Measuring the Most Important Things?

We measure many things at Trinity.  Enrollment. Re-enrollment.  College Admissions.  Annual Fund and Capital Campaigns.  Faculty retention and turnover.  Operating budget vs. actuals.  Debt to Asset ratio.  Endowment.  Financial aid.  SAT and ACT means.  Athletic team records and individual performances.  Personnel budget as a percentage of overall budget.  AP scores.  Average hours of homework a night for Upper School students.  ROI for marketing dollars.  If anyone wanted to see a complete list of what we measure, she could just check out our INDEX benchmarking group annual report, which runs to 162 pages for the 2013-2014 year.  

But do we measure the most important thing at Trinity, our Christian mission and our success in delivering on that goal to our students and families?  Probably not very carefully or thoroughly.  Most of our evaluation of this vital goal is done by anecdote and loud (vs. valid) data.  Stories are important for such things, and in fact they may tell more than valid quantitative data ever can.  Still, there is a lingering question: Are there ways to measure such things?

In his 2012 Leadership Journal piece, “Measuring What Matters,” Mike Bonem surveys a host of churches and other Christian organizations to make the case of measuring our most important spiritual goals.  He lays out the sceptical questions that many people have about measuring spiritual growth: that measurement seems unspiritual, that it tells only part of the story, that measures can be misleading, that not everyone wants accountability, and that the skills for measurement may not be ready at hand.  These are all significant obstacles, but I agree with Bonem that ultimately what gets measured gets attention, and what gets attention is what changes and grows. So a Christian organization would do well to pay close attention to such measurement.  

I have been encouraged and spurred in this thinking by the work of HOPE International, a Christian ministry that aims to help spread the Gospel through savings and micro-financing.  With the help of scholars like David Bronkema of Eastern University and in conjunction with other Christian groups through the Accord Network for Spiritual Metrics, HOPE has developed an integrated approach to measuring the Christian element in their mission.  Their Director of Spiritual Integration, Matthew Rohrs, talks about three stages in their Spiritual Integration program:
  1. Inputs: Is it plausible to think that spiritual transformation can be catalyzed by a program of measuring inputs to their spiritual goals?
  2. Accountability: The inputs that HOPE has identified are summarized in their 7S framework (see the chart below).  This provides something of a roadmap and dashboard for measuring spiritual goals.
  3. Impact: Through an Impact Survey given to their clients, HOPE expects to measure change and growth in those they serve.
Here is one of the tools that HOPE uses for this kind of work, their 7S Framework.  (I have whited out the names of the countries on the far left, to guard confidentiality.)

Another Christian organization that has done a lot of thinking about spiritual metrics is World Relief, an international relief and development organization headed by Stephen Bauman.

Here is an interview with Dallas Willard on the subject of measuring spiritual growth.  Willard recommends in particular the Christian Life Profile Assessment Tool developed by Randy Frazee.  Pastor John Ortberg recommends Monvee.  Note: These are not Christian leaders with a facile and superficial understanding of spiritual formation.

This good work among churches and development and relief organizations is helpful, but it needs translating into the world of Christian K-12 education.

Here are some key questions for Trinity to consider at it embarks on a serious conversation about measuring our Christian mission:
  1. What is our leadership’s attitude toward the use of metrics for such important spiritual goals?  What has shaped that attitude?
  2. What are our key inputs?  What we start with and use along the way.  For instance, enrollment measures inputs.  A deeper dive into the data on enrollment might tell us valuable things about the kind of students and families we start with.
  3. And what are our key outputs?  What are the results and outcomes that we play an important part in producing?  For instance, alumni who are faithful members of Christian churches would be an output that we would like to see.  Alumni with a strong sense of calling to serve Christ in their vocations.
  4. What are we currently measuring?  How might some of these measurements relate to our Christian mission?
  5. Do we communicate about the results of measurements?  How?
  6. What is something we would like to know but do not have the right metric or tools to measure?  How might we create a way to measure this?

Here are a few ideas to prime the pump for us, things we might consider measuring:
  • Biblical literacy among students who enter Trinity vs. when they leave.
  • Student agreement with the school’s doctrinal commitments upon graduation.
  • Students’ self-identification as Christians.
  • Students’ stories of God’s guidance and work in their lives.
  • Students’ giving to others (financially and through service).
  • Student involvement in regular worship, Bible Study, giving, prayer.
  • Alumni involvement in Christian ministries and church during college.
  • Alumni involvement in church beyond college.
  • Alumni agreement with the school’s doctrinal statement.
  • Alumni commitment to Christian education.

What else?

We have a lot more work to do in this area, but I’m excited to think that over the next few years, we might find ways to move Trinity forward, to hold ourselves accountable for this vitally important goal.


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