Administering congregational surveys

By Jim LaDoux
As you begin to prepare to launch a congregational survey to create a clear picture of your congregation's current reality and future potential, use the information below to help you developed a detailed plan for promoting the survey, managing the process, and sharing with your congregations the learnings that come out of the survey experience.

Steps for conducting the Congregation Survey

1 | Identify WHO will take the survey.  This is called the Assessment Roll. People who take the survey should be “invested and able.” This would include those who demonstrate their investment in the future of the church through some combination of worship attendance, participation/leadership in ministry/education, and/or financial support. It should include those who have the maturity and experience in the church to understand the importance of the assessment and can accurately interpret the questions.  They must also possess the ability to complete the assessment in one sitting.  We suggest that you avoid inviting people to take the survey who:
  • live permanently out of town,
  • haven't contributed nor attended in the last 12 months,
  • are physically or emotionally unable to cope with the assessment,
  • are under 16 years of age.

2 |  Identify WHEN the survey will be administered. Most congregations complete the survey process in 3-4 weeks. Avoid extending the survey beyond 4 weeks. It's hard to maintain enthusiasm for taking the survey beyond 4 weeks and it delays the visioning team from beginning to interpret the data. Have a plan for continually reminding people about the report. Create a sense of urgency for getting it done.  Provide members with a weekly update on the importance of the survey along with how many people have completed the survey. Have the visioning team and elected leaders take the survey first (before members taking it) so that they can answer questions about the survey if members ask.

3 | Identify HOW the survey will be administered. Offer both online and paper versions of the survey. You will likely be using a combination of a unique web link distributed by email and paper copies.  Some churches with webmasters enjoy posting a password protected page on their website. Concerning sending emails, compile a list of members on the Assessment Roll that have current email addresses and then send an email blast template with these addresses. You will need to make paper copies from the PDF provided for the few who cannot take the survey on-line. Decide how you are going to distribute these surveys. Consider making them available only in the church office. Increase your return rate by providing members with a self-addressed stamped envelopes with the church’s address on it.  DO NOT provide for general distribution of the paper copies unless it's for a specific gathering where people will fill it out at the event. Encourage people to not discuss questions before taking the survey. Make arrangements for church computers, laptops, and tablets to be available to those who do not have access to computers at home.  If your church has wireless internet capabilities, some folks will be willing to share their laptops to set up “computer labs” at designated times.

4 | Schedule an interpretation session with the visioning team. This should occur within 2-3 weeks after the survey is closed.

5 | Share data from the survey report with Visioning Retreat participants before and during the retreat.

6 | Create a plan for informing members of the congregation.  Share key findings of the report at leadership meetings, during worship, via the website, social media sites, and e-newsletters. Offer information that's interesting to most people in bite-sized portions. Avoid trying to share all the findings in a single setting (with the exception of hosting an all-church congregational forum). Create a schedule for when and what types of information will be communicated, and on what platforms.

Tips for using paper surveys & increasing participation

Providing paper surveys usually increases member participation but it's not unusual that many of the surveys cannot be process due to surveys frequently being returned incomplete and/or filled out incorrectly.
  • Encourage people to read the instructions!
  • Emphasize that incomplete surveys result in data that cannot be used.

To lessen the use of paper surveys: 
  • Create “Computer Stations.”  Borrow laptops from willing members and inviting folks to take the survey at an allotted time. Many folks who are mildly computer phobic can easily manage the survey with a little help.
  • Use the Buddy System. Can congregation members who are computer comfortable work with a nearby congregational member who needs a little more support.
  • Offer Coffee Hours and Computer Time. Have computer stations set up after worship and near to the area that provides after worship refreshments, or before or after events held during the week.

To increase participation
  • Start verbally publicizing the upcoming assessment in worship, committee meetings, education classes, choir rehearsal, church bulletins, and any other time and place you can think of.  These announcements should include basic information about the surgery that's found in Script #1.
  • Send text messages to all ministry team leaders asking them to take the survey immediately and invite their team members to take the survey (assuming that they're part of the Assessment Roll).
  • Have Visioning Team members text members of the congregation they know and invite them to take the survey.  Include the survey link in the text.

SCRIPT 1 - Introducing the Survey (We want to know your story!)

"Our congregation recently agreed to move forward with Vibrant Faith Ministries to help us plan our future. You have been selected to participate in the first step which is to conduct a congregational assessment. This assessment will provide a clear picture of who we are as a church and what directions are most important for our future. The tool we'll use is the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT), which will provide key indicators of our congregation's health along with areas of challenge and potential growth. It will help us to collect and understand the range of views that exist at insert your church name and the possibilities, willingness, capacity and energy for moving our ministry into the future.  Within the next few days, you will receive a unique web link to complete the assessment online.  If you would prefer to take the assessment using a paper copy, please stop by the office to complete the survey or pick up a form to take home.  We will provide  you with a self-addressed stamped envelope to send your form back to the church.

NOTE:  If there is only one email address for all members of your household, it may be tempting to have one person take the survey on behalf of the family.  However, please be sure that individuals 16 years and older who are living in your home have an opportunity to complete the survey.  INDIVIDUAL INPUT is key to our gaining insight into overall perceptions and experiences. Please set aside 15-17 minutes to complete the survey. All survey responses are strictly anonymous.

Thank you for your willingness to be a part of this congregational assessment and for helping to build your (church name) future. If you have questions, please contact (insert name(s) at (insert email and phone contact information).

SCRIPT 2 -  Email to Assessment Roll participants

Our church has entered into a time of discernment during which we are gathering information to guide our decisions for our future.  Recently, you have heard and read about one aspect of this process: The Church Assessment Tool (CAT).  This tool will provide a clearer picture of who we are as a church and what directions might be important for our future.  Your response is very important to us and we ask that you take the on-line assessment as soon as possible, but before enter date. All answers are strictly anonymous.  We have no way of matching any assessment to a particular person, so please feel free to candidly share your perceptions, opinions and experiences.  The assessment will take approximately enter 15-17 minutes to complete.  Please set aside enough time to complete the survey all at one time.  Our future together is dependent on your participation and honest answers. When you are ready, click on this link and begin.
(Copy and paste the Survey Monkey link here).
Many thanks,
The Visioning Team

SCRIPT 3 - Email reminder asking "Do we know your story yet?"

A few days ago, you should have received the link to your CAT survey.  If you haven’t already, please set aside 15-17 minutes to complete the assessment.  Your PERSONAL STORY is critical to your leaders as they plan for our future.  PLEASE MAKE THIS A PRIORITY THIS WEEK if you haven’t already shared your experiences and perspectives by participating in this important process.  For your convenience, the link to your CAT is provided again below.
(Insert CAT link)
Please remember-this link is not transferable.  Please do not forward it.
If you have questions, please contact insert name and contact information of team member who is available to answer questions
Many thanks,
(insert CAT survey coordinator)


  1. Who will serve as the CAT coordinator?
  2. When will the survey process start and end?
  3. When will the visioning team meet to interpret results?
  4. Who will provide weekly response updates to the congregation?
  5. Who will share "research findings/nuggets" with the congregation?
  6. When and where will the Vision Retreat be held?

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