Self-Study Survey

What kind of preacher do we want? Will that kind of preacher want us?

Most Christians have an idea of the characteristics of the preacher they’d like to have. If the last preacher was their good friend, they probably want another just like him. Those aren’t available. If they didn’t like the former preacher, someone who is exactly opposite him would be good. There’s none of those.

Most want a preacher who lives like Jesus, studies like Paul, loves like John (when he was older), and visits and ministers like the Good Samaritan. It’s good to know what you are seeking, or you won’t know when you find him.

Have you thought about what prospective preachers are looking for in a congregation? How do they know if they fit the opportunities and expectations of the church? Are you aware the church is “trying out” as well as the preacher?

One helpful tool is a Self-Study Survey. I helped congregations administer one of these in each church where I’ve served as an interim.

There are several parts:

  1. Demographics: age, how long with the congregation, travel time to and from services.
  2. Involvement: roles, attendance, increase or decrease in involvement and why.
  3. Evaluation of programs and services of the congregation.
  4. How the congregation is like or different in its makeup compared to the community.
  5. Possible tasks of the future preacher and which are most important.
  6. Evaluation of the worship of the congregation.
  7. Thoughts on what makes a good sermon.
  8. Convictions on certain issues.
  9. Three open-ended questions:
    1. What would you tell the next preacher at this church?
    2. What advice would you give the elders of this church as they proceed?
    3. Please make any other comments that would be helpful for the health of this congregation during this time of transition or in the future.

The survey is anonymous. We don’t ask for names or save IP numbers of computers used.

Most congregations where I served used SurveyMonkey, an online survey tool. Paper copies are available for those who prefer and those who want to think before starting on the computer.

Filling out the survey takes forty-five minutes to an hour. We wanted, and have obtained, a number of at least half the Sunday morning attendance to complete the self-study.

My observations after administering and reading every word of surveys in six congregations:

  • Not everyone thinks alike. Some people who have different understandings are sitting on the pew with me — or very close.
  • Christians are at different stages in their growth, understanding, and service.
  • People have different expectations of a preacher.
  • The results of the survey can help men who are considering and being considered as the next preacher.
  • Open-ended questions are powerful. People have an opportunity to say what they’ve wanted to say. I’ve seen a change in the way those were shared. In the first two congregations, answers to the open-ended questions were not shared with the congregation. In the third, a committee summarized and paraphrased the answers to share with the church and prospective preachers. In the last three, answers were shared with the church and prospective preachers. I prefer the latter. The work of the search committee or elders is not to make the church look perfect, but to let a preacher know the challenges and opportunities before he gets there. This is one way to do this. If this isn’t the group he would like to serve, now’s the time to learn that. The best time to get a divorce is before you get married.
  • From my perspective, the most helpful thing about the survey is the thinking going on in the person completing the survey. Many have never thought of how complex leading and preaching to a group of people can be. Not everyone will get everything they want.

One of the most spiritual things a person can do is to think. One of the differences in fill-in preaching between preachers and interim ministry is the interim minister leads in several planned activities to encourage members to think about themselves and their relationship to the Lord, the effectiveness of the congregation and how it is serving Jesus, their community, and the world, and the transition going on in this church and their lives.

What would you do to help people make the transition after a long ministry?

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