Designing and Administering an Annual Performance Review in Your Ministry

To appraise your spiritual, emotional, and organizational expertise, ask those receiving your ministry — your “customers.”

by Scott Hagan

So, how are you doing? You know: Are you a “success” in the ministry?

Your first response may be, “Well, I must be doing okay because I am still here. Attendance has not tanked. The offerings look decent, and the annual business meeting was without drama.” A second response, laced with fear, often happens in the middle of the night.

We silently evaluate our ministry about 3 a.m. with a self-inflicted, haunting litany cascading into fitful sleep that may include, “You know your sermon didn’t make it to the first pew yesterday.” Or “Did you notice three people left the sanctuary before you were finished preaching?” And “Come on, you greeted her as Randi and her name is Candi.”

So, how are you doing?

You may never know the accurate answer to this question because the problem with self-evaluations is they are a self evaluation. You end up conducting a one-way conversation with the mirror. If you genuinely want to appraise your spiritual, emotional, and organizational expertise, ask those receiving your ministry … your “customers.”

The Right Assessment Interval

How often should you measure your ministry performance? I recommend to my corporate clients that an annual assessment is the most effective. Specifically, if you are in pastoral ministry, I recommend that you administer and score this assessment of you, your staff, and church growth just before the annual congregational or ministry business meeting.

An annual meeting is an appropriate time to report an overview of the results generated from the annual assessment process. And, please note how to communicate this overview. The right words always produce the right result.

You can frame the statement at an annual meeting like this, “Here are some of the results from the recent staff assessment that will benefit the growth and health of our congregation (ministry).”

Notice I used “some” along with positive terms like growth and health. A performance review should always be remedial. The data collected should improve, inspire, and incent the evaluated staff person to develop additional competencies.

The Right Assessment Participants

A profound question, which can make all the difference about the efficacy of your ministry assessment is: Who will be evaluating your performance?

Normally, if you are the only professional clergy on staff, the evaluative body will be the church board. The people who sit on this elected council normally serve for a 1- to-3-year term and provide leadership for ministry, financial, and administrative decisions. If you are part of a multistaff church or ministry, both clergy and laity may blend in the evaluation process.

Please note: There are emotional and professional liabilities of just clergy evaluating clergy. When laity is not present, it is easy for the psychological process of projection to make a cameo appearance. Projection means someone who is ordained clergy will value or devalue the performance of another minister based on what he or she has historically done, or would do, in similar circumstances.

I strongly recommend, in a church setting, laity do the evaluative process since they are the consumers. Clergy publicly create “deliverables” that a particular constituency embrace or reject.

The Right Assessment Methodology

Four assessment methods work well in an ecclesial environment.

First, if you are the person your church will assess, your evaluative body can schedule an annual conversation about your ministry performance. This method should not begin with, “Hey, how do you think it is going in our church this year?”

Replace that anemic inquiry with specific questions to clergy that may include: “What is your most important professional skill that makes you an asset to this ministry?” Or “What did you not accomplish this past year that you have moved to a priority next year, and how will we know if you were successful?” Or “If you were not on our ministry staff, what would we be missing?”

In this conversational assessment, someone should be taking notes (which will dictate part of the content for next year’s assessment). You, the minister, should have a preliminary copy of these questions prior to the meeting. Both you and the congregational representatives should have the right to add to or amend the agenda for this conversation.

Obviously, the advantage of this assessment method is spontaneity of thought and responses from everyone. The conversation will give both parties a full range of honest, not scripted, dialogue.

The second option is a variation of the first. When the assessment questions arrive on your desk, you, the minister, compose written responses that you then send to all evaluative participants prior to a face-to-face conversation.

The liability of this approach is everyone may arrive at this meeting with a set of predisposed observations that often lead to impervious opinions cast in cranial concrete. It is my experience this methodology can morph into needless arguments about the meanings of words and their syntax in a sentence.

The third option is a positive amalgamation of the first two. This method uses numbers to record your responses.

