Soil Samples – Analyzing the Culture of Your Church

The first step in any soil analysis is to dig in various places in order to better reveal the specific makeup of the ground and determine its quality. From a ministry perspective, this means tapping into a diverse number of people, because if you don’t, you will get unreliable results. So, here are some of the groups you’ll need to engage:

Church Leaders The leaders are the influencers in the church, or at least they are representatives who are acting on behalf of the influencers. And if you are ever going to enhance the culture of your congregation, you will need to have a critical mass of your leaders on board. Therefore, you need to start by evaluating the personalities, beliefs, convictions, and spiritual health of the leadership. Are your board members passive or active? Do they lead or micromanage? Do they represent a cross section of the church or just a subset? Do they live in the past or look to the future?...

Then you must look at your staff and lay leaders. Are they working together as a team or just as individuals? What issues or beliefs are they unified on? What are the strengths and weakness of individual staff members? What are their passions? Do they love the Lord, or are they just doing a job? Do they have individual agendas and convictions? Are there any holes or obvious gaps in the staffing that is limiting the church?...

The Congregation After you’ve evaluated the leadership, you then need to address the church as a whole. This doesn’t mean that every single person needs to participate, but you do need to connect with various groups of people, giving as many as you can an opportunity to engage. This not only gives you good information, but it also gives people ownership of the process. Here are some suggestions for going about this…

Use a formal survey that is outsourced or purchased to engage the congregation. You can find consultants or organizations that already have surveys put together. Talking to other church leaders or a simple Google search can connect you with some of these. If you decide to go this route, be sure you select a survey that will help you uncover mindsets and values, not just personal preferences.

You can also develop your own survey based upon your own set of questions… Just make sure your survey is not too long. Fewer questions that are well constructed are always better.

Another option is to put together focus groups by gathering people together and giving them a prepared set of questions to discuss. Focus groups can be extremely helpful because they are conversationally based, which allows for a deeper probing of issues and a wider range of questions. But I would suggest you have someone from the outside come in to lead these discussions if you go this route. People tend to be more honest talking to someone from outside the church, and outside facilitators are going to be more objective...

Visitors – Getting visitor feedback is another way to gather soil samples because people on the inside almost always have a different experience than people who are guests… Therefore, you need some form of an exit interview with your guests in order to understand what they see, feel, and experience.

You can do exit interviews with visitors in a variety of ways. You can send them cards in the mail or e-mail them. You can give them follow-up phone calls. Or, if your church has enough visitor flow, you can set up a dinner or focus group meeting for new people who are just starting to attend…

Outside Eyes On top of this, it’s important to bring in people with wisdom and an unbiased opinion to speak into your ministry. One day I invited an experienced pastor named Jerry Harris to visit our church. I began giving Jerry a tour of our building, and we weren’t five minutes into our time together when he said bluntly, “Your building is killing you.” Then he gave me several specific things he saw to back up his statement. We knew that our building limited us, but Jerry’s words gave us a sense of urgency and opened our eyes to some blind spots.

The bottom line is you need to step outside of your own bubble, and you must talk with your leaders, the congregation, visitors, and outside advisors. Ask lots of questions, and ask good questions. Once you tap into the right groups and ask the right questions, you must listen well and reflect upon what you are hearing…but that’s a topic for next week…

--from Chapter 11 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation

Next week, I will offer more insights from Chapter 11, specifically what to do with the information you’ve gathered.