“What you are doing really has nothing to do with us. You’ll go home anyhow, sooner or later.’ This kind of conversation took place many times; it was an indictment of those evangelists who flew into Hong Kong, sang sweet songs about Jesus on stage and on Hong Kong television, and then jumped back into their planes and flew away again.”
When writing these words, Jackie Pullinger was reflecting on her early days as a missionary in Hong Kong in 1960s, but half a century later, I’m afraid these same observations could be made about missionaries all over the world, but no one is listening because they are being made by the people that missionaries go to serve and not the missionaries themselves. In fact, as I dive into the reality of missionary effectiveness and sustainability, I have discovered a major gap in the research—no one is asking nationals to evaluate foreign missionaries. My experience tells me; however, that many French people today would make a similar statement about missionaries serving in France. What you are doing really has nothing to do with us.
Before hopping on a boat, the young Pullinger sought out the counsel of her minister, Richard Thomas. She remembers, “He never suggested that I had to achieve anything at all; I had simply to follow wherever God led.”
Yes and no.
Of course missionaries are called to simply follow wherever God leads, and as Pullinger’s testimony proves, doing just that can bear great fruit for the kingdom. But what of those missionaries who bear no fruit? Is faithfulness alone sufficient? After all we’ve all heard the stories of missionaries who labor on the field for thirty years before seeing a single conversion. Certainly such perseverance is laudable! But I’m not sure it should be understood as the norm.
After all, the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25 seem to indicate that outcomes matter. This thinking, supported by many who fund missionary efforts, has lead mission agencies to develop metrics aimed at measuring missionary effectiveness. However, those metrics typically count numbers of converts or baptisms. Such a reductionist approach is also problematic.
In an article entitled “Outputs vs. Outcomes and Why it Matters,” Sheri Chaney Jones explains how many non-profit organizations miss the mark when trying to determine their own effectiveness using the following illustration:
McDonald’s sells approximately 33 million hamburgers a day. Five Guys sells approximately 350,000 burgers daily. Based on this information, I ask participants to decide who makes a better burger. Would you conclude that McDonald’s makes a better hamburger based on this data alone? Of course not! … Unfortunately, many nonprofit and social service organizations are merely counting “hamburgers” and trying to use these data as proof of their effectiveness or impact. They are spending all their efforts trying to increase the numbers they serve without knowing how their services are changing their participant’s lives or circumstances.
Some researchers are pushing for a more balanced approach. Dr. Paul Penley, the Director of Research for the organization Excellence in Giving, insists that Christian ministries should gather both qualitative and quantitative metrics. Penley asserts, “Tracking both faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings and numerical impact is a ‘biblical’ pattern for measuring Kingdom Outcomes.”
The strength of Pullinger’s approach was what Hunter calls “faithful presence.” She was not “defensive against, isolated from, or absorbed into the dominant culture, but…faithfully present within it.” She writes, “My mission was to help the Walled City people to understand who Christ was. If they could not understand the words about Jesus, then we Christians were to show them what He was like by the way we lived.”
But how can we measure “faithful presence” as a means of evaluating missionary effectiveness?
In an article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled “What to Measure if You’re Mission Driven,” Zachary First explains how All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California has developed metrics that are helping them to better evaluate their ministries. In the article he quotes All Saints Rector Ed Bacon: “Sure, we love to see big numbers,” Bacon told me. “But what really makes our hearts beat fast is transformed people transforming the world. Membership isn’t our business. Turning the human race into the human family is.”
Would the approach of All Saints work for missionary organizations as well? Perhaps.
Here’s what they’ve done. Generally, churches measure their effectiveness based on membership. Isn’t that the first question asked when pastors meet each other? “How many people do you have in your congregation?” But Bacon realized that, “Not everyone who is on a dynamic spiritual journey—and wants All Saints to be integral to it—is going to pass through the gate of membership. There is, however, one element they do share, and that is engagement.” All Saints developed a “Spiritual Health Meter” to measure engagement. To illustrate how it works, First explains:
“Spiritual Health Meter” suggests to pastoral staff to whom they could be reaching out more. Jeremy Langill, All Saints’ Director of Youth Ministry, offered the example of an All Saints kid who was consistently engaged in one youth program, but uninvolved in all others. Made aware of this by the data, Langill took note when the girl’s love of board games came up in a casual conversation with her parents. He made a point to tell her about game night, and that served as a pivot point. She went on to participate in a whole range of activities, and grew far more engaged.
Measuring ministry and missions is hard and takes effort and intentionality. But as stewards of the Gospel and servants of the most high God, I believe that Christian ministers need to improve their metrics. We want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.”
 Jackie Pullinger and Andrew Quicke, Chasing the Dragon. (Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2001). 59.
 Pullinger and Quicke. 35.
 Sheri Chaney Jones, “Outputs vs. Outcomes and Why It Matters,” Measurement Resources (blog), February 2, 2014, http://measurementresourcesco.com/2014/02/02/outputs-vs-outcomes-matters/.
 Paul Penley. “Why Christian Ministries Should Measure Results: A Response to the Mantra ‘Aim for Faithfulness Not Results!,’” July 9, 2014. Accessed April 19, 2018, http://analytics.excellenceingiving.com/post/3462014-why-christian-ministries-should-measure-results.
 James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).277.
 Pullinger and Quicke, Chasing the Dragon. 56.
 Zachary First, “What to Measure If You’re Mission Driven,” Harvard Business Review, July 9, 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/07/what-to-measure-if-youre-mission-driven.
 Matthew 25:21 NET