For discussion purposes, look at this definitive statement, “This past year I have grown in my ability to communicate the Word in both teaching and preaching.” Under this statement you may find sequential numbers from 1 to 5. In the space before the 1 will appear “no growth” and after the 5 you will find “significant growth.” Your responsibility, as the assessed minister, is to circle the number that best represents your evaluation between those two extremes. The advantage of this approach is everyone in the room will quickly move to discussing your growth as an adept preacher and teacher instead of hunkering down for a confrontational diatribe around words.

The final option is the one I am convinced is your best option, although it is more labor-intensive. With many of my clients I conduct a 360 Evaluation. It works this way.

Assume you are the lead pastor of a congregation with approximately 400 in Sunday morning worship and education. A 360 evaluation means a variety of constituencies will assess you (hence an “all around” or 360 degrees with you at the center).

The 360 assessment I regularly use with clergy includes 46 line items categorized in four major segments (Organizational Savvy, Managing Tasks, Leading People, and Self-Development). To illustrate the content, here are sample statements you will find in each of the four competencies.

Organizational Savvy. “Positively interacts with a variety of people throughout our community” or “Models behaviors and attitudes he or she expects from others.”

Managing Tasks. “Follows through on promises and obligations.” Or “Is considered by church staff to be an excellent administrator.”

Leading People. “Consistently explains why when communicating change.” Or “Holds himself/herself and others accountable for meeting performance measures.”

Self-Development. “Takes time for recreation and exercise.” Or, “Seeks feedback from others in the ministry about his or her own performance.”

Once you have formulated the content, the next decision is to identify three groups within the church who will score the pastor of this multistaffed church on these 46 line items. The first group may comprise randomly selected adherents who have worshipped at the church for at least the last 2 years. These congregants will be notified by mail that church leadership has chosen them to participate in this assessment of the pastor so the church can continue its strategic growth plans with strong pastoral leadership. The second group can be all of the church board members (eight people). The third assessment pool may be six staff members (both salaried and volunteer) who work closely with the pastor to accomplish and plan their ministry (youth pastor, Christian education director, etc.).

Each participant scores assessment by choosing the right number in the 1-5 scoring key. One will be the lowest score indicating this characteristic is totally absent or rarely observed and 5 indicates this skill set is frequently observed and practiced.

The evaluator will indicate a choice between 1-5 by circling a number or scoring the inventory on a safe Internet site (i.e., Survey Monkey). With either methodology, all scores and additional notes from the participants must be protected by strict confidentiality guarantees.

There is a fourth source of assessment scores in the 360 evaluation process: the pastor or ministry professional.

When all the scores are tabulated, the pastor compares how he sees himself against the aggregate scores of the other three categories. Note: Only the pastor, along with the church board, will have access to exact score results.

It is now the responsibility of the church board, or ministry oversight council, to report to the adherents the salient conclusions of the assessment process. This report should provide an equal balance of affirmation and challenge to both the spiritual leader and congregation.

If your congregation’s weekly attendance is between 100 and 200, you may want to sample their evaluation of your ministry using one of these three methods. (1) Write to six people (teenagers through senior adults) and ask for them to evaluate your skills through a personal letter addressed to you. A church officer would randomly choose these people by drawing names. Provide broad categories such as preaching proficiency, one-on-one pastoral care, administrative skills, and overall “resonance” etc. (2) Members of the board of elders can individually interview one member of the congregation using the same criteria and methodology described in #1 and then provide a written summation for both the pastor and board. (3) Every year, just prior to the annual congregational meeting, conduct three “open house” informal meetings of the congregation to review the past year, do strategic planning for next year, and then offer suggestions on how the pastor can further enhance the growth and vitality of this body of Christ.

When everyone in the body of Christ can “speak the truth in love” to each other, through a competent assessment process, any hidden pockets of resentment and misunderstanding will struggle to get an audience.

So, How Are You Doing?

If you have read this column and have committed your life to Christ and His church, the question, “So, how are you doing?” is a legitimate inquiry.

All of us have to be honest at this moment. The historical landscape of the Church is littered with the carrion of crushed and broken people who never wanted anyone to ask them that question, or were afraid to hear their own answer.