How to Measure Success in Children's Ministry

When it comes to your children's ministry, do you know what a lag measurement and a lead measurement are?
When it comes to your children's ministry, do you know what a lag measurement and a lead measurement are? (Facebook )

Last month at the Orange Conference I had the opportunity to teach a breakout session called Measuring Success in Children's Ministry.

You can imagine the interest around trying to measure what we do and determine if we're successful. There are so many things we do weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually to achieve our mission as ministry leaders. And though our ministry contexts look different, our denominational affiliations (or lack thereof) vary, our strategies and approaches differ ... at the end of the day, we all share a common goal.

The question we constantly wrestle through is simple yet remarkably challenging.

"How do we determine that our ministry activities are effectively leading people toward a deeper relationship with their Heavenly Father?"

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In the session, we highlighted a few of the 'common' methods of determining success in ministry:

  • Attendance/Participation
  • Feedback (Positive or Negative)
  • Number of Decisions/Life-Change
  • Preschool ministries until the child transitions to Elementary.
  • Elementary ministry until the child transitions to Student ministry.
  • Student ministry until that student transitions to what's next

Lag Measure is the measurement of a result you are trying to achieve. By the time you get the data the result has already happened.

Lead Measure is a predictive, influenceable action that foretells a result.

These are good things to measure and (candidly) these are metrics that should be logged and tracked over time. However, these methods alone don't show a complete picture for the success of our ministry.

And if we're truthful with ourselves, the reality is inescapable. We don't really know the effectiveness of our ministries for years to come.

If you think about it, we don't really know the effectiveness of ...

But, what if there was a way to measure our ministry in a way that allows us to nimbly adjust & improve our outcomes?

Last year, our staff read the book 4 Disciplines of Execution. One of my biggest takeaways was the concept of Lead and Lag Measures. Methods by which we measure success can fall under two different categories: Lead Measures and Lag Measures.

The methods referenced above (Attendance, Feedback, Decisions) fall under the Lag Measure category. They don't influence the outcome. They reflect it.

In order to successfully measure our effectiveness in ministry, we need to incorporate both Lag Measures & Lead Measures into our evaluation process. In addition to the metrics we track from one week to the next, we need some predictive, influenceable actions that foretell the results that we want.

A great example of the difference between Lead and Lag is the difference between the app MyFitnessPal and the scale.

Both are tools to help you determine your success in gaining or (more likely) losing weight. But the key difference between these two measurement tools is that one is a Lead Measure while the other is a Lag Measure.

Let's look deeper:

On my journey to regain my 20-year old figure (insert canned laugh), I start by determining how much weight I want to lose. Then I make a plan that looks something like this:

  1. Eat Healthy
  2. Exercise
  3. Measure

Once a week I'll step on the scale to find out if I'm on track. The scale is a Lag Measure because it can only reflect my success from the previous 7 days. I can't go back and adjust my behaviors from the previous 7 days based upon what the scale tells me. But I can certainly make adjustments for the future.

Lag Measures are helpful and important to the process of evaluation. But by themselves, they are not as effective.

Now, if I use MyFitnessPal in addition to the scale, then I will log the food I consume and the exercise I do each day. At the end of the day MyFitnessPal gives me a predicted outcome 5 weeks in the future based upon today's activities ... "If every day were like today, in 5 weeks you'll weigh ..."

MyFitnessPal is a Lead Measure because it measures my behaviors and allows me to make adjustments with each meal I eat. It's predictive and influenceable.

Paired with the scale, my chances of success increase dramatically because I can make adjustments as I go, so that the number reflected on the scale at the end of the week is closer to my goal.

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could measure all our ministry activities in such a way that we could say ...

  • "If every week were like this week, next month we will be..."
  • "If every month were like this month, in one year we will be..."
  • "If every year were like this year, in 5 years we will be..."

At Orange, we believe that's possible. In fact, in addition to the Lag Measures that are typically used, there are 5 Lead Measures we can use to measure our ministries for effectiveness. Orange calls them Gauges. Here they are with brief descriptions of each:

Gauge No. 1: Integrate strategy – Align leaders to lead with the same end in mind.

Gauge No. 2: Refine the message – Craft core truths into engaging, relevant, memorable experiences.

Gauge No. 3: Reactivate the family – Parents actively participate in the spiritual formation of their own children.

Gauge No. 4: Elevate community – Everyone is connected to a caring leader and a consistent group of peers.

Gauge No. 5: Leverage influence – Create consistent opportunities for students to experience personal ministry.

The important thing to note is that depending upon our "seat on the bus" there are some areas we can influence and some we cannot. I've had great conversations with high school, middle school, elementary and preschool leaders that look at these gauges and say,

"That's great. But I only have influence over my area of ministry. This looks like a whole church strategy."

And they're right. This is a whole church strategy. But you don't have to wait for your senior leadership to embrace this. Focusing on where you have influence is the best place to start.

How can these gauges help your specific area of ministry?

Gina McClain is a speaker, writer and children's ministry director at Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. For the original article, visit

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