In many congregational visioning and planning processes, discussion is centered on the church’s needs and members’ personal preferences. These foci are largely the results of internal and external (e.g., denominational) pressures to grow and the desire to be the most attractive “product” for potential newcomers. They are also the key ingredients for lopsided community relationships and wide-ranging expectations that are impossible to meet, leading to discouragement or outright conflict when they are not satisfied.
Over the past year I have been developing an approach to planning that is grounded in an ongoing exploration of gifts, both of the congregation and community. This process is not intended to be a denial of the very real needs that our church members and neighbors face but a means of starting to address them out of possibility, strength, and sustainability. It is intended to re-focus the individual and collective gaze from buying into a manufactured narrative of scarcity to noticing the often-overlooked workings of God all around us, honoring gifts from God in each person, and inviting ever closer a reign of God characterized by hospitality, connectedness, and abundance.
Over the next few weeks I will be sharing elements of this planning process. To kick off this series, I offer to you a survey that answers the question, “Who are the people in my congregation?” The prompts are designed to get beyond Sunday morning small talk, digging deeper into each survey-taker’s engagement with the church, gifts, networks, aspirations, and spiritual journey.
Plan well for survey distribution. The survey will have the highest rate of completion if it is handed out and worked on during some sort of extended gathering time (Sunday School, congregational meeting, etc.). Everyone who is able to communicate should take at least part 2. Helpers can read the questions, adapting them as needed, and record the responses for those who don’t read or write well. Be sure to mail, email, or make the survey available online for those who are unable to fill it out in person.
As part of an invitation to take the survey, communicate some key information for transparency and trust-building. State clearly the overall purpose(s) of the information-gathering, which information will be collected anonymously and which will have names attached, and who will collect and collate the information.
See the people survey
Part 1 – Demographic survey – anonymous
- Gender identity
- Family composition (e.g, number of adults and children in the home)
- Distance from residence to church
Part 2 – Individual gifts survey – named (detachable for submitting separately from demographics)
- Length of membership at this church
- Church leadership roles held (past and present)
- What are the three things about our church that you love most?
- Relationship-related questions
- Where do/did you go to school?
- Where do/did you work?
- Where do you volunteer in the community?
- What clubs, organizations, or professional networks do you belong to?
- What businesses in the community do you frequent?
- Gift-related questions
- What skills or talents do you use in your work (paid or volunteer)?
- What do you make/create?
- What do you most enjoy doing?
- What do others tell you that you do well?
- Aspiration-related questions
- What community issues do you care most about?
- What would you do if you had unlimited resources, including time?
- Faith-related questions
- When you feel closest to God, what are you doing or where are you?
- When you feel most distant from God, what are you doing or where are you?
- What would you most like to learn related to the Bible, your faith, or church life?
Collect and collate the survey results. Offer a prayer of thanks for people’s gifts and their willingness to share about them.
Next week’s post will focus on taking stock of the congregation’s collective gifts.