One Approach to Measuring Discipleship

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The Fall Edition of PULSE Magazine featured an article by Jimmy Walters of St. John’s University about reaching barely active Catholics.  This prompted several emails from people wanting to know more about this outreach and how we can better measure discipleship.

The phrase “measuring discipleship” is at first glance, at odd one.  Some will question the very premise- can you really measure discipleship?  

For Catholics, we can readily give the answer with even a quick reference to the lives of the saints.  We know that some, by God’s grace, welcomed the presence of the Holy Spirit into their lives more fully than others. Their lives, surrendered to Christ, became transformed into powerful vessels of God’s saving grace.  

You know people like this- they are simply in love with Jesus and have a "glow" about them.  Some are quiet while others are quite vocal.  They come in different shapes and sizes but you know a holy person when you meet one.  There's just something about them.

Ok so we already “measure” holiness through our recognition of those seen as Venerable, Blessed and then Saints.  But, as the saying goes, “what about the rest of us”?

This is where Catholic campus ministry can provide a profound gift to the rest of the Church.  As we deal in numbers typically smaller than those in a parish context, we have the ability to “track” student growth more precisely.  This will take a commitment of your team and a patient approach to seeing discipleship as a process of growth rather than a point in time.

Here are some guidelines and tips:

  1. Track anything that can be counted: this can include Mass attendance, retreat participation, small group participation, mid-week dinner participation, etc.  One campus even tracks what they call "meaningful conversations" that their campus ministers have with students.  
  2. Tag” each student: in your database (you have one right?), assign each event or activity with a tag.  For example, small groups gets a tag called “small groups” and fall retreat gets a tag called “fall retreat + the year”.  When a student participates in the fall retreat, their database information also receives the tag associated with fall retreat.  As the year goes on, you’ll start to see each student receive (hopefully) more tags.  Typically, the more the better.  You won't catch every student and that's ok.  Do the best you can.
  3. Weight each tag: good campus ministers know that no two activities are the same in terms of importance.  As an example, getting a free slice of pizza at the September Welcome Dinner is good (and receives the “welcome dinner” tag) but perhaps not as valuable as participation in a six week small group Bible study.  
  4. Review your weighted participation: either once a month or once a quarter, you and some members of your team ought to review how students are doing, what they’re participating in and to what degree they are growing.  It’s helpful to articulate the “signs” of student growth.  For example, when a student talks about their prayer life, that’s a sign.  When a student shares her faith with someone else, that’s a sign.  When a student invites others to events, that’s a potential sign.  
  5. Meet with as many students one-on-one to review their growth: just as a coach meets with individuals to discuss goals, progress and challenges, campus ministers should do likewise.  This is good for the campus minister, counter-balancing an over reliance on programs.  It’s also especially powerful for the student as they receive “faith feedback” from someone else who cares about their relationship with Christ.  The campus minister assumes a coaching role for the student.
  6. The final step is to align your ministry activities with the potential for most growth. A funnel approach works best, providing a wide net to welcome and offer hospitality to students and then gradually offering other opportunities for students to go deeper. Small groups  on many campuses provide this environment.  You can download the CCMA Small Groups Field Guide as a resource.

How do you measure discipleship on campus?  What’s working where you are?

Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium said, “In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by by the power of his Spirit. The real newness is the newness which God himself mysteriously brings about and inspires, provokes, guides and accompanies in a thousand ways.”  Our job is simply to cooperate with God in the expanding discipleship of our students.