Measuring the Metrics for Success

3 Nov


How do you measure success?

Leadership guru John Maxwell has a great quote in this regard. He stated, “Many people spend their lives climbing the ladder, only to reach the top and realize that the ladder is leaning against the wrong building!”

In this case, defining what made a person a “success” may be seen in the typical metrics for success (at least in the Western world’s version of the “American Dream”). Successful individuals are judged to be so by various metrics, such as for example: the size and location of a person’s house; number (and value) of cars parked in the garage or driveway; the amount of money you earn; your job title and position; success in the business, athletic, entertainment or political world; and on and on it goes.

You can plug in whatever metric you like, but these are often used to gauge what passes for “success.”

But, as Maxwell reminds us, one could spend their entire life “climbing that ladder of success,” only to discover when they do get to the top, it’s been leaning against the wrong building the entire time. Thus, the metric we’ve been using to gauge “success” may not always be helpful.

Metrics for Success?

So, what does Maxwell mean by his statement about the ladder leaning against the wrong building?

Well, this is the idea that Shawn Manley and I return to several times in our podcast episode, “Measuring the Metrics for Success” (Part 1). For example, in the world of churches and pastoral leadership, Shawn points out that the yardstick by which success is measured can oftentimes influence whether or not we believe that we have, in fact, achieved “success.”

Imagine the typical scenario for a senior pastor of a church. What’s the metric for success? It turns out that we can measure success in a wide variety of ways, and all of them are currently being used–or combinations thereof.

“Success in ministry,” for example, could be measured by the metric of the size of the congregation—how many members does the church have? How many new members have been added over the course of the year? Or, we could measure success by the size of the church building itself, recent additions to increase its square footage, and so forth. Perhaps the church has planted several new churches in other locations, and this could be used as a metric for accomplishment.

Lots of senior pastors use these standards as metrics for success. I’ve been to pastor’s conferences, and a lot of pastors feel the need to share with the other pastors “how their church is doing” in terms of these achievements. Pastors may feel that they are succeeding in ministry when, for example, their church grows numerically; puts on a new addition or gymnasium; or, because the church has grown numerically, they decide to relocate to a better neighborhood. They succeed in raising the necessary funding for a purpose-built, brand-new, larger building. Surely this must count as a victory!

Another metric for success could be accomplished by examining the church’s annual budget—how much money does it have in its coffers? Is it able to pay its staff, and fund all sorts of “important” programs throughout the year? Lots of senior pastors feel a sense of accomplishment when the church makes or exceeds its budget. Is this success?

As a final example, we could measure success by the number of staff members at the church. In this case, the metric for the success goes like this: the larger the staff size, the bigger the team of leaders, the more successful the church is. And on and on it goes.

Less Quantifiable Success Metrics

In the first episode of our podcast, Shawn and I broach this subject of “how can we measure success?” Returning to the issue of churches, and church ministry, the problem oftentimes is this: success is difficult to quantify—that is, if you use the metrics of indicators such as “quality of relationships,” or the positive impact your church has had on your community.

The problem with using such metrics for success is that they aren’t sexy; they don’t immediately impact upon other metrics that are commonly used to measure success, such as: numbers, budgets, building size, etc. Metrics like these take a lot more time and relational investment, and oftentimes people in churches aren’t willing to fund such efforts—or for that matter, take the time and energy to invest in such things themselves.

In fact, neither one of those metrics I just mentioned above even cost any money, after all; just a person’s time, invested in the life of somebody else who may need some help;  or just simply lending a sympathetic and listening ear for someone who needs some support when they’re struggling.


What I find most interesting about this podcast (and Part 2 also) is that Shawn and I are, in many ways, coming from very different points of view. Although we share a lot in common—both of us were pastors of a church; both of us had fairly negative experiences in church leadership—he has elected to stay within “the system” (what I call the church). For my part, both my wife and I finally decided to leave the church after being repeatedly fed up with the system.

But rather than engage in an argument as to what’s wrong with the church today—which would be all too easy to do—Shawn and I instead have a respectful dialogue, and as it turns out, we find that we have quite a bit in common. It is certainly possible to have a great discussion that leads to mutual expansion in the end. Hopefully this episode is helpful for you, also, as you reflect upon the question:

“How do I measure success?”

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