Teaching to the test - Minister to the metrics

When standardized testing in our schools came into being, I imagine that it was generally seen as a fine idea. Most teachers already used tests to assess learning and it is easy to see how making a standard test, while not perfect, could be valuable to assess student learning.

I imagine that the first generation of teachers and administrators used these standardized tests as they were intended to be used. That is as an assessment of student comprehension and learning. Again, testing is not perfect, but it is a tool among many tools that are helpful.

Generations have passed since the beginnings of standardized tests and now we have teachers and administrators no longer able to focus on student comprehension and learning, but are now (in many ways) forced to "teach to the test". 

Call it unintended consequences, but teaching to the test is rather common not just on standardized tests in grade school but also in things like the SAT, ACT, GMAT, GRE, and a slew of other standardized tests. Focusing on the test makes us able to do well on the test but not always do well in life.

The UMC recently has implemented a way to measure "fruitfulness" in the local church. These numbers, called "metrics", are just a handful of numbers that each local church is asked to plug into a dashboard each week. They include numbers such as, number of small groups, number of people in mission, offering collected, people in worship, etc. While we can debate the difficulty of capturing some of these numbers (such as how do you know how many people are in mission in a given week?) generally I do not think that keeping track of metrics is a bad thing.  Numbers are a helpful tool to assess and open conversation about the ministry of the local church.

But just as standardized tests may have some unintended consequences, so to do the metrics. I have concern that over time we will begin to minister to the metrics. 

For instance we can create specific programs or re-define existing ministries that will enhance the metric count. For instance, in some ways we could count choir practice as worship, and thus enhance the worship metric. Perhaps we count money that is collected for a fellowship meal as "money given to missions" because we also feed those who show up but are unable to pay. These are silly examples of course but the point is at some point you have to wonder if the church will begin to minister to the metrics?

I am not against these current metrics, but if we are going to count something and what we count will eventually shape the ministry we do, then could we count some additional things? For instant:

  • Number of people brought out of poverty
  • Number of homeless people you know by name
  • Number of people who fasted this week
  • Dollars given to mission as a result of a boycott
  • Number of failures
  • Number of new groups started
  • Number of groups that ended/concluded
  • Number of people your church is mentoring into ministry
  • Amount of time members were in silence

As a Church, we will minister to the metrics, and that is to be expected, the question really is what metrics will we minister to?