Tracking the successful implementation of ministry is not free from criticism. For some it just appears too much like a business approach, while for others the discipline of tracking is just another thing they do not have time for. For most churches and small Christian nonprofits, tracking is not done at all, or if it is, it is done poorly. This chapter will outline some basic principles that will greatly increase organizational accountability in achieving the vision and mission of the organization.
Establish reporting around goals
The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) “provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability, fundraising, and board governance” (About ECFA 2019). Members include Christian ministries, denominations, churches, educational institutions, and other tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations. ECFA affirms the need for clear accountability in ministry. They note the following:
Primary responsibility for setting the policies of the Christ-centered organization rests with the members of its governing board. For good reason, they are often called “trustees” because they are charged to hold in trust all of the resources given to them by God. “Stewards” conveys the same meaning but with biblical roots. In the original language, “stewards” meant “householders” who managed all of the affairs of the household. The term makes a clear distinction between “ownership” and “stewardship.” While everything belongs to the owner of the household, the steward owns nothing. Yet the owner (God) trusts the steward with management of all that He has and holds the steward accountable for all that He owns (Governance for Christ-centered Ministries 2019).
For the Christ-centered organization, churches included, keeping the biblical definition of a steward at the forefront is a helpful guide in determining the role of the board in every facet of its governing role. “Owner of nothing, manager of all, and accountable for all,” sums up what it means to be on the board of a Christ-centered organization or on the council of a church.
Good stewardship involves guiding the people and structures of our church so that we actually achieve what we discern as God’s calling for us. The management context of this guidance is captured very well by the 1990’s management guru Peter Drucker. Drucker, who is still respected for his foresight, articulated five key components of a healthy performance measurement and control system:
- Setting realistic, measurable expectations for outcomes.
- Thinking through ways to continuously capture measurement information.
- Developing strategies and tactics capable of accomplishing clearly defined expected outcomes.
- Monitoring/tracking feedback from actual results.
- Taking corrective action when there is a deviation between actual and predicted/planned results (Drucker 1954).
The three Ps
The previous chapter laid out the principles involved in an asset-based, community development perspective. Without applying these principles, ministry cannot remain focused. The focus then becomes dependent on the perceptions of the strongest personalities or the whims of the current committee. These principles can be summarized with three Ps.
- Pray: Many community organizing efforts have started with prayer walks in the community. This is intended to build relationships and discern direction for the involvement with the community. Continue to surround all aspects of ministry in prayer. Pray that the ministry addresses both physical and spiritual needs.
- Partner: God was already in the community before your involvement. Recognize the gifts that both community members and existing organizations bring. Come alongside these resources so that community ownership and sustainability is strengthened.
- Practice: Utilize the principles of good planning and community connectedness that have been described in the previous chapters. A key aspect of good planning is measuring impact. Without rigorous attention to regularly monitoring progress against plans, many ministries flounder and lose the intentionality of the holistic approach.
Looking at impact: a model
The chart above is an example of how one church has established its goals and developed a reporting mechanism that allows it to regularly monitor progress for the direction it has set. Note that the baseline is established from last year’s results and the goals are created based on those baselines. While there are management tools that are more sophisticated and would include all of the activities related to each objective, a simple format such as this is extremely helpful in guiding the work plan.
It is critical that accountability for follow up is established. Accountability can be in the form of a standing committee of council, the council itself, or a designated staff person. Not establishing accountability is the most common reason good planning fails to accomplish the vision that was set.
Accountability for a well-run ministry system
Establishing the outcomes is one important aspect of accountability. Monitoring all aspects of organizational life is critical to good management. Many not-for-profit organizations use an approach called policy governance to ensure that all aspects of an organization are being held to the highest possible standard. For a full introduction to this approach, http://www.governancecoach.com/policy-governance is a great site to dig more deeply into this model. Good accountability establishes four areas where tracking and reporting need to be in place. The four areas can be framed as:
- The key goals or outcomes
- Role of senior pastor/staff
- Defining the relationship of senior pastor/staff to council
- Policies for clear accountability (Policy Governance 2015)
All four areas are reviewed regularly by the council of the church in a time frame that is appropriate to the specific area. For instance, financial reporting on income and expenses should be done very regularly, while seeking feedback from membership on their appreciation of ministry may be a yearly report based on a survey. While policy governance can drill down to a number of levels of complexity for large organizations, a more minimal approach for most churches is enough to allow them to track appropriate aspects of organization, ensuring that the system functions as a healthy whole. Let’s look at each area a bit more closely to help fill out the frame.
