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Study shows what pastors are hoping to improve. Encouraged/discouraged?

March 7, 2012

Barna Research recently conducted a nationwide research project by asking pastors in what ways they are likely to improve their churches in the next year (you can read the whole report here). Respondents were presented with 12 possible activities and asked to rate the priority of each activity. Many, though not all, of these 12 activities related to getting assistance, expertise or resources from organizations outside the church.

Here are some of the highlights. Have a read.

Here is my question: In reading how pastors will be focusing their time for improvement in their churches, does this encourage you or discourage you about the future of the Western church?

Looking at the big picture of the research findings, pastors revealed that assessment was a significant strategic priority of today’s faith leaders. Of the dozen priorities examined in the study, pastors are most interested in getting clarity about their organization’s vision and mission. In all, 59% said they were “definitely” going to “assess your church’s vision and mission” in the next year. Out of the 12 improvement priorities assessed in the study, this easily ranked as highest.

Pastors also rated other forms of assessment higher than they did other priorities. This included “assessing their church’s reputation in their community” (38%) and “measuring the demographic and spiritual needs of their community” (31%). These ranked two and three out of the dozen priorities.

Overall, the sixth-ranked priority was “conducting an assessment of spiritual transformation in your church,” noted by 22% of pastors.

Revamping and Investing
When it came to upgrading and retooling their organization, the most common priorities of pastors were “focusing on safety and security issues” (25%) and “revamping the budgeting and spending process” (25%).

Other priorities that could be categorized as upgrading their church’s ministry capacity and tools include investing in “facilities and equipment for children” (22%), “audio and visual equipment” (19%), “facilities and equipment for youth and teens” (18%), and “technology and digital media” (18%).

Funding and Staffing
The third tier of priorities related to the use of fundraising and staff development experts. Just 6% of churches said they would definitely “work with an organization to help increase giving” and only 2% were inclined to “hire a search firm to help you hire the right person.” While more than seven out of 10 churches (72%) rely on at least one outside consultant each year, getting such assistance for fundraising and staffing were generally perceived to be rare needs.

Church Size and Leader Age
The size of the church often plays a role in pastors’ priorities, but not as much as one might expect. Among churches with fewer than 100 adult attenders, most of the dozen priorities were of equal importance to those of larger church leaders. Yet small church pastors were less inclined to want community demographics, less focused on safety and security issues, less likely to change budgeting, and less inclined to invest in technology.

Mid-sized churches (100-250 adults) were more likely than average to plan on investing in equipment for children, youth and teenagers as well as upgrading their audio and visual tools.

Large churches (251-plus attenders) were more likely than average to want to measure demographics, revamp financial processes, and work with fundraising consultants. These leaders were less inclined than average to purchase audio-visual equipment, perhaps figuring that their current set of tools are adequate for now.

Some differences were found by the age of the pastor as well. Pastors under 45 were more interested than average in technology and digital media, while those between the ages of 45 and 63 expressed above-average interest in fundraising help. Pastors who are ages 64 and older were higher than their peers when it came to measuring spiritual transformation.

Encouraged or discouraged about the future of the church when you read something like this?

19 Comments leave one →
  1. March 7, 2012 1:26 pm

    I guess I’d have to say somewhat discouraged. It still seems like we’re using the wrong metrics to define “success” or “effectiveness” & that discipleship/spiritual formation is still seen as one “program” among many, instead of the driving force behind why we do what we do. We’re still trying to build the church & hoping disciples will pop up amidst the efforts…or else forgetting the whole disciple-making thing altogether.

  2. brianawilliamson permalink
    March 7, 2012 1:31 pm

    Assessing is great to see on this list, provided we are assessing the most important things to Jesus and not to our own egos. So the idea of assessment encourages me greatly. Since we inspect what we expect, as I glance at the other areas I’m not convinced we’re assessing the best things.

  3. March 7, 2012 1:37 pm

    Mike, I am discouraged when I read this research. Not because I don’t believe those pursuits and priorities aren’t worthwhile – but because, after 15 years in denominational leadership, I no longer believe those tweaks and shifts can bring about the deep change that so many of our leaders and churches desperately need. The key question in my mind these days is “what is the engine that can produce and sustain enough energy to drive the kind of change that will impact the culture of a church’s leadership?” I do not believe better AV, more robust demographics, or a good assessment tool can generate that kind of gut-level energy (although a good assessment could serve as a wake up call and begin the process of repentance and faith…) As God continues to humble and shape me into the kind of leader he wants me to be (and I have a long way to go) I am praying that those of us who lead will truly own the reality of Psalm 51:17; “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” I believe, for most of us, our first step must be Spirit led repentance.

  4. March 7, 2012 1:46 pm

    Definitely saddened by it. Of all the things that the New Testament and even early Christian literature, especially the Didcahe, indicate are the primary concerns of the Church, none of them are listed here. This all turns on marketing services to a consumer population rather than disciple making, and George Barna has probably done more than most promote twisted view of success in Church/ministry.

