(This is the fourth of eight articles on MapDash for Faith Communities Analytics)
Two of the most asked questions about analytics provided by MapDash for Faith Communities are about the Congregational Vitality Index (CVI) and the Congregational Sustainability Index (CSI). Both are powerful analytic tools if used wisely. The purpose of this article is to help MapDash users properly understand these tools, so they can interpret them appropriately and apply them effectively.
What They Are and What They Aren’t
CVI and CSI are not assessments. Assessments are direct, graded, criterion-referenced measurements that provide objective answers at a point in time. They make judgements based on facts that either inform or imply what the decision maker should do about it. Example (sailing): Is your boat currently leaking? If yes, fix the leak. If no, good to go.
CVI and CSI are indexes. Indexes are a collection of indicators that sample and describe the relative overall direction of factors that are correlated with a particular concern and may be predictive of it, but do not measure the concern directly. They describe a trend and let the user discern what the trend means and what to do about it by filtering insights through the organizations vision, mission, commitments, resources, etc. Example (sailing): If you continue to sail in the direction you have been, are you heading shoreward or toward the open sea? If you mean to sail across the ocean blue, go on with your bad self. If not, better tack toward the shore.
The Congregational Vitality Index tells a story about vitality by reporting the general direction of four indicators (internal congregational trends) that tend to be associated with and predictive of congregational health:
- Membership – an indicator of commitment.
- Attendance – an indicator of engagement.
- Age Balance – an indicator of effective evangelism.
- Percentage of Giving – an indicator of effective stewardship.
The score of each CVI indicator is generated by an algorithm that samples and reports several factors based on a 3-point scale, on which every congregation starts at one and the highest they can get is three. For example, the algorithm for Attendance samples average attendance over a 5-year period. The congregation starts with 1 point (low). If attendance is growing OR over a certain number, it gets one additional point for a total of 2 (moderate). If it is growing AND over a certain number, its get two additional points for a total of 3 (high). If it is neither growing NOR over a certain number, it gets no additional points and for a total of 1 (low). Add this score to the three other scores and you get an overall CVI score between 4 (very low) to 8 (moderate) to 12 (very high).
The Congregational Sustainability Index samples and reports the general direction of four indicators (external demographic projections) that tend to be associated with and predictive of missional opportunity in the neighborhoods surrounding a congregation – what some might call market share (or mission and ministry share):
- Population Growth – increase or decrease in potential mission/ministry share driven by simple growth.
- Diversity Growth – increase or decrease in potential mission/ministry share driven by turnover of people groups and neighborhoods.
- Generational Balance – increase or decrease in potential mission/ministry share driven by turnover of people groups and neighborhoods.
- Qualified Population – available potential mission/ministry share after accounting for population density and same-denomination competition.
The score of each CSI indicator is generated and reported in a similar way by a similar algorithm. For example, the algorithm for Population samples a 5-year population growth projection within a 15-minute DriveTime around the congregation’s location. The congregation starts with 1 point (low). If the population growth projection is flat, it gets 1 additional point for a total of 2 (moderate). If the population growth projection is rising, it gets 2 additional points for a total of 3 (high). If the population growth projection is declining, it gets no additional points and for a total of 1 (low). Similarly, if you add this score to the three other scores you get an overall CSI score between 4 (very low) to 8 (moderate) to 12 (very high).
The Start of Discernment, Not the End
Analytics like CVI and CSI are intended to launch the start of discernment and discussion, not bring them to a close. The ratings are meant to focus attention on certain trends, so that leaders can decide what they mean by exploring the underlying data and weighing it against their intended course.
Example: Declining Surplus Net Income. If congregation’s income is running a substantial surplus that is significantly declining each year this is something to pay attention to and investigate.
If the surplus is declining because leadership has decided to direct increasing amounts of the surplus (or margin) into ministry, then the leadership may want to stay on the current path. But if it is decline due to decreasing individual giving, attendance, or membership, that tells an entirely different story, that may require a different kind of action. Similarly, if a congregation was running increasingly into the red that would be cause for major concern, but if the red ink were decreasing and approaching break-even, this may indicate the vitality improvement strategies are working and should be continued.
In each case, the analytic tells a story, but the leadership has to decide what the story means and what to do about it.
Example: Low Vitality Congregation in a High Sustainability Area. This may tell congregational leadership that there is more missional opportunity in their area than they are currently engaging, and that if they change what they’re doing to engage those opportunities, they may be able to become more vital. Similarly, it may tell judicatory leadership that putting more resources into turning this congregation around may be a good investment.
Example: Low Vitality Congregation in a Low Sustainability Area. This may tell congregational leadership that their current low vitality is not because they are doing anything wrong but because their area is declining (this realization of “not our fault” is a relief to many congregations). Armed with this information, congregation leaders may decide to close or combine with another congregation or sell their building and meet in a movie theater or parishioners’ homes. Or something completely different. Similarly, it may tell judicatory leadership that putting more resources into turning this congregation around may not be a good investment, and that is time to engage in a frank discussion with congregational leadership about their future.
These are just a few illustrations of the usefulness and power of the stories that the Congregational Vitality Index and the Congregational Sustainability Index can reveal, especially when used together. What you do with that story is up to you…
FaithX is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Ken’s faith-based consulting practice at FaithX is done under an extension of ministry from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
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