (or actually just plain talked badly about us anyway) because the level of funding their programs were now receiving was markedly less than in the past-- though the reason for that was these agencies demonstrated the effectiveness of their programming far less effectively than others that received more.

None of that deterred us. We continued in the community impact direction. And that United Way is still doing so-- as are the majority of UW chapters across the country. (This isn't an ad for United Way, by the way, just a narrative!). We didn't turn back then, and they're not turning back now.

Similarly, shifting a congregation, a ministry, or a denomination from attractional to missional will create resistance. Some who don't like it will leave and talk badly about you. Others will threaten to leave and also talk badly about you. Some will feel like they're not getting the attention they deserve. Perseverance will gain some enemies, but it will also gain respect and make it possible for you to make real headway that everyone can see.

So, just what does community impact mean as a Wesleyan Missional Metric?

Okay, I'm a history major. I can't answer that question without talking about the background and context first. It's what I do. Skip the next few paragraphs if you're not into that.

First, let's talk about what it meant in early Methodism. The Second General Rule, described in the previous post, called for Methodists to be about doing good in every way they could, and the class meetings provided a means to evaluate whether and how well they were doing that. A lot of individual acts of doing good can lead to significant change and improvement in the community, or at least a reduction of some apparent forms of misery, but they might not get at some of the root causes that allow misery to persist and even multiply over time.

The reality is, though, that Methodists there and here understood that, and also took on a larger project-- to reform a nation and spread scriptural holiness across the land. Reforming the nation meant participating in larger movements (and creating them!) that did address what were perceived to be root causes of human misery. Three in particular are most dramatic-- the early labor movement, the abolition of slavery movement, and the movement for prohibition or restriction of "spirituous liquors" (the modern equivalent for this would be a movement against the production and sale of nasty concoctions that keep the homeless and the poor drunk for cheap-- so called "fortified wines" (also called "bum wines") like Thunderbird, Wild Irish Rose and the like).

Those were movements at a national level-- but Methodists were also on the lookout for ways to change the "policy environment" at every level-- local, state, regional, and national.

So caring about community impact is in our spiritual genes. Community impact is a trait of ours, but it has gone recessive. Trouble is, we've largely "outsourced" our hands-on engagement in this kind of work. The average Methodist is far more likely to be engaged in community impact work by doing a mission project (that is actually run by another organization, even if a Methodist related one) or by sending money for others to do it. We MAY do it on the side. But it's not longer integral to the very nature of what it means to be part of a Methodist missional Christian community.

That's what has to change. Works of Mercy are not just individual, but corporate as well-- impacting not just individuals but the community in which they live. They are works of compassion AND works of justice, works that make our hearts right, AND works that make our communities far "closer to fine."

Back to the question then-- what does community impact mean as a Wesleyan Missional Metric? (Non-historians out there-- this is where you start reading again!).

I put it this way at our conference. There ought to be a visible impact crater around every congregation. The community around the building, and the people around the people of the congregation ought to be different and getting better in measurable ways because you are who you are and where you are.

Now just what those ways will be will depend on who you are, where your congregation locates itself as a gathered community, and the particular relational networks of the people in your congregation. But it is essential that you identify what those changes are expected to be and that you develop some benchmarks (and rewards!) to measure (and hold accountable) your progress toward making those positive changes. In so doing you are holding YOURSELVES accountable for what YOU do-- not telling the world to change because you say so or even because you say God says so!

Remember that we are a kingdom-centered people and that we are called, as Newbigin reminds, to be WITNESSES to God's mission active in the world and not DISPENSERS or RULERS of that mission. That's why we start by looking around for what God is ALREADY doing and what God has placed in our hearts to do to further that.

That means we do NOT start with the PROBLEMS in the community we want to fix, but rather with the PARTNERS in the community who are committed to tasks God is already up to AND calling more of us into.

So here’s a proposal for a process to get from wherever you are now (attractional and doing community impact work, if at all, as a sideline) to where likely our Wesleyan DNA and almost DEFINITELY the kingdom of God are calling us to go.

Step 1: Start community impact conversations.

Conversations is plural intentionally. This isn't about having a charge conference meeting to discuss this up front. It's about planting seeds in lots of places in the life of your congregation AND community (i.e., not just people who are part of your congregation or ANY congregation-- but neighbors, coworkers, people at the grocery store or restaurant or convenience store, etc). It's about making community impact viral-- not monolithic.

And these conversations should be appreciative and aspirational.

