Were We Successful? 

Authored by Collin Stoddard on February 5, 2018

Thanks to Andy Stanley for continually widening our vocabulary when it comes to leading our churches and our teams. We frequently reference his quote about how to ensure next time is better than last time: “experience doesn’t make us smarter, it makes us older. Evaluated experience makes us smarter”.

As a multi-site church we have teams operating at every campus frequently autonomously from the ministry leader. Evaluating experience based solely on the observer or participants makes objective evaluation a challenge. In Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley says,

“Every one of your ministry environments is being evaluated every week. Based on that evaluation, some people choose not to return. Additionally, every volunteer and staff member is evaluating the success of his or her particular environment against some standard. If you don’t define what excellence looks like for your staff and volunteers, they will define it for themselves. And when you don’t like what you see, you will only have yourself to blame.

If you don’t create an objective standard, evaluation in your church will rest on two legs: attendance and stories. While those are two good things to pay attention to, they are not enough.”

We’ve found evaluation of the success of our services to be one of our greatest challenges of multi-siting. One of the reasons we’ve multi-sited is to further our ability to contextualize to a specific community and we’ve brought on a diverse team of talented individuals who see ministry, success, and their communities quite differently. On our scale of contextualization this is a good thing because our campus level leaders are on the front lines, attuned to the culture and sub-culture of their neighborhoods and are able to nuance the messages and content we are creating directly to the surrounding needs. This diversity also means that our staff generally sees things evaluates very differently.

In our mid-week programming meetings the answer to, “did you have good weekend?” is left purely up to the discretion of the ministry leader, and we can attest to what Andy says: they all define it differently, and when left to their own standards, they typically always define it as a success and respond with “yes, we had a great weekend!”

To level the playing field and introduce a level of objectivity, we’ve introduced a collection of goals that help steer the way and define the success of a service. Our team collectively agreed on four key components to any Wooddale service, regardless of their level of contexualition: Excellence, Participatory, Intentional, and Culturally Relevant (or Contextualized). Each letter is capitalized to show the acronym “EPIC”. Simply put, we want all of our services to be EPIC.

When we gather during the week to evaluate our experience, we all look through this lens. The way that our campuses will go about each of things will vary, but we’ve agreed this is okay depending on the level of contextualization for each campus. Each of these has an element of subjectivity, so we have some “fine print” and regularly talk about what each one means. More than anything, these questions provide context and on ramp for discussion which is our largest motivation for having them. They provide framework and the “why” behind what we do. They help us stay intentional and to intentionally deviate which we will do, but when we do, to be intentional about the decision.

Another great idea (that we haven’t adopted yet) is to use an evaluation card that staff ministry leaders can use to submit feedback on campus service experiences. Other perspectives and eyes can be super helpful as well as equally destructive. We’ve all been on teams and in situations where one person’s strong, unbiased and subjective opinion has derailed change management processes, process building, or momentum. The card attempts to channel and guide this feedback by asking questions specifically about the agreed up on standards and styles that solicits the answers that are helpful to us. For instance, we can use the card as a tool to solicit the information that is helpful to us for leading our teams by asking questions like: “Did you know any of the songs and feel led to sing along?” And an even less subjective question, “Did any of the moving lights point directly in your eyes?” The answers to these questions attempt to downplay any pointed preferential feedback that could be damaging to our systems that run the risk of being dismissed because they are simply one’s opinion. Without the card and the guided feedback, we run the risk of our leaders who weren’t involved in the agreed upon styles and standard operating procedures submitting strong feedback based on their preferences.

I’ll elaborate on the fine print of EPIC in later posts with examples of what they look like on our teams. How do you evaluate your experience? What word would you add to our acronym?


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