Monday, December 27, 2010

The Numbers Game

I am of two minds about numbers in collegiate ministry. On one hand, tracking and reporting numbers is helpful in indicating trends. Is a certain program working? If the number of students responding has been decreasing for a couple of years, why? Is it time to reinvest the energy and resources into some other offering?

The danger is equating numbers with ministry. I have seen at least one evaluation by a middle governing body which used a numeric ratio as part of its evaluation. The number of students served by a ministry was divided by the total number of enrolled students at the institution, and then this figure was used to compare different ministries within the diocese.  For ministries, such as many PC(USA) college ministries, which emphasize hospitality, environments which encourage questions, and mentoring, numbers do not adequately reflect the impact of the ministry. Ministries gathered around worship or service might find numerical comparisons more useful.

I remember a synod campus ministry gathering early in my college ministry. A number of campus ministers were adamantly rejecting any numerical reporting of students served. It struck me as a response which might obscure a meaningful evaluation. I understand some of that reluctance, but also believe that we need to a better job of reporting and publicizing stories of students who have been changed by campus ministry. Numbers by themselves can't tell the story.