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Measuring Success

It's all about the numbers. In my line of work - program consulting for Christian nonprofits - the trends and buzzwords center on end-result statistics. Assessments, evaluations, outcome measurements - all tracking impact to determine whether a ministry's achieving its goals and making a difference. Donors care about this increasingly, requiring accountability for the funds they're giving.

It's a good trend in the nonprofit arena, but how helpful is it in our own daily lives? Because it seems to me that the average American life is also becoming pretty measurement-focused. Examples: How many followers do I have for my blog? How many comments or pingbacks did a given post elicit? How many friends do I have on Facebook? What's the ?average reader rating' for that online article I wrote? How many emails, texts, voicemails did I receive today?

The technology that now structures so much of our lives is forever counting, tracking relentlessly. And we who keep up with the digitized world tend to use the numbers as a means of gauging our day-to-day lives. They're external markers - data, if you will - by which we measure the impact we're making on other people. If we're doing anything valuable; if people care.

The stats are ever-present and pervasive, and they can exert a lot of influence over us. When our numbers go up, we may view ourselves as worthwhile, successful. When they don't, we may feel like failures. Relatively low readership causes many bloggers to lose heart and quit, claiming their stats make their efforts seem meaningless. The milieu supports such conclusions, with sidebars about "growing your blog" and "expanding your reach." In some blogging platforms, you can't write a new post without seeing how many viewers visited your site that day. This is just how the blogging world works.

And it's natural and even godly to want our efforts to have impact. We're called to "make the most of every opportunity" (Col 4:5) and to be good stewards of our time and gifts. But the measurement features that digitization bring can carry false and even damaging messages that can distract us. So we must be watchful, prayerful, and wise.

The problem is that the life of faith isn't about "the numbers." For one thing we're called, as Oswald Chambers famously wrote, to live for an audience of One, valuing God's viewership supremely (and sometimes exclusively). For another, Jesus himself made it clear that the worth of a single human soul is infinite to him. If he was willing to leave the ninety-nine sheep to rescue the one that was lost, surely he wouldn't favor a mindset that deems efforts worthless when they aren't accompanied by high numbers.

March31, 2009 at 5:54 PM

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