Measuring Success at Rescue Missions (Part One)

How do we measure success at rescue missions?  (Part One)

I frequently ask staff members, “How is your mission doing?”  The answer is usually about numbers:  meals served, nights of lodging, food boxes distributed and so forth.  Sometimes I hear about growing budgets, additional staff members, new facilities, etc.  However, when asked about the purpose of their mission, the most common response is “evangelism and discipleship.”  While today’s missions offer a wide array of programs, most have not lost sight of their most important distinctive – fulfilling the Great Commission.  (Matt.28:19).  We need to put forth some special effort, though to establish that we are indeed doing this.

Preaching the Gospel and making disciples sets rescue missions apart from other social agencies working with the homeless.  Yet, some don’t keep a written record of decisions for Christ at their facilities.  Few know what percentage of their program graduates go on to gain at least one year of sobriety.  Not many know if their graduates remain committed to a local church or participate in support groups.  Unless graduates, themselves, make an effort to stay in touch, most have no on-going process for determining how many of their graduates currently live responsible Christian lives.

Counting bed nights is easier than determining how successful we are at making disciples.  However, if we are meeting the needs of those we serve, there ought to be concrete evidence of changed lives.  Regular follow-up efforts can provide us with accurate records that will help us to determine how successful we are at desired results through our programs.

For rescue mission recovery programs, here are a few items to address in annual or bi-annual follow-up efforts by phone or through the mail:

  • Continuous sobriety after program completion
  • Regular participation in support groups
  • Employment and training obtained after graduation
  • Christian growth and involvement with the Church
  • Improved personal and family relationships

Benefits of doing follow-up on program graduates include:

A. Program Evaluation – The population we serve is changing.  They are younger than ever and they have a host of problems that we didn’t see just ten or fifteen years ago.  If we are to truly meet their needs, we must understand them.  Understanding how our graduates do after they leave our facilities will help us to improve our programs.

B. Showing continuing concern for graduates  – A follow-up contact from the mission can be a real opportunity to encourage graduates, especially for those who may be struggling.

C. Substantiating fund-raising claims – “Compassion fatigue” is a phenomenon in bigger metro areas like New York and Los Angeles.  It is becoming more evident in smaller cities, too.  It can be summed up in this statement, “OK, now that we’ve spent all these millions of dollars on the homeless, what have we got to show for it?  Homelessness is on the increase!”  They need to know that the homeless really are changing at  our missions.  We need real numbers to back up our claims.

D. Taking advantage of “Charitable Choice” – With sweeping changes in the welfare system, Christian organizations will receive government funds without having to compromise on their spiritual emphasis.  Missions that choose to pursue some of this money will have more success if they can show the concrete results of their efforts.

E. “Witnessing to the world” – Does Christ really change lives?  I believe He does!  You can’t survive very long as a mission worker if you don’t.  Having concrete numbers to substantiate this fact is a genuine testimony of God at work in our fallen world.

If you are interested in learning more about this subject, contact IUGM’s Education Department.

February 1998

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