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When I speak to congregations about how they measure success, I often talk about the need to move from viewing success through a program lens (number of participants, food/space, complaints, budget) to seeing it from a congregant’s viewpoint (relationship, impact, and meaning).
Similarly, the Union for Reform Judaism has been shifting how it collects and uses evaluation data, moving from a focus on execution and attendance at our programs to one that more closely considers impact on our congregations. We recently completed the first URJ Baseline Congregational Impact Survey, which asked congregational leaders (715 individuals respondents, representing 492 congregations) about the extent to which the URJ has had an impact on four groups of activities required for a strong congregation:
1. Mission and vision
2. Leadership and governance
3. Engaging diverse groups
4. Jewish life
According to Dr. Rob Weinberg, the leader of our outside evaluation team (which also included Drs. Cindy Reich and Michelle Lynn-Sachs):
“This survey was a rare and, some would say, courageous act of organization effectiveness. The URJ chose to go beyond evaluation of individual programs to look broadly at a baseline measurement of its impact on congregational strength.”
Indeed, we set a high bar by using this measure of impact. Not only do we have to engage with a congregational leader, but that person also has to decide to take successful action after an interaction with us – and they later have to be willing to attribute that success to the interaction.
I’m proud of the results to date and excited to use the data we’ve gathered to refocus and shift our investments to increase even more the impact we have on congregations.
Results from the URJ’s Baseline Congregational Impact Survey show that more than half the respondents report that the URJ has had extensive or “significant impact on at least four of 36 areas of congregational life included in the survey. Approximately half report at least moderate impact on 15 of the 36 areas investigated. Because this is a first-time analysis of this type by the URJ, the results are considered to be a baseline.
Among the survey’s results are these findings:
Open-ended questions revealed these findings:
One of the survey’s most interesting results, to me, concerns our work to empower congregations to adapt to the current environment. In the “Leadership and Governance” section of the survey, our highest scores came in the area of building sacred partnerships and innovating – a message that has been at the center of our work for the last four years as we have guided congregations to build sacred partnerships among leaders and to work toward change to achieve their mission.
Going forward, I’m excited about the areas in which we are investing to strengthen our congregations.
The data we’ve collected will help us drive decisions for several years, after which we expect to repeat the analysis. In the meantime, our new initiatives – in college and young adult engagement and marriage referral, as well as building on the outstanding success of ReformJudaism.org – are targeted directly at one of congregations’ biggest pain points: membership. We’re also looking at ways to make it easier and less expensive to run congregations, and we hope to have a positive impact on congregations’ ability to manage their finances.
To learn how to measure success in your congregation, consider enrolling in our URJ Congregational Benchmarking and Assessment Project.