Listening vs. Hearing
If you’ve been burned by negative, critical comments—solicited and unsolicited—over the years, it can be difficult to open yourself up to someone else’s feeback. It may be that a difficult personality and a precarious ministry situation makes listening difficult. Regardless, don’t let your pride prevent you from listening to what other voices have to say.
People are increasingly empowered to express their opinion. They do it when they make an online purchase. They do it on social media. They do it in countless other ways through web forums, blogs, surveys and feedback forms. The fact is we can learn from members, volunteers and key leaders in our congregation. Great ideas, creativity and innovation often come from the bottom up.
Nilofer Merchant’s The New How concludes that “we need to let people think and create strategy everywhere.” That’s right on target. Surveys, focus groups, interviews and observation are all powerful ways to start that process in your church.
Create surveys to discover needs, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses in your church and community. Surveys are a great way to get feedback from large groups of people and learn more about the effectiveness of your church’s evangelism, discipleship, ministry, missions and worship efforts.
Surveys contain two kinds of questions:
- Open-End Questions – Questions where the respondent is free to answer in his or her own words. Compile the answers and don’t forget to edit or remove names and inappropriate comments.
- Closed-End Questions – Questions where possible answers are supplied (yes or no, multiple choice or agree/disagree). Quantify results for each question in a spreadsheet or database.
Surveys should only ask necessary information. Brevity is the key to getting people to complete surveys. It’s also important not to communicate an agenda through the general tone, bias, ambiguity or theme of survey questions. Just ask simple questions without an expectation of specific results. Online survey tools include:
Take a quick look at some sample ministry surveys:
Bring together a focus group to learn more about church and community needs. Think carefully about the composition of any focus group. Include key leaders, influencers and long-time volunteers, but also consider new members, less involved members and critical thinkers.
Pull groups together for an opening meal or refreshments to convey informality. Then communicate a general purpose, such as learning more about the best ways to reach a school or neighborhood. Focus groups are largely open ended. Ask questions that require extended (not yes and no) answers as a way to encourage discussion and honest communication. Choose an ojbective, unbiased facilitator who has some distance from the focus group’s topic or issue at hand.
Create focus groups to learn more about:
- Age Division Ministry Perceptions – What is our preschool ministry doing well? What can we improve on? What is our student ministry doing well? What can we improve on?
- Community Outreach Focus Points – Is there a school we need to reach? Is there a neighborhood we need to reach?
- Facilities – What can we do to improve our facilities? For preschool families? For children’s famlies? For student families? For senior adults?
- First Impressions – How can we better assimilate guests and new members? What’s working and what isn’t?
- Small Groups – How can we grow our small groups? What new ideas do we need to consider?
- Recreation – How can our recreation ministry be used more effectively for outreach?
- New Ministry Initiatives – Is there a need for something new? What should this new ministry look like? Who? What? When? Where?
Interviews and Observation
Sometimes it helps to get away. Church staff teams face the daily grind of ministry with a view of church and community that’s reinforced by the people we know. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but fresh perspectives and new ideas can sometimes lead to new insights and thinking about our situation, context and ministry methods.
Taking a field trip to visit other churches is one of the most useful interview and observation approaches. Visit another ministry team to learn more about how they are accomplishing the same tasks you are charged with doing. The give and take of two teams, or even two pastors, in dialogue can reap incredible strategy and planning dividends!
Seek out other churches of similar size and philosophy, but also look for ministries at the next level. They might be larger churches with a similar vision for their church and community. Or it might be a staff team with some innovative approach to ministry, staff, facilities or something else.
Meet with a person or a group and then record your reflections and thoughts afterwards. What does the interview or observation say to ministry in your church and community?