By Perry Chang
Congregations examining their U.S. Congregational Life Survey results should keep in mind the three Cs: critical analysis, celebration, and context. The experiences of a couple of participating congregations underline the importance of the three Cs.
At a meeting at a New England congregation that participated in the survey, congregational leaders combed quickly through the reports. Leaders were tough on a couple of the reports’ features. One leader noticed that whether worshipers had many close friends who were part of the congregation formed part of the calculations for the Strengths Report’s “Sense of Belonging” measure. The leader objected to this factor, saying the fact that she had a mix of friends inside and outside of the congregation didn’t personally affect her strong sense of belonging.
We have tested the survey thoroughly. Interpreting the results, however, is an activity that folks in your congregation should undertake using the suggestions and resources we have supplied along with what they already know about your congregation. Instead of simply taking the results at face value, ask tough questions, compare the results and your own perceptions, and do a critical analysis. You’ll end up with a better interpretation of the results.
At a gospel concert later that weekend at the same New England congregation, church leaders celebrated their congregation’s strengths. They said: “According to the survey that the church took a couple of months ago, 91% of you feel the presence of God in our worship services. Well, tonight we want to work on that other 9%.”
Congregations may look at its scores on all 10 strengths and may eventually work on some challenging areas. Because the typical congregation has one to three strengths, we strongly encourage you to start with celebrating and building on those strengths. Like this congregation, celebrate your strengths and then ask yourselves: how can we do even better?
The New England congregation and a Deep South congregation that also participated in the survey faced similar opportunities and challenges: proximity to struggling inner-city neighborhoods and recent internal conflict. The Southern congregation had expanded its ministry to homeless and hungry people, but this ministry had made some people in the community nervous about traveling to the area around the church.
Other congregations participate in the survey soon after a beloved pastor or a perhaps a controversial pastor has left, and those situations can color results. Are worshipers still longing for the “good old days” when the former pastor was there each week? Or are they breathing a temporary sigh of relief?
Congregational leaders must keep their context and unique
circumstances in mind. A congregation’s
location, recent history, or involvement in a pastoral transition may position
the congregation in ways that the congregation or its leaders cannot simply wish
away. The pastor of the Southern congregation had recently been involved in a
conflict with members of the congregation’s governing board. That fact no doubt affected how worshipers on
different sides of that conflict responded to questions about pastoral
Congregational leaders must keep their context and unique circumstances in mind. A congregation’s location, recent history, or involvement in a pastoral transition may position the congregation in ways that the congregation or its leaders cannot simply wish away. The pastor of the Southern congregation had recently been involved in a conflict with members of the congregation’s governing board. That fact no doubt affected how worshipers on different sides of that conflict responded to questions about pastoral leadership.
As you look over your congregation’s survey results, don’t forget your particular context. A result that may look one way in the abstract may look entirely different in light of what you know about your context.
In short: when interpreting your congregation’s results, do a critical analysis, celebrate, and consider the context.