  5. March 7, 2012 1:53 pm

    We pastors, as a breed, spend far too much time assessing and not near enough time doing. Perhaps it’s time for the vast majority of pastors to stop assessing vision and mission and start casting and modeling vision and mission.

    Revamping literally means attaching new uppers to old boots – yet again. We know what Jesus said about new wine skins and patching garments. It’s probably time for most of us to invest in some new boots and take a hike out into the mission field. The survey respondents’ singular focus on investing in infrastructure discourages me. What would it look like for churches to choose to invest at least equally in extrastructure – i.e. assets in the community-at-large?

    “Yet small church pastors were less inclined to want community demographics…” It’s hard to invest in the community if we don’t intimately understand it. The striking opposite: “Large churches were more likely than average to want to measure demographics…” Small churches take note: if we do what we’ve always done, we get what we’ve always got.

    Barna’s findings are congruent with studies showing decline and crisis in the U.S. American church. We’ve got the ladder up on the wrong wall.

  6. March 7, 2012 2:16 pm

    Maybe it’s true that wisdom is found in white hair … But sad to know that only pastors age 64 or above is interested in Spiritual Formation !
    Hopefully we can change that – and soon…

  7. March 7, 2012 2:36 pm

    I would have to agree with Deacon. I felt that discipleship/ spiritual formation was lacking. I feel that researching demographics will lead to a more appropriate formation plan, but there was a bigger focus on stuff and not enough on people and bringing them to the heart of Jesus.

  8. March 7, 2012 2:38 pm

    Yes. That is, I’m encouraged, and discouraged. As one who just recently entered my 6th decade of life, I am encouraged to see that the more seasoned pastors were more eager to measure spiritual transformation. Actually that’s what we’re working on here. We want to go beyond counting only “nickels and noses” to a deeper definition of discipleship. So we are going to count other things, like huddles, missional communities, etc. But even these are only statistics. They’re not wins per se. We want to help people assess themselves in the walk with Jesus, so we will invite our members to assess their own spiritual maturity in behaviors and values suggested by an UP-IN-OUT priority of discipleship.

  9. Greg Pipkin permalink
    March 7, 2012 2:46 pm

    Discouraged… but not in a surprising way. On average, the business focus of larger churches and the insulated approach of smaller churches is nothing new. We know how to lead and grow churches. Now, if we could just train those energies on leading and growing people, we might actually change our world.

  10. Kelly permalink
    March 7, 2012 3:06 pm

    I am discouraged by reading the findings. Disclaimer, I am not in professional ministry, I am an average Joe who attends church and loves Christ. I love the dialogue here because the church is decaying and eroding rapidly. I will share my observations as a spectator and congregant.

    Most of the questions asked are derived from business models. I am encouraged by the pastors over 65 who are “measuring” spiritual transformation. It seems they have developed habits and a mindset of administering church prior to the implementation of the business models that churches now use. I like this.

    There was a time when I was an average church goer, humming along every Sunday morning at a large mega church in Arizona. Then, a group of dynamic leaders came in and began to teach biblical principles at a deep level, they were no longer dumbing it down for the masses. Finally I was sitting upright in the pew paying attention. The leaders shared some basic biblical principles, a few tools, that would help me wrap my hands around not all, but some, biblical principles to live by, to begin to shape my life around.

    The pastor was Mike Breen and the basic principles were provided via Life Shapes. What happened in my life is that as God began to work, Christ in my life, there was movement.

    The “metric” that churches, or pastors need to use is MOVEMENT. You will know that your discipleship is effective when there is movement in your church body. People going “out there” to do “that thing” with “that group.”

    Church is not about bodies in the seats, new playground equipment, new AV equipment, fundraising efforts, or assessments. This is all business model stuff. Church is about movement in Christ, the spiritual transformation the senior pastors speak of. In my opinion, and what I have experienced, is that this happens when you stop worrying about how many and start teaching deep Biblical and spiritual principles using a handful of tools that folks can get their hands around. You are not going to teach everyone the whole bible. What with jobs and families, that’s your job! But you can provide some basics, drill them home at intelligent levels, and then watch what happens: movement. This is the metric of spiritual transformation.

    • March 8, 2012 2:14 pm

      ” The “metric” that churches, or pastors need to use is MOVEMENT. You will know that your discipleship is effective when there is movement in your church body. People going “out there” to do “that thing” with “that group.”

      Thats one of the best things I have seen in a long time, Kelly. Movement as the measure; great point. I am not a pastor either. I have been a street level missionary for 25 years in the cities of northern NJ. I am no longer amazed at what most pastors don’t know about their community. It seems we can’t escape viewing the measure of a church as the church itself. I have never had any interest in that myself. Not trying to be nasty, don’t believe in kicking people, condemning people. How about meauring a church by the condition of it’s local community?

