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Principles of Church Growth: Research

Meredith Mahon Morris March 5, 2018

When trying to promote and experience growth of the local church, whether in numbers or in depth of spiritual walk, church leaders must approach this growth both spiritually and practically.  One of the ways in which church leaders can intentionally seek after this outcome is by conducting a variety of research studies with regard to growth.  When integrated with a focus on prayer and identification of your church’s vision and mission, research can be a useful way to make serious progress in growing a congregation.

Research is defined as “the systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.” Nearly all of us have engaged in research at some time.  Research is a common activity for solving complicated problems or for making a variety of decisions.  It is natural, then, to believe that research can also be applied to church growth issues. It can help church leaders seeking the best way forward in creating a church home for believers.

Church growth research can have two points of focus: inward focus and outward focus.  Both are important and useful, and they can be implemented in tandem.

“Focusing inward” means researching within your own existing congregation to see who they are, why they began attending your church, and what causes them to stay week after week.  Church leaders have a wealth of information at their finger tips. That information can be used to help them make decisions and plans, and then implement them in a way that creates a sense of ownership among their members.  This inwardly-focused research is vital to the success of any church growth initiative and can be executed in a variety of ways.

1) Church leaders can conduct surveys of their church members.  These surveys can be paper surveys administered in person or conducted online.  Questions for the survey are carefully crafted to gather the specific information that will help church leaders make decisions.  Demographic information is valuable, simple, and non-threatening to gather and should be among the first questions on any survey.  Other questions can ask participants to rate their experiences at church, their satisfaction levels with programming, or the variety of church activities. Ample space can be given in the survey for open-ended questions that allow respondents to more clearly express their views.

2) Another effective method of researching the views of existing members is through personal interviews or focus groups.  The chance to sit down with people to discuss and unpack their opinions can provide excellent information.  These opportunities for discussion are excellent at producing a sense of ownership, as well as a feeling that church leaders are genuinely listening.  Many times these interviews and focus groups can be conducted by a third party or research firm to ensure that answers are forthcoming and honest.  In certain situations, church leaders can view the group being interviewed and give instant feedback to the interviewer if the respondents’ answers provoke ideas for additional questions not originally planned for the session.  One-on-one interviews can be in-depth, and can help church leaders see into the heart of their congregants.

In addition to researching opinions within the congregation, church leaders can take an “outward focus” and research the community and other churches.  Stepping outside the church can be beneficial to leaders who need a fresh perspective on reaching people in need of a real relationship with Jesus.  This research among others can take place with unchurched members of the community to find out what would make them attend any church.   Are there programs, activities, services, or sermons that would attract them in a way that thus far church has not?

In addition to surveying/interviewing the unchurched community, church leaders could also interview other churches that have grown successfully.  What did they do right?  What kind of attributes were critical to seeing more people attending services every week?  How did they see members grow in their relationships with God?  What staff members were essential to this growth?  How did they do it? The answers to these questions will be vital in replicating growth scenarios at home.

After the research is complete, it is essential that church leaders take time to analyze the data, apply it to their own congregation, and then liberally communicate the findings to their congregation.  Church growth requires ownership of the initiative by existing church members. There is no better way to create ownership than church leaders communicating their vision and methods to their people.  Communicate the generalities of the research findings but also create opportunities for people to learn more in special sessions with discussion.

Research is essential to church growth.  It will take time and effort and may have a moderately high price tag, but the benefits and outcomes of the research will be well worth the cost.  Starting with a practical solution like research will pay mighty dividends in seeing more people attend your church and grow in grace in their everyday lives.

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