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Why churches should care more about outcomes than outputs

Why churches should care more about outcomes than outputs

Blog Post 34 - Feed the Bay Food

A large church in California decided it was time to stop relying on the county to represent the “front line” of compassion – while churches stood idly by.  Government can’t deliver hope – only help.  The church approached county leadership, offering to be an outpost for job training and placement services.  Not only did the county accept their offer, the church experienced a higher success rate than the agency was having!

Stepping forward to do something to help struggling families is commendable.  Delivering in such a way that those within ear-shot sit up and take notice changes lives – and transforms communities.

Churches shouldn’t simply provide assistance and be satisfied with any level of achievement.  Businesses seek to maximize customer satisfaction and loyalty because that drives profits.  Churches should seek to maximize their effectiveness in making a difference in the lives of its “customers” – the lost in the community – because that’s what Jesus did.

What are outcomes versus outputs?

Outputs are what an organization does.  In business, outputs may be making a sales call or responding to a customer complaint.  In local missions, outputs may be serving a meal or handing out a toy.  Missions directors prepare ministry reports, primarily holding them accountable for outputs, judging their productivity based on those numbers.

Churches who look through the lens of how much it does, and not the long-term impact of what it does, are giving members an easy out – treating members as “customers”.  In other words, it’s much more difficult to persist in doing good to the point of changing lives than to “check the box”, satisfied with having done something good.   However, as we discussed last week, churches are hesitant to challenge members to do the “hard stuff” because there are always churches down the road willing to pat members on the back for merely doing the “easy stuff”.

Outputs are about us – the church.

On the other hand, outcomes are what happens as a result of what we do.  Outcomes don’t focus on how much activity but how much impact.  For churches, community engagement should be about seeing lives changed.  Yet how do we know if lives changed if we don’t maintain long-term relationships?

Only churches who see the community as the “customer” will be so genuinely concerned with outcomes that it will invest materially and spiritually in the lives of those who don’t (and may never) attend their church.  Only churches who see members as the church personified will adequately disciple them to endure in serving others over the long haul, and taking personal responsibility for making disciples – not stopping at extending invitations to church next Sunday.

Outcomes are about them – those hurting and hopeless.

Is your church about outputs?

  1. What do you measure? – It’s much more difficult to track qualitative outcomes than quantitative outputs. Measuring the true effectiveness of a compassion ministry requires understanding where people are now – are they better off today, with food on the table in Christ in their hearts?  If “how many…” is the first question asked, then chances are your local missions activities are more about outputs than outcomes.
  2. If you do events, how do you follow up? – When the dust settles, is the church catching its collective breath, celebrating the successful event, or racing to follow up with all those it encountered?  When a conference ends, businesses immediately start chasing down every person they met and entering every business card in their database.  Yet churches run events and crusades come through town, leaving behind a trail of new seekers or believers with little to no further contact.  Even those making professions of faith are largely left to their own devices unless they decide to show up at a church.  It’s staggering to see the statistics of how few people who accept Christ at concerts or revivals are still walking with the Lord, living out their faith, just a few years later.  Event leaders are quick to cite attendance and professions, but not how many actually got plugged into a local church.
  3. How does your church invest its time in members? – Maybe event leaders were counting on whoever invited each person to answer their questions and disciple them. However, as we’ve discussed sermons and small groups haven’t proved adequate for building disciples – or disciple makers.  Most churchgoers don’t view themselves as the embodiment of church, instead seeing their task as inviting people to church, leaving the rest to pastors and staff.  However, someone who comes to faith after hearing the gospel at a Christian event (because the gospel is powerful) may have preconceived notions and wariness about stepping into church (because in their minds churches haven’t reflected that gospel well).  We have to go to them, meeting them where they are – not wait for them to come to us.
  4. Do you have long term service programs? – Are your church’s local missions activities designed to be transactional or relational?  Are there a few sporadic campaigns or sustained compassion initiatives?  Has your church adopted any causes that it feels strongly about addressing?  If so, is a significant percentage of the congregation involved?  All of this to say, how sincere is the church’s concern with the welfare of its intended “customer”?

How can your church become about outcomes?

Success in any venture hinges on following a proven process for generating desired outcomes.  There is no greater venture for a church than following Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love and sharing His message, bringing help and hope to a world desperately in need of both.  If more churches evaluated the success of their local missions work based on the actual difference made over the long term (outcomes) versus what they did (outputs), we would see a reversal of the Church’s declining growth, impact, influence and perception.

Let’s look at the outcome-driven process utilized by successful organizations of any kind:

  1. Focus – on target “customers” (i.e. the lost in the community) and their felt needs. No venture is successful if it pursues the wrong “customer”, or ignores their most pressing issues.  Determine where your church can make the biggest difference in your community for Christ.  For more insights on this step, read our eBook Transform Your Community Forever in 6 Months.
  2. Align – leaders within the church around the need to shift greater focus outward despite certain resistance by “institution builders”
  3. Set Goals – or expectations for desired outcomes as more members engage in cause(s) and live out the Great Commission
  4. Rally – the entire congregation around the need to apply their skills and interests in some way toward the critical cause and goal of being a light to an ever darkening world
  5. Train – members to each do their parts through discipleship emphasizing that they should be the living, breathing church to those around them between Sundays
  6. Organize – the troops, putting staff and lay leaders in positions of authority and holding them accountable for outcomes, not outputs
  7. Challenge – even infrequent attenders and visitors to get involved. Many are millenials who left church because churches didn’t share their concern for justice and compassion.  Life transformation occurs as seekers turn their attention to the needs of others and witness God’s love in action.
  8. Invest – dollars strategically in creating relational outcomes rather than tactically in transactional outputs
  9. Track – whether the church is actually making a dent, in alleviating homelessness, hunger, illiteracy, etc. and in bringing the community to Christ
  10. Maintain – the emphasis on outcomes, evaluating and repeating steps 1 through 9 as necessary

Churches take internal aspects of their ministry that seriously – following that entire process – because most treat those in attendance as “customers”.  Have you seen churches take their engagement with the community – their intended “customer” – just as seriously?

It’s your turn

If your church closed its doors tomorrow, would it be missed by your community?


3 Responses

  1. Jim- well done! Keep up the great work and pressing the dialogue of effective discipleship, growth, and building His Kingdom!

    Thank you for the handwork and time you have put into this series.


  2. EXCELLENT ARTICLE!! Very important insights. Thank you for dealing with this critical topic. However, the way I see it is INPUT –> PROCESS –> OUTPUTS –> OUTCOMES. The activities that organizations provide are “processes.” “Outputs” are like production (e.g., people trained, discipled, entertained, messages delivered, etc.). You are right about “outcomes,” those are the desired impacts. Outcomes can be immediate (in the church), extended (in the community), or Kingdom. I wrote a book on how to do measurement well, including how to measure difficult things, called “Transforming Performance Measurement.”

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“Any organization not focused on its customers, or focused on the wrong customers, cannot succeed.” – Jim Morgan