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PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 webinar helps congregations and mid councils measure their anti-poverty effectiveness

Thursday’s workshop features local examples from New York City to Niger

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Joshua Lanzarini via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Measuring congregational and mid council work to end systemic poverty was the topic of Thursday’s second in a series of Matthew 25 online workshops being offered to help local communities create empowerment, health and wholeness. About 70 people attended.

The speakers were Andrew Kang Bartlett, national associate for the Presbyterian Hunger Program; Margaret Mwale, the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People’s associate for community development and constituent relationships; and Jim McGill, a mission-co-worker serving in Niger.

Andrew Kang Bartlett

Kang Bartlett explained a holistic model for assessment developed by the Center for Whole Communities. Measuring the success of local poverty reduction work can be done with help from a spreadsheet. Kang Bartlett created a sample that can be seen at

An evaluation can include five fields of practices for measuring effectiveness: justice and fairness, strong communities, healthy people, sustainable ecosystems and thriving local economies.

“It’s a rich, participatory evaluation,” Kang Bartlett said.

Among the examples Mwale cited for measuring holistic impact was the New York State Youth Leadership Council, a group that works on issues related to being undocumented that’s led by undocumented youth.

Among the organization’s services is its Undocu Academy, a one-year program for undocumented high school seniors in New York City that provides mentoring, one-on-one guidance with college and financial aid applications, workshops and scholarship opportunities.

Margaret Mwale

Mwale touched on ways the council is helping to build the five fields of practices Kang Bartlett talked about, and efforts to measure their impacts. One example: Only 10% or less of undocumented students attend college. But for those supported by the Undocu Academy, 70% enrolled in college. “It’s helped to move the needle helping young people move out of poverty,” Mwale said.

McGill shared some of the Wash, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) development work being done in Malawi, South Sudan and Niger. “We work directly under churches. Their mission statements include holistic ministry to the people,” McGill explained, adding that development, agriculture, health and education “are as important to the church as the spiritual well-being of people.”

Jim McGill

“The biggest issue we work with in holistic ministry is breaking the cycle of poverty,” McGill said. “It’s a big job for the church to do. The question is, how do we measure that progress?”

One way is to announce development targets, such as the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. That can ease the fundraising burden for nongovernmental organizations, McGill said, which can say, “If you give me x-amount of dollars, I’ll put in a well for you.”

While a friend sent McGill an email recently touting results of a three-year project on access to safe drinking water, saying the report on the project demonstrates that getting statistics together is worth the effort, McGill pointed out it’s only a snapshot and doesn’t measure impact over time.

“We need to measure as best we can how the program has impacted people,” McGill said. “People must be able to step up the ladder and out of poverty.”

During a question-and-answer session, Kang Bartlett said that dismantling the worst aspects of the economic system is the way to make the biggest impact, but “that’s a huge endeavor. In the U.S., my read is changing federal policies is difficult. But real change can happen at the local level.”

One participant asked how a small congregation can best prioritize which of the five fields of practice to engage and assess.

“Do you already have a sense of what the most pressing needs are and where the energy is to push for changes or create alternatives?” another participant responded. “If so, that would give you the framework for which fields of practice would be most appropriate.”

“One thing that’s really critical is remembering to center the voices of the people directly impacted by the issues,” Mwale said. “We need to remember they are the experts and that change needs to come from the bottom up. Hopefully each of us has a platform to bring to the table.”

The next Matthew 25 webinar on eradicating systemic poverty is set for 11 a.m. Eastern Time on Aug. 28. It’ll be on community organizing, policy advocacy and movement building.

Scheduled presenters are Denzell Mitchell, an associate organizer for the congregation-based community organization Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities in Richmond, Virginia; the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center at Union Theological Seminary and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign; and the Rev. Jimmie R. Hawkins, who directs advocacy efforts for the PC(USA) in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Register here.

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