Value of Survey Research

The Value of Survey Research in the Local Church


At the very heart of the success we have had in both revitalization/vision planning and in pulpit committee training and coaching has been the use of professional survey research.  In this section we will seek to explain why this is so important.

In both revitalization/vision planning and pulpit committee training, there are always two things about the church that must be carefully defined and determined.

One is to determine what the Core Values of the church are.  What are the things that the church believes are essential and that should not be open to change?  Thus, in processing possible change – such as in the search for a new pastor or developing a vision plan for the future – it is important to determine in an accurate way what the Core Values are.

The other is to determine what areas of the churches life, worship, and ministry have the most pressing need for change.  Obviously, no church is perfect, and thus every element of the church could be improved.  But in contemplating major change such as finding a new pastor or developing a Vision Plan for the future, it is important to find out which areas need immediate attention and prioritize them.

In order to accomplish these two goals – determining Core Values and determining areas needing change – the use of Survey Research provides what I believe is not just the best way to proceed, but is in fact the only way you can get the correct results.

Depending on your church’s form of government, there are risks in allowing the decision making body to just discuss and decide these issues involving major changes.    It has been my experience, especially in smaller churches, that if the leadership tries to institute major changes that the majority, or even a strong, vocal minority, are not in favor of, the proposed change will either not work, or – in the worst cases – cause disruption in the church.

For instance, in one of my successful pastorates where major change brought real growth to the church, my first attempt was to bring in a consultant to work with the Session and we put together what we thought was the right way to proceed.

As it turned out, what we (the Elders) thought was NOT what the congregation thought, and the plan fell flat on its face due to lack of congregational support and involvement.  Only when we used survey research to determine our core values and most important needs were we finally successful in developing a working vision plan.

The same is true in allowing the governing board to select a new pastor without allowing the congregation to be involved.   The church to which I was called coming out of seminary was such a case.

I was recommended to the Session, who was serving as the Pulpit Committee, by a strong leader in their presbytery.

The Session and I were very much alike in our theological views (which was overwhelmingly the major topic of my interview with them).  But when I accepted the call and began my ministry, I soon realized that the church was not actually run by the Session.  The Deacons had full control over the expenditure of money in the church, and the Women In The Church organization had full control over all the ongoing ministries in the church.  Needless to say, I didn’t even last two years there.

In the Presbyterian Church in America, where I have done the bulk of my ministry in these areas, the Form of Government departs from the normal Elder rule in the process of calling a new pastor.  It is the congregation who sets the size of the search committee, adopts any instructions to be given to the committee, and elects the members of the committee.  Once the search committee has completed its work, it reports – not to the Elders – but rather directly to the congregation.

There have been many cases where this recommendation may not be what the Session wants, but they have no veto in the matter – it is a congregationally appointed committee and the congregation votes on the recommendation even if it comes without the recommendation of the Session.

I could tell you some real nightmare stories about how big this problem is.

Metokos Ministries recommends that, in either Vision Planning or in Pulpit Search Committee work, that the church get input from as large a cross-section of the congregation as possible by way of using Survey Research instruments.

If you have read our material on Introduction to Vision Planning, you know that we use Nehemiah as our basis for the Biblical nature of doing this type of ministry.  And in Chapter 2, Verses 11 through 15, we see Nehemiah gathering the needed data:

11 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. 13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire.

14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. 15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.”

Nehemiah is doing a survey of the work that needs to be done.  In any Biblical planning, decision making need a thorough survey of what is needed before making major changes.

Some ministries recommend that the lead planner do individual one-on-one interviews with people involved in a church.  But even in a smaller church that is very time consuming – plus all the data has to go through the eyes of one person.  And that person is not a person who receives direct revelation from God, as was Nehemiah.

In our day and age, survey research is a very professional way to assess thoughts, opinions, and feelings of people in the congregation.

Today, survey research is used by a variety of different groups, and when understood correctly, can easily be adapted to use in a church

I became familiar with this field when I worked part time for the Virginia Tech Center Survey Research.

Before we could be involved in gathering data (I worked in the telephone survey section, long before the internet became a more effective method), each of us had to go through a training course to understand how the questions had been determined and how important it was to ask the question in the correct manner.

The original set of questions we used was (with permission) taken from Aubrey Malphurs basic book on Vision Planning which is discussed in our introductory information.  But he only sought material for evaluation of current ministries.  We quickly learned that was not enough to make good judgments, so we added the second survey to give the needed comparisons.

The way Metokos Ministries recommends the survey research documents be developed is for the Session (or other governing board) to examine a set of questions most often used in our surveys, and then to add others in areas in which they see a need for information – or to eliminate those that would not apply to their environment.

In the past we used printed surveys that needed to be completed by hand, filled out and mailed to our office, which were then graded by hand.  We are in the process of setting up the surveys for use online to cut down the long time lag from start to finish.

At Metokos Ministries we use two similar surveys – at least in content.  One is called an ”Evaluation of Current Ministries”, which obtains information as to the current state of affairs.

The other is called a ”Core Values Inventory”, seeking to obtain information on how things should be in the future.

For instance, in the Evaluations survey, we might ask questions like:

  • Elders are chosen for their general maturity and success in their careers.
  • Elders are chosen for their demonstration of godly servant leadership.
  • The pastor is viewed as an equipper for ministry rather than as one who does most of the ministry.
  • Our church has depended on our pastor to carry out most of its day-to-day ministry.

You can see by these examples that we ask questions that present different approaches to many areas and can determine which methods are currently being used.

Then, in the Core Values inventory, we change the syntax of these questions, so they are phrased this way:

  • Elders SHOULD BE chosen for their general maturity and success in their careers.
  • Elders SHOULD BE chosen for their demonstration of godly ser3vant leadership.
  • The pastor SHOULD BE viewed as an equipper for ministry rather than as one who does most of the ministry.
  • Our church SHOULD depend on our pastor to carry out most of its day-to-day ministry.

This way we are able to determine what the congregation believes IS happening in the church currently, and also what they believe what SHOULD BE happening.

The result of comparing these two surveys is an excellent tool to determine the church’s core values (things that are done well now and are desired to continue in the future) AND what we call a Gap Analysis – finding those areas which need the most immediate attention in the near future.

This data is vitally important to the development of a Vision Plan for the future of the church, as well as in developing a clear, detailed profile of what the church needs by way of gifts and abilities of a new pastor.

Churches who want more detail about how we conduct Survey Research should contact us directly.

(A Video presentation of this information is available in our Video Clip section.)