Not So Fast!

One pastor that I talked to last week has ordered a batch of infrared thermometers, in anticipation of doing temperature checks at the door when his church reopens for worship. I don’t know if that’s the right move or not, but I want to suggest a different step that can be taken earlier and that is much less expensive. Let’s check the pulse of the congregation before we take their temperature.

Specifically, I think a series of “pulse surveys” can help you make wise decisions about when and how to begin gathering again. A brief (2-3 minute), online survey can give leaders input on what the congregation is thinking. By keeping it short, the same survey can be sent every 2 weeks to get a trend line on the changes in opinions and attitudes.

Why bother with a survey? Before you go through all the effort to reopen, wouldn’t you want to know if anyone will show up? Or when you get an angry email about your “online only” model, wouldn’t it be helpful to know if that person is part of a very small minority that happens to be very loud? And wouldn’t all of your congregation appreciate knowing that their leaders are listening?

A survey is not a vote, and you can’t guarantee that it will be representative of the whole congregation. It is certainly not a substitute for prayerful discernment. But it is a tool that leaders can use to help navigate uncertain times.

An example survey follows. Feel free to revise this example and use it in your congregation. If you want to see what the survey looks like in Survey Monkey, click here.

Introduction: Our church leadership is prayerfully and thoughtfully exploring how our congregation can begin to gather again. Most importantly, we are seeking God’s guidance in these decisions. We are also paying close attention to the orders and advice of our governmental officials and health experts. We want to hear from you as another importance source of input. Would you please take 5 minutes to complete this survey?

  1. Have you participated in one of our online worship services in the last several weeks? (Yes / No)
  2. If you have participated in one of our online worship services, did you experience worship and God’s presence more or less online compared to in-person worship? (More / About the same / Less) Comment: this question intentionally avoids asking what they “like” or “prefer.”
  3. Have you participated in an online small group or Bible study class in the last several weeks? (Yes / No)
  4. Are you in one of the groups that the CDC and health experts have identified as higher risk for serious health issues from covid-19? (Yes / No) Comment: The answer to this question is likely to have a direct bearing on how they answer other questions.
  5. If we began offering in-person worship soon, how likely is it that you would attend? (Likely / Depends on the safety precautions that are in place / Unlikely)Comment: “Safety precautions” are not spelled out in order to keep the survey quick and simple.
  6. If we began offering in-person worship soon, would you be comfortable bringing a relative or close friend who is in one of the higher risk groups? (Yes / Depends on the safety precautions that are in place / No) Comment: This and the next question are optional, but I believe they could be particularly informative.)
  7. If we began offering in-person worship soon, would you be comfortable bringing a child or grandchild? (Yes / Depends on the safety precautions that are in place / No / Not applicable)
  8. One possible first “phase” for our congregation is to gather in small groups in homes. Groups could participate in the online worship service together and then discuss the sermon. What is your reaction to this idea? (I prefer a small group gathering for our first phase / I prefer in-person worship at the church / I am not in a group but would be willing to join one to participate / I am not in a group and am not interested in joining one / I would not participate either in a small group or larger worship gathering) Comment: This question should only be asked if it is being considered as a first phase. Wording should be revised to fit your context.
  9. Which of the following activities are you either currently doing or currently willing to do? Check all that apply. (Going to work in an essential job / Going to work in a non-essential job / Going to the grocery store / Getting take-out or delivered food from a restaurant / Eating out in a restaurant / Going to a gym to work out / Getting a haircut / Going to a store to shop for non-essential items) Comment: This question paints a broader picture of what they will or won’t do.
  10. What is your age? (Under 20 / 20-29 / 30-39 / 40-49 / 50-59 / 60-69 / 70 or older) Comment: This allows segmentation of answers based on age. I have not included other demographic questions in order to keep the survey short.
  11. Is there any other input you want to offer to church leaders as we continue to prayerfully consider our next steps? (Open-ended) Comment: Open-ended questions take longer to answer and to tabulate, so this is the only one on this survey. This question is not shown in the online survey.

Would a survey like this be a helpful way for you to get the congregation’s pulse?

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