4 Tips to Decoding Your Congregation’s Needs

Have you ever wondered who “They” are?

In many planning and strategy sessions at ministries across the country, this mystery group or clique known as “They” always show up with an amazing list of expectations “They” have for the ministry. “They” have needs which tend to drive ministry programming, budget decisions and ministry planning. But interestingly enough, no one is quite sure exactly who “They” are. For most ministry leaders, we just know that “They” exist.

Of course, “They” are the people in our pews. Unfortunately, ministry leaders are regularly guessing at what’s happening in the lives of the people who make up their congregation so we also guess at what their desires are for their local church. Some assumptions are spot on and hit the bull’s eye right in the center. For example, any church today that is helping people deal with employment issues would be pretty accurate considering this economy. But how you do that should be approached by engaging “They” in the conversation of how. With some clear strategies of getting feedback from them, you will discover some amazing and creative ways to invest in their lives in a meaningful way.

Here are 4 tips for decoding the needs of your congregation:

  1. Your church can provide a monthly and/or quarterly environment where idea sharing takes place. You could call it Discovery Place or Vision Night or Family Talk. The point is to get everyone talking about the forward direction of the ministry.
  2. Your Pastor and Senior Leadership Team should regularly engage in strategic sessions to evaluate not just the “What” of your ministry, but the “How” of your ministry? The “What” focuses on the Vision and Mission, while the “How” focuses on the methods and strategies of implementation.
    Do you evaluate why you do meetings on Tuesday nights versus Saturday mornings? How do you know that Tuesday’s are the best days? Is that an assumption or have you had your target audience complete anonymous surveys?
  3. Allow for anonymous feedback about how your ministry is operating. In today’s culture, many of the individuals who can provide amazing insights and perspectives will only do so if they can keep their anonymity. If any ministry leader demands that everyone’s names and thoughts are visible, there may be a few valuable points of view that you are missing out on.
  4. Ensure that the congregation genuinely feels that they can be honest in their feedback. I’ve learned through discussions with a host of leaders across multiple denominations and ministry backgrounds that many members hesitate or have fear about sharing their true feelings at the risk of appearing insubordinate.
    Insubordination always has the wrong spirit in its approach. Honest desire to see the ministry grow will allow feedback to be offered in the right spirit. If the leadership is intimated in their leading and opposed to ideas coming from everyone or if the leadership unwisely intimidates members into a controlled atmosphere at all times, members will always suppress their true feelings.

Bottom Line: There’s no greater way to discover what “They” want and need than to ask “They.”

There are formal survey opportunities that exist (e.g. surveymonkey.com) to get surveys out to all of the members electronically. There are also less formal, yet engaging ways to create environments where members can discuss their thoughts candidly (e.g. Polleverywhere.com)

And, of course, there are the traditional, yet effective, methods of face-to-face conversations, lunch/dinner meetings, small groups, coffee chats or even written assessments. The clear strategy here is to eliminate the assumptions and ask.

As a father, I have been guilty of making assumptions of how my children want to have fun. One day, as we were preparing to simply connect as a family, I rounded up my wife and kids, stopped by the bank to get cash for whatever adventure that my kids would suggest. When we asked them what they wanted to do that day, their response was amazingly humbling. It was simply, “Stay home and hang out with you all.” We made assumptions that their request needed to be off-site, expensive and elaborate, while their hearts’ desire was at home, free and surprisingly simple. It’s forced us to ask more and assume less.

I believe your budget, ministry calendar, and volunteer investment could be much simpler if you would simply ask what “They” need and want.

Christopher J. Harris, a native of Palatka, Florida, is Director of Ministry Operations of the historic mega-church Fellowship Church of Chicago. He is also Overseer of Youth for Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International. Harris currently resides in Chicago with his wife and children. www.ChristopherJHarris.com.

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