Mainstreaming “Goal Free Evaluation” Paradigm into Church Consulting
By Christson Adedoyin, MSW, MATS, PhD.
Church consultants who desire to upskill their competency in evaluating church, or faith-based programs should consider the paradigm of Goal Free Evaluation (GFE). Simply explained GRE focuses on working, or prioritizing the values of the stakeholders (church members, leadership and community) of a church or faith-based organization (FBO) without a pre-conceived bias towards the original goals and objectives of a Church program. In addition, GFE perspective expects the Church consultant to engage church stakeholder without any prior knowledge of the goals and objectives of the programs being evaluated. More specifically, Youker and Ingraham (2013) stated that the GFE “is any evaluation in which the evaluator conducts the evaluation without particular knowledge of or reference to stated or predetermined goals and objectives” (p.51).
Against the backdrop, the Church consultant who uses the GFE framework works with congregants, or stakeholders in a FBO by not focusing, or starting out with the pre-set goals of a church program, or a set of program goals set by a FBO. By deliberately not focus on the intended (side) effects of the program goals, the Church consultant is insulated from, and not associated with the bias (positive or negative) of the program being evaluated, or reviewed. This unbiased stance is the core of the GFE paradigm.
Moreover, the Church consultant engages with the Church, or FBO stakeholders by using additional tools such as Scriven’s “modus operandi” method, (that is, to first develop a list of potential causes of unintended effects), the GFE key evaluation checklist, and working towards identifying the unintended side effects of the program being evaluated. More specifically, the Church consultant who deploys the GFE should be conversant and competent to utilize surveys, interviews, observations, and focus groups and a random sample of the congregation, or stakeholders in a FBO.
The reason for this data gathering approach is that as a Church consultant using the GFE approach is not expected to know the goals of the Church, or FBO program in advance. Therefore, a sampling of the aforementioned stakeholder and the data collection methods mentioned earlier will help the Church consultant to collect data from the Church, or FBO stakeholders. To aid in accomplishing the intended outcome of the consulting, or evaluation roles, the Church consultant can utilize some GFE questions in order to determine the unintended consequences of a set of Church, or FBO programs. Some of the GFE questions the Church consultant could ask the ministry, or FBO stakeholders include:
- What positive and negative effects have been associated with a Church program (e.g. Discipleship training program on Wednesdays)?
- Do these effects relate to the merit of the Discipleship training program such as increasing the retention rate of new Church members?
- How important, or significant are the Discipleship training program outcomes compared with previous data on the low retention rates of new converts, or believers in a Church, or FBO.
The use of different evaluation methods (such as focus groups, interviews, observation, surveys, and mixed-methods) for each of the specific objectives of the Discipleship training program will help the Church consultant to draw evaluative conclusions, or judgments about the program. Therefore, the Church consultant who uses the GFE paradigm will be serving the interest of the stakeholders that is, potential Church members, or beneficiaries in a FBO.
In addition, the GFE perspective of evaluation helps to identify appropriate alternatives to the goals of the Discipleship training program in our example. Summarily, the GFE approach ensures that the Church consultant arrives at conclusions and unpack a Church’s program outcomes independently without the biased interferences or influences of the Church, or FBO leadership. The result of the GFE can also be used to vastly improve the purpose of the Discipleship training program, and the overall benefit of new converts, or believers in a Church setting.
Scriven, M. (1974). Maximizing the power of causal investigations: The modus
operandi method. In W. J. Popham (Ed.), Evaluation in education: Current
applications (pp. 68-84). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing.
Youker, B. W., & Ingraham, A. (2014). Goal-free evaluation: An orientation for foundations’
evaluations. The Foundation Review, 5(4), 51-61.