  11. March 7, 2012 4:23 pm

    When I read the Barna website, I was encouraged. They interpreted the results overall showing that pastors were trying to connect with their local missional context. It was interesting to note – “Pastors who are ages 64 and older were higher than their peers when it came to measuring spiritual transformation.” But surveys can only deliver what the questions ask – and I thought the wording of the questions a bit odd. I am sure a 3dm survey would have asked these questions differently and might have elicited different results. Of course, you are also getting self-reporting – which skews whether you are getting an accurate picture of what is actually happening.

    When I reflect on the results I am discouraged. While pastors and congregations are trying to figure out how to move in missional directions, the problem is that they are not asking the right questions. When denominations, congregational cultures, and seminary breeding have oriented leaders towards certain questions, why should we fault them.

    The truth is that they need an epiphany, a kairos. Even with the kairos, the process to be changing from religious maintenance to missional movement is slow.

  12. March 7, 2012 7:19 pm

    Why do they need to assess their vision and goals? Just open your Bible – they are plainly outlined for you from the Supreme Vision and Goal Maker Himself!
    I also noted that you could have substituted a company business for a church in this survey and gotten the exact same results. Church today is nothing more than a business run by pastors rather than CEO’s. So is there any wonder why churches are dying and people are lost? They are all concerned more on their public appeal and public position rather than their ’employees’ needs and support – in the case of a church equals their spiritual well being and if they are being properly equipped to do their job.
    If the churches and pastors were hoping for a kairos moment from the results – sorry. Looking in the wrong places!

  13. Marcos del Aguila permalink
    March 7, 2012 11:34 pm

    Totally agree Dana!

    The very rocks are crying out now. It will increase as the Holy spirit moves upon the earth. Church? Um… not so much. Having been in and around evangelical churches of most every kind for the first 44 years of my life, (can’t imagine stepping into one now) I don’t see the ‘church’ (as it seems most understand it to be) as being part of the Spirit’s movement going forward.

    Disciples? Of whom? How can one who has never been a disciple of Jesus encourage another into becoming his disciple? “Teaching them to observe what I have shown you” our Lord said. Raise the dead, cast out demons, open blind eyes, open deaf ears, grow limbs back, remove and eradicate cancers. PLEASE, BROTHERS and SISTERS! Let us show them what only heaven can do! The kingdom will spread.

    The best way to spread a virus? Go out and be in contact with folks. They are automatically infected and will spread the virus as they go. 🙂
    The best way to kill and destroy a virus? Put it all in one spot and quarantine it. (Church?)

  14. March 8, 2012 3:09 am

    I am not surprised at this survey. For 15 years I tried to help several congregations through transitions. As a specialized minster, I would take my “tool box” of several different evaluations to help clarity their vision on mission.

    The result, just one church system actual changed. The reason was because a core group people decided to be disciples of Christ. They formed a discipleship group who served over 75 families in need.

    Go Mike go. Discipleship is the key. 3DM is one of a few ministries who understands the importance of getting people closer to Jesus.

    Pastor Bruce

  15. March 8, 2012 4:53 pm

    I was more discouraged until I read the the actual survey. The survey states, “Respondents were presented with 12 possible activities and asked to rate the priority of each activity.”

    Pastors were not asked how they would improve ministry. They were asked about 12 specific activities that some people use for improving ministry, most of which dealt with budgeting, safety, assessment, and consultants. They were not given a blank slate. So, on the one hand, I would be very discouraged if those were pastors’ top priorities. On the other hand, the Barna Survey seems to be geared towards helping consultants know how many churches are looking for their services. With the exception of “assessing your church’s mission and vision” (59%), each of the other categories rated less than 50% for the “definite” response, some far less than 50%, for the pastors in the sample.

    I do believe that the number one issue facing North American Churches is “are we making disciples who make disciples,” and I am trying to transition a 5-generation church of 100 years to that end. So, I’m totally on the side of 3DM style ministry. I just think the results of this survey are being a bit overplayed in multiple blogs from the missional community.

  16. March 8, 2012 9:11 pm

    The survey was definitely slanted toward institutional initiatives and dynamics.

    The questions we ask matter. I’d be interested to see a survey with some more open-ended, God-centric questions:

    What is God doing in your town?
    How are the Christians you know joining God in his work?
    What are you praying lately?

  17. Rob Shoaff permalink
    March 14, 2012 12:03 pm

    I am disappointed by the findings in the research, but I am encouraged by the leaders who have responded to the post. The change in our “church” culture is less like changing the course of a ship – but more like changing the course of a fleet of ships. It will take all of us to cooperate and work together to once again make the heart of Jesus (covenant and kingdom through discipleship) the heart of His Church.

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