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Ideas for Robust Debrief and Ministry Reflection

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One of the challenges ministry leaders face is assessing whether programs and ministry initiatives are really doing what we hoped they would. Often we don’t do this type of assessment because our congregational culture doesn’t know what to do with experiments or programs that are failing. How do you admit that much-loved programs or ministries don’t seem to be serving the vision anymore? How do we admit failure without blaming or shaming people? How do you tell a ministry leader who has poured years into a program that the congregation has decided to use its energy elsewhere? 

I believe that if we practiced ongoing debrief and reflection for all ministries we would avoid some of the hurt that comes from ending some of them, and we could more easily salvage the positive aspects and redirect them into new initiatives. 

Debrief and reflection should be done at three junctures: 

  • a quick look immediately after a ministry activity

  • a closer look at the end of each ministry season or year, or at the end of a short-term ministry initiative

  • a deep dive two to three years into the ministry or initiative, especially for initiatives that are meant to shape congregational culture.

Here are some tips for doing each of those evaluations.

Immediate feedback

Whether your worship team wants to do a quick recap of a worship service or your fellowship team wants to assess the Sunday afternoon potluck, immediately after the event it’s helpful to take a few moments to celebrate what went well and reflect on opportunities for improvement. Here are some simple ways to do this.

  1. Ask “What? So What? Now What?” This is an easy way to talk about what happened during an event that first focuses on details, then asks leaders to reflect on how or why some parts of the event will be important to remember or learn from, and then finally ask what do we do with these insights or who will be responsible for making sure we replicate the good outcomes or fix the challenging ones. 

  2. On a Scale of 1-5 . . . Narrow your focus by choosing one or two areas to work on for improvement. Ask your team to rate how much they improved in that area and take steps to tweak whatever gets you to a 4 or 5 score for total improvement.

At the end of ministry seasons or short-term programming:

  1. Do an ORID analysis. ORID stands for Objective, Reflective, Interpretive, and Decisional analysis, a system developed by Laura Spencer of the Institute of Cultural Affairs. It helps leaders to look at a program or event through various lenses:

    1. Objective analysis focuses on the five senses: What did we do or see happening? The answer to this question recounts facts.

    2. Reflective analysis focuses on more of the emotional response: How did we feel when those things happened? What gave us joy? When were we anxious? When might we have experienced conflict?

    3. Interpretive analysis looks at values and impact: What difference or impact did our program make? What have we learned in this past year? What changes might we need or want to make? 

    4. Decisional analysis focuses on what we might do differently given what we have learned from this year.

  2. Rose, Thorn, Bud. There are numerous variations of and metaphors for this type of analysis of things to celebrate and keep (roses), things to mourn and toss (thorns) and things to leverage and try (buds). In a three-column chart a team can celebrate the beautiful work that they did throughout the year while also acknowledging some of the challenges or mistakes that were made. What I like about this debrief metaphor is that it also looks for opportunities for growth and experimentation. 

For ongoing-culture shaping ministry: 

When assessing how culture-shaping initiatives are taking root in your congregation over a prolonged period of time, it’s helpful to do a deeper dive. Here are some tools for doing that.

  1. Do a Word Wall test. To see if the goals or themes of your initiative have become a part of your congregational identity and language, use Mentimeter or another polling platform to capture how members describe the congregation in three words. One congregation who had been emphasizing “small group discipleship” throughout their ministry was surprised when none of these words showed up in a congregation’s description. Leadership realized that it had a way to go in communicating and, more important, in engaging congregation members in discipleship groups. 

  2. Perform a SWOT analysis. This tool has been in use since the 1960s because it’s a great tool for looking both internally and externally. Attributed to Albert Humphrey from the Stanford Research Institute and used in both businesses and nonprofits, SWOT stands for “Successes, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.” Success and weakness look at the initiative internally, while opportunities and threats look at possible external impacts. There are a variety of free online charts that teams can use to do this analysis.

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