Appreciative conversations begin with getting at corporate memory of peak experiences. "Who can tell a story about when you were involved, personally or as a congregation, in a movement for change in this community that really worked." Chances are, there are many folks in your congregation and community who have great stories to tell. And when these stories are told, they often release other memories of positive impact in others. Appreciative conversations let memory be your friend, and not your captor!

Aspirational conversations focus on a concrete hope for a better future. They build on the appreciative conversations and say, "Now, given all you know how to do, all you've been part of, and all you see around you today, what are the really big dreams for improving life in this community that the Spirit is calling us and has equipped us to be part of in the next five years? What are the measurable impact craters we sense God is longing and working to see around us in the next five years?"

Have lots of these conversations, some individually, some in groups, and collate and report results over time-- say for three months or so.

Step 2. Convene a community-wide community impact conversation.

This is where you have a celebration of memories and hopes of the congregation AND the community, and where together you discern the two or three places where as a whole church you are going to commit yourselves to doing what it takes to achieve a measurable difference in people's lives-- not just through programs, but through a sustained change in the QUALITY of life for people where you live and where your congregation gathers.

Every child in our community (however you define that-- neighborhoods, town, city, region, whatever) will have at least 5 adults in their lives, in addition to their parents, who will unconditionally care for them and help them succeed.

Every teenager or woman who gets pregnant in our community will obtain early and ongoing prenatal care.

People who need financial assistance in our community will be able to receive what they need within 24 hours so that they can get back to work and have to spend less "agency time"

The frail elderly in our community will have people who care for them and keep them in their homes, rather than institutionalized, as long as possible.

Transportation will not be a barrier for school or work for anyone in our community.

We will make our neighborhood safe to walk at night.

Every child in this community will have access to high quality health care.

After you've picked your two or three community impact priorities together, ask two more questions:
1. Who is ready to do what about this right now?
2. Who else can be partners with us in this work?

Step 3: Convene who's already ready AND build partnerships
Don't quench the Spirit! Get folks who are ready to do something together, and start helping them to plan and do what they want to do.

In the meantime, keep asking "Who else should be at these tables?" You're looking for other organizations and leaders here, institutions and people who have some kind of following in the congregation or community, people and organizations who can mobilize other people or organizations to join as witnesses and workers for the impact you're seeing in the Spirit.

And keep in mind, too, that other people and organizations may already be doing some of this work! So figure out how to play well with others! Maybe what happens is you and your community group join their efforts-- or maybe they join yours-- or maybe you both do more or less your own things, but collaborate where that makes sense.

Step 4: Benchmark and Evaluate
Benchmarking is critical. This means being clear about the BIG STEPS that need to be achieved and generally by what time in order to get to your aspirational outcome in a timely fashion. This isn't micromanaging or assigning-- it's keeping the main thing the main thing, and making sure you'll not just wish it, but actually be working for it over time.

Evaluation is equally critical. Don't get bogged down in every detail, but do keep asking yourselves, at least every three months"Where are we now, how far are we toward where we want to go, what obstacles are we encountering, what mistakes are we making, what can we learn from these, and how will we keep moving forward?"

Keep in mind that evaluation comes in two flavors-- process evaluation and results evaluation. Process evaluation focuses on HOW you are doing what you are doing, and asks if there are better ways to do this. Results evaluation focuses on WHAT CHANGES you can measure because you are doing this work, and asks whether you are achieving the results you expected, and if not, what you can learn and improve. Use both kinds!

Step 5. Keep working! Keep building partnerships! Keep learning from what you're doing!

Step 6. Start more community impact conversations-- and keep the cycle going!

So, what are the metrics? Some of the metrics will be developed for each community impact project you engage in the evaluation stage, above. But if you're looking at sort of "meta-metrics"-- those things that conferences or districts or denominations might use, let me suggest these six steps as a starting place. The most important thing is that this process is actually happening-- and that congregations and missional communities are moving through it and making measurable progress on the outcomes they've defined.

There can and should be recognitions-- internally and across the networks we're part of-- for the progress each congregation or missional community is making. That one is at Step 4 while another is at Step 2 does not mean the first is better than the second-- just at a different place. But the congregation at Step 2 might learn some things about getting through steps 3 and into 4 from the congregation at Step 4. And whatever system is set up for measuring these steps of progress needs ALSO to be set up to reward just such mutual learning.

There's much more that could be said-- but this is for starters.

If you've gotten this far-- share what you think! What works in this? What seems unclear or unhelpful? What might be a better way to think about this? Is community impact important enough as a missional metric that it deserves this kind of attention?

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards