Grace Institute News

August 5, 2013 

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the problem with surveys 

survey puzzle

It isn't unusual in church life to make big decisions by taking a survey. What kind of pastor should we call next? What are the favorite hymns of the congregation? How does the congregation feel about building a new facility? Should we move to two services?

These surveys are great in order to get a sense of what people are thinking. But there are several problems with making decisions based on them alone. Here are a few:

Surveys are not always vision-friendly. People respond to surveys mostly out of what they know and want. Vision asks people to move beyond their preference to something unfamiliar.

Surveys tend to be reactive. If used for a pastoral search process, they tend to put a church in a pendulum swing--choosing an opposite style of pastor rather than a style that may be most needed.

Surveys also tend to be more friendly to the past, producing negative reaction to a change that is unfamiliar. Even the Israelites asked to go back to being slaves in Egypt rather than moving forward into the unknown.

Surveys can kill off the new. "Sing a new song to the Lord" would probably never happen if dependent upon a survey. Did you know most churches sing the same 50 (nonseasonal) songs every year!?

Some issues that a church deals with need a combination of in-depth prayer, hours of reflection, intense conversation, and study. When a survey is offered to make those decisions, it gives equal weight to the opinions of people who may spend no time at all with God in prayer or in reflection about the life and health of the church and those who do.

Surveys are often the easy way out. It is much easier to just do a survey and assume God has spoken than to actually spend the time discerning the call of God.

These a just a few of the complications. Are surveys ever helpful? They can be. But usually in measuring effectiveness, not determining direction. (For example: Is a new program reaching the intended audience?) So be careful when and how you use this device in church life. It may not be yielding what you are hoping for.
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Michelle Jenks

Grace Institute