Spiritual Metrics Pt 4 – Restricted-Access Contexts

In some places, Christians are not welcome, nor are Westerners. Questions about values may or may not be acceptable. What are we to do in those places? Should we abandon the idea of measuring impact entirely? Each organization will have to come up with its own answer to that question. There is a lot of gray area, but there do seem to be a few guiding principles.

There Is No Silver Bullet!

Every restricted-access context is dangerous in its own way. An action that is acceptable in Cambodia may be suspicious in Indonesia and fatal in Yemen, and vice versa. It is not only that some places are more dangerous than others (though there are definite levels of danger), it is that they are differently dangerous. There are hundreds of different ways that enterprising individuals have managed to establish and maintain an identity in these locations. I don’t believe there is any possible spiritual metric that would be appropriate in all locations. Since having an impact is more important than proving that you have an impact, put the safety of the mission first. Even if your organization has created a standard indicator set, measure the possibilities and risks carefully, and be willing to put aside those indicators that aren’t appropriate.

Measure Your Team

There will be situations where it is impossible to take any meaningful data from beneficiaries without generating unacceptable levels of mistrust. That doesn’t mean that you can’t measure anything. Measuring the process of the your team does not ensure spiritual impact. But collecting data about your team’s process and priorities over time improves the chances of having a spiritual impact. This qualitative data collection should help strengthen your relationships and their faith. I am reminded of Paul’s letters to Timothy: checking in, reinforcing priorities, advising on difficult situations, and offering encouragement. As I wrote previously, the act of discipleship, done well, provides copious information on how things are being done. We just need to be disciplined about collecting it.

Use Local Community Leaders

Change in behavior is always a result of a change in values, regardless of whether those values were explicitly taught. A gift, in most cultures is expected to produce a reaction of some kind. With careful consideration, it is possible to make plausible connections between program objectives and feelings, values, and spiritual ideas. Talking with respected leaders and elders, it is often possible to get a sense of which of these related ideas (if any) might be observed. If ab appropriate cultural connection is made, the community leaders will even help with data collection.

Non-Cognitive Skills

Some contexts are not anti-Western, just anti-Christian. In those contexts, it is worth looking into the secular / scientific work on “non-cognitive skills” being conducted in the field of economics. This research is being spearheaded by the Christian economist community. These instruments might not give the data you want, but they are much more likely to be accepted as non-evangelistic.


There is nothing easy about spiritual metrics in a restricted-access context, and the contexts are too diverse to permit simple generalizations. In these contexts, faithfulness is far more important than effectiveness, and so we do the best we can.

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