The key goals or outcomes
Establishing key outcomes or goals for the church is the task of the local leadership or council. Most churches will do this in close association and involvement of the pastor and staff. Developing a strong ownership on the part of the membership for this section is critical. Ultimately, it is the council that needs to determine that the key goals are being successfully achieved. Here are two important pieces that went into the development of the goals in the provided model and that are integral to establishing the key goal section:
- Defining the ministry context: For whom is the ministry intended? Is the intent to influence a region or a local parish or both? What would the church ideally look like in 20 years if the vision for what you hope for is able to be achieved? What are the values that need to permeate the ministry?
- Defining the cost: Defining from where and how the resources for ministry will be raised is important. Will the income be restricted to what the membership can give, or can staff raise funds from other sources? The parameters for the latter can be laid out under the role of senior pastor/staff section, but the overall values can be part of the key goals section.
Role of Senior Pastor/Staff
This section sets the standards and boundaries within which the council allows the senior pastor to make decisions for how to accomplish the key goals that have been decided. Most churches find that stating the desired standards in the positive works well for them. Guidelines can be as general or specific as the context calls for. For instance, it can be general in saying that all members of the church shall be treated with respect, and it can be as specific as stating that all emails shall be responded to within 24 hours.
The role of senior pastor/staff section should minimally address the following:
- Treatment of congregational members, community partners, and program participants
- Treatment of any staff and what staff can expect
- Financial planning, budgeting, and reporting
- Role of grants, loans, and endowments
- Protection and acquisition of assets
- Succession planning and leadership development
- Compensation and benefits
- Communication with and support of the council
- Expectations related to gender equity, racial equity, abuse prevention, disability concerns
- Who the leader of the ministry is
Defining the relationship of senior pastor/staff to council
This policy area clarifies the manner in which the council delegates authority to staff through the senior pastor and defines how the senior pastor is held accountable. The policy areas to be addressed are as follows:
- Unity of control: The council speaks with one voice or not at all.
- Accountability to senior pastor: This policy defines how the council relates to staff through the pastor.
- Delegation to senior pastor: This policy spells out how authority is delegated to the senior pastor.
- Monitoring performance: This policy spells out how the senior pastor will be evaluated, including what the senior pastor is responsible for and when it is due in terms of reports to the council.
Policies for clear accountability
This policy area spells out how the council itself operates, including its philosophy, accountability, discipline, and its own role. This is important to remember when beginning a new ministry. Traditionally, the policy focuses on the following areas:
- Governing style: This policy articulates the management values by which the council wants to operate.
- Council job outputs: This policy establishes the council’s functions as well as its accountability to the membership.
- Council member code of conduct: This policy establishes expectations ranging from the council avoiding conflicts of interest to how the council members will conduct themselves with each other and with the membership.
- Council committee principles: Under policy governance, committees should be kept to a minimum. This policy spells out how and when committees will be used.
- Cost of governance: This policy puts in place the budget considerations for council costs, such as those for meetings and trainings.
This process may seem daunting, but working through it can prevent misunderstanding, and it ensures the establishment of a healthy structure where there is mutual accountability between the church council and the senior pastor. Clear boundaries and expectations prevent confusion and conflict.
The key to working through setting policies starts with prayerful discernment asking what God is already doing among the church membership and in the community. Establish key strategic foci around this discernment process. Then walk through the policy governance process steps. The first time through, the policies might be very straightforward and simple. The key to implementing it successfully is to build a review process into the meeting structure of the council so that the policies are constantly in front of the council. The council can agree on what policies should be reported on a quarterly, semi-annual, or annual basis. Reporting on key goals should be done at least quarterly or as often as the council chooses to meet. If policy governance is done well, quarterly meetings should be sufficient.
In short, remember the three Ps: pray, partner, and practice