We do this with couples (or families) as much as possible, instead of with groups, because the “bonding” aspect of the experience is vastly superior in two-on-two sessions. I think that the quality of the information gleaned is also inversely proportional to the size of the group. Obviously, this wouldn’t work in a larger church, unless the sessions were considered “representative” instead of exhaustive, or the visits were confined to the leaders (which would give a skewed result).
Go to homes as much as you can. We will meet folks at restaurants if we have to, but you get to know people much better if you go to their homes. We tell folks that they don’t have to feed us; just let us come over for a couple hours (and you do need at least a couple of hours) and we will be grateful. In people’s homes you see what they’ve made (including their children), remodeled, collected and cherished. You meet the dogs, cats, lizards and goldfish and get a tour of the family photos on the walls.
I let people see the questions ahead of time so they’re not so frightened. If you just tell people you want to come to their house and ask them questions they’ll think they’re going to be interrogated. We even have people who’ve had us over first tell the rest of the church that it “wasn’t so bad!”
I change the questions with every new church, both because I keep changing my mind about which are the most important questions and because each church is different. There are some questions which I need not ask repeatedly (especially the one about knowing what your church’s mission and vision are) because I know the answer before I ask.
We always tell folks that it’s okay to not answer some of the questions. Pleading ignorance is fine.
I deliberately skip some of the questions with folks whom I know are new to the church and aren’t going to have good answers.
After about three months, I carefully compile the gleanings from these sessions and present the results to the leaders first and the entire congregation eventually, usually in connection with the proposal of a “revitalization plan.” Showing folks what their peers have said is so much more powerful than simply making your own observations. You do not present complete gleanings of course, because some folks say shocking things, which would be immediately recognizable as coming from them when presented to the congregation. I have used a number of instruments for gauging the health of a church but feel that this method is far more accurate and complete than any other. I highly recommend taking the time to do this right.
With that said, here’s the list as I used it last, with a few suggestions for alternative questions at the end. If you want more, consult Lyle Schaller’s great book, “The Interventionist” which is teeming with great questions to ask. The bold and italicized notes have been added by way of explanation.
PASTOR BRIAN’S (20 questions) LISTENING SESSIONS
Dear Friends: Here are the questions Donna and I would like to come to your homes to talk to you about. (You don’t have to write down any answers.) As you can see, there’s nothing scary or terribly personal here. We want to get to know you as people and we want to gain a good understanding of the health of the church. We’ve found that asking these questions is an invaluable part of getting to know the churches we are seeking to help.
Can we get together? Call us at ____________________ or find Brian at church.
Name of individual or family: _________________________ Date:_______
1. Where are you from & how did you get to this area?
2. When/how did you come to know Christ?
3. When/how did you come to this church?
4. What services or groups do you attend?
5. Do you have a ministry at this church?
6. What do you like best about this church?
7. How does this church need to change?
8. What do you think this church does best?
9. If you could do any ministry in the church, what would it be? This is not to sign people up but to help uncover their “ministry passions” or maybe even a God-given church vision.
10. Do you know what your spiritual gifts are? (Or “How you are most effective at serving God?”)
11. At what stage would you place this church? (I show folks a “church life-cycle” bell curve, to which I’ve added numbers so that I can objectify this process a bit and tell the congregation quite accurately what they think about their church.)
12. Which of the “interim congregation developmental tasks” do you feel we need to work on? (On Brian’s “9 redevelopment tasks” chart found elsewhere on this site)
13. Are there any of the interim characters that you identify with? (This is a reference to the interim characters, like “Harry Hopeless” found elsewhere on this site.)
14. Are any of the issues or emotions from Brian’s chart things that you see in our church at this time? (This also comes from a handout, on issues and emotions during the interim time. Found on this site.)
15. Do you have any “big dreams” for your church? (something you’d LOVE to see happen here) (This helps me get to know the people I’m talking to and also tells me if this church has a common, God-given vision. It can be downright exciting to find out that it does!)
16. How hard was it for you to get friends and get involved when you came to the church?
17. What do you understand to be the purpose or mission of your church? (What’s it for?)
18. Are you aware of a vision that your leaders have for your church’s future? (What do they want it to become?)
19. Who are the people you most respect/admire at _____________Church? (This can be very helpful in identifying future leaders, “power brokers,” and current leaders who are not actually respected.)
20. What does this church do on an annual basis that you really look forward to? (This question is for uncovering values and traditions that I’m apt to get in trouble for not knowing about. It does the new pastor NO GOOD AT ALL to ask people to identify their church’s traditions or sacred cows – which the new pastor better not slaughter – as very few people are conscious of these.)
MORE POSSIBILITIES (though I wouldn’t try to do more than 20 total):
- Is there anything else you’d like to tell me, while you have my undivided attention? (Ask this last, when people are now comfortable with you. It can be very educational!)
- Would you be interested in being part of a leadership training group? If so, what time of day, day of the week, etc.?
- If you were going to attend half-day seminars to equip you for the Christian life and Christian ministry, what would be the best time slot, Saturday mornings, Saturday afternoons or Sunday afternoons?
- How does change typically happen in this church? Where do change initiatives usually begin, and how smoothly does the process go? Tell me what happened the last time your leaders proposed a change…
- How do people handle their conflicts with each other in this church?
- How do people handle their complaints against their leaders in this church?
- Who is in the driver’s seat in the church van? (This is my expanded version of the “car” illustration. In the ideal situation, Vision is in the driver’s seat, Relationships are in the front passenger seat, Programs and Policies are in the car, but in the back seats, where they belong. In my new, expanded version, the car becomes a minivan with room for two more passengers: traditions and fears. In my opinion, traditions and fears should be in the “way back” seats of the van. Not everyone would want to tackle this question, but some would.)
One more note: We always invite people to give me a call if they think of something a week or two after the visit that they wish they had said. Lots of people – like me – process things slowly. People love being known and heard.