Dr. Jay A. Barber is President Emeritus of Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon. He is an experienced pastor and church leader who has served as an intentional interim for a number of churches in leadership transition. NL Moore & Associates thanks him for this blog post.
It is always a challenging time for church leaders and the congregation when a pastor transitions out of leadership. In most cases the lead pastor has been called to a new leadership opportunity, or in some cases, the leadership transition is the result of difficult circumstances within the church that creates challenges church leadership and the congregation need to address.
Church boards, whether called Elder Board, Session, Council, etc., are typically drawn and formed from those who are recognized as lay leaders in the congregation and are often representative of the “rank and file” of the church.
As these leaders begin the process of thinking and praying about the next pastoral leader, it is tempting for them to assume they pretty much know what the membership is thinking and looking for in their next pastor.
From my experience, they could very well be wrong.
Following are five important reasons to survey the congregation, seeking their input in terms of where they see the congregation’s strengths and weaknesses lie, issues that need to be addressed, and the kind of leadership style needed as the church looks to the future. The value of a congregational assessment includes:
- Inviting congregants’ perspective on an important range of issues makes a clear statement to the membership that their opinion is valid and valued.
- The survey results represent the common voice of the congregation and offer leadership a clear and accurate profile of the kind and style of pastoral leadership that the congregation is seeking for this next phase in the life of the church.
- The results may reveal significant areas of needed change and dissatisfaction that must be addressed prior to the selection and arrival of a new pastor.
- The results may address inaccurate assumptions that leaders are making about the congregation (example: we are an aging congregation when the survey may show just the opposite, or we are generally healthy when the survey may reveal the church is “stuck” or in a pattern that is unhealthy).
- Finally, a good survey will contain benchmark data that compares how the individual congregation compares with hundreds of other congregations who have taken the survey in the past. This comparative insight provides an accurate perspective and picture of the current health of the church and where adjustments will be most helpful to move the congregation toward dynamic growth and vitality.
As an interim pastor who has served a number of congregations during leadership transition, I have personally witnessed the dramatic and positive results for congregations who have surveyed their members during seasons of pastoral change. The investment of time and resources provide an excellent return on the investment for the future of every congregation.