Tips for creating an effective congregational survey

When discussions about calling a minister gear up, often the first thought is to distribute a congregational survey about the essential competencies and priorities of a pastoral leader. Surveys can help clarify the church’s needs because they ask the same questions of everyone, yield responses from a range of congregants, and collect a lot of written information. Surveys can also muddy the waters if they are not executed well. Here are some tips for making your survey as useful as possible.

Identify the goal(s) of the survey. What do the survey distributors hope to gain from this exercise?

Ask questions that elicit the most helpful responses. How will the questions focus respondents on the church’s needs rather than the survey-taker’s preferences? What information will be most useful to the search team? What kinds of survey questions will draw out that information?

Decide on the right number of questions. What survey length will be comprehensive enough to get needed information but not so long as to discourage people from taking it? What is the proper balance between multiple choice/rating questions and free-response questions?

Provide multiple means for taking the survey. Utilizing electronic and hard copy options will allow church members to complete the survey no matter what their comfort level with/access to technology and attendance patterns are.

Determine the best window for survey distribution. Don’t send out the survey so soon after the previous minister’s departure that responses are merely reactions to the minister’s successes and shortcomings. Do send it out before the creation of key search documents such as the congregational profile and position description. Ensure that the survey is available for a long enough time that everyone will see it and have a chance to respond, but not so long that people will put off filling it out.

Be clear about who will see the survey responses and how the responses will be used. Transparency about the handling of the survey will build trust around the search process and send the message that the congregation’s input is important.

Use the survey in tandem with – not in place of – congregational conversations. Surveys can be conducted before churchwide discussions, and the survey responses can help shape those events. Surveys can also be used as follow-up after congregational conversations.