Not that long ago we were in a staff meeting discussing this months focus; metrics. The conversation was a little confusing and went on for some time as we all tried to grasp the difference between qualitative and quantitative metrics.
As a group we had the most trouble with the definition of qualitative metrics. Quantitative metrics are a little easier as they are the results that we count in numbers. Example: the number of discovery bible groups started in a year, the number of people discipled, the number of new churches planted. These things are easily measurable and reportable. Qualitative metrics are a little trickier and there was a sense of mental wrestling as we tried to come to a consensus about what we REALLY meant by qualitative metrics.
As the discussion went on it hit me; we were coming at it from two different camps of people: those who had trained and taught for years in hard sciences (i.e. math, chemistry, physics), and those of us who had trained and worked in social sciences (psychology, sociology, social work). The understanding of qualitative metrics shifts a bit dependent upon which camp you come from, although both fit under the dictionary definition:
Properties that are observed and can generally not be measured with a numerical result.
Hard science views qualitative metrics as yes and no answers to questions; or descriptors. For instance you can count the number of sunny, rainy, snowy days in a year. This would be a quantitative measure because it is numbered and you can make percentages out of it. However, the type of day is a qualitative measure. Saying it is cloudy and cold outside tells someone the quality of the day if you will. In social sciences qualitative research is most often based on case studies. The story of an individual; how their environment, genetics, personality effected their outcome.
Now, why does this matter as we are working toward disciple making?
First you need to know when we are talking about qualitative metrics, as a group, we decided to go with the social services lean toward stories. (My apologies to all you hard science folks out there.) And when you are reporting to prayer partners and financial partners, while quantitative data is easy to collect and report – qualitative data catches the heart and brings hope for more. It is the story of change that we want to see. I could tell you that four new people started Discovery Bible Study last month and we would all celebrate; it’s good news! But when I tell you about a specific young man; who for years had been addicted to drugs; a man that suddenly realized God had PURPOSEFULLY created him, created him to be a blessing and has a plan for his life and his future. I now have your heart. Because in that moment, he looked at the facilitator with the child like wonder of a 5 year old and sudden dawning hope and asked “really?” To this day, I can walk by that young man and whisper “you’re a blessing” and watch a little secret smile creep across his face as he remembers what God did for him. And we all know that a difference was made in that moment. And we are excited to see what God will do next.