Ministry Mapping Process

by Dr. Bert Downs, SWCC Regional Coach

In response to receiving frequent inquiries regarding the ministry mapping (assessment) process for churches, I’ve posted this Executive Summary which is my response to a church that sensed the need for mapping and asked me to summarize what the process might look like for them . . . and to do it in one page!  I’ve removed things at would identify the inquiring group, and while this is a specific response to their request, the summary is pretty much descriptive of the mapping process in general.  Hope this helps, and if you have questions, drop me an email at bdowns@swchurchconnection.org. Hopefully, I can provide you with answers.

Executive Summary of Mapping (Assessment) Process

Introduction:  A church assessment process (ministry mapping) has layers.  The first layer pursues a single purpose: to define what is.  It discloses the current realities – good, bad and otherwise – regarding a church’s health.  The other layers unfold from that first understanding and answer three basic questions: what needs to stay? what needs to go? what needs to change?  The answers to those questions become the basis for important refinements in the church’s vision, mission, strategy and tactics (actions that get to outcomes).

Tools: Most mapping processes utilize a congregational/staff response tool.  It’s often completed on line and provides a core for answering the “what is” question.  There are many tools available, most of which are built from the original Natural Church Development approach.  Most of these tools are good with the key element being experiential familiarity on the part of those who are involved in interpreting the results of the survey.  While important, the online tool needs to be supplemented with some “living” elements.

Focus Groups: The primary living element is the focus group process that involves specific audiences from the church responding to specific questions and led by a moderator who is not part of the church family.  Groups are organized by varying criteria with age and ministry involvement often being key items.  While the online tool can give data to the mapping process, it’s the focus groups that give the process real life.  Often, a good mapping leader will test the survey data against the focus group results in order to affirm the reliability of the outcomes.  This is an essential part of building reliable strategy and tactics from the process.

Outside Eyes:  Most groups contemplating this process start by wanting to keep major aspects of it within the control of pastoral/elder team.  This desire is motivated by various things including issues related to control and fear.  The problem with keeping it internally based is that eyes that have lived in a particular system and setting long enough struggle to see what is, and even if they do see it, they also struggle to affirm and act upon what they see.  Sensitive, skilled and trustworthy outside management of the process almost always leads to the best outcomes including commitments to the key actions that follow the assessment layer of the map.

Team Assessment:  Often the mapping process touches on the characteristics and qualities of the ministry team involved.  Most often that comes through understandings gained about structure and systems which in team settings often lead back to the team.  However, team building is not usually an aspect of the mapping process, but more often a prescription for the health of the ministry/congregation going forward.  The mapping outcomes will point to needed work on the team realities.

Elements of a successful mapping process: The markers of a sound process include clear answers to the main what is question and then to the what stays, what goes and what changes questions that follow including pastor/elder team and congregational affirmation of those findings; clear, honest and motivational reports to ministry leaders and congregation regarding mapping results; a finely crafted set of ministry prescriptions that lead to future actions of the church’s leadership and congregation; a firm commitment to taking action on the prescriptions (this is where most assessments fail); consideration of an outside coach to keep the process on target (not always necessary); a constant observing of outcomes to be sure the actions are leading to what was envisioned; a willingness to make changes in the applications where outcome performance warrants them (none of our plans will be perfect at the start); and, seriously now . . . a bottomless amount of faith, prayer, perseverance and courageous stewardship of the gift – a church – that God has placed in your hands.

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