Interim pastors who have been charged with the responsibility of introducing healthful change to a client church must be master diagnosticians. An accurate assessment of the conditions that led to client church's present condition is "mission critical".
- Accurate assessment reveals the hindrances to the church's ministry
- Accurate assessment uncovers corporate sin that may call for corporate repentance
- Accurate assessment discloses factors that have led the church to its current condition
- Accurate assessment tells the interim pastor where "here" is so a helpful road map to the future can be drawn
There are four steps to good assessment.
- Conduct personal interviews with church members
- Administer professional survey instruments
- Review all church documents
- Write the report
Step One: Personal Interviews
Personal interviews are important church assessment tools in two ways. First, it allows the interim pastor to establish a biblical, pastoral relationship with the members of the church. Pastors leaving dysfunctional churches are often guilty â€“ not in all cases, but often â€“ of failing to "shepherd" the flock. Second, it gives the interim pastor a sense of the "vibe", the "sidebar conversations" that aren't caught in a professional survey product.
In smaller churches (less than 200 avg. attendance) an interim pastor should be able to interview everyone in the congregation. This will take quite a bit of time; chances are that at least a month will be wholly devoted to preaching and interviewing. In larger churches (250 - 700) you should interview a statistically significant sampling of the congregation, starting with 50% at the low end of this range and tapering off to 20% at the higher end. If you are called to a client church in excess of 700 average attendance you should use a second person to help in this step of the assessment.
When you conduct these interviews be sure to keep good notes. You may wish to record them for later transcription, have an assistant take notes or â€“ if you're a fast typist â€“ keep notes yourself.
There are several areas you'll want to probe. We typically ask these of interviewees:
- What can you tell me about how you came to faith?
- How did you first come to this church; how did you find it?
- Why did you decide to stay at this church? What attracted you?
- Why do you think some visitors "stick" and others don't?
- Tell me what you think we need to work on so this church can move forward.
- Where do you see the church having strengths that make it unique from other churches in the community?
- What is working well at this church?
As the number of completed interviews grows the same basic themes repeated. But be careful because late in the interview process someone will disclose information that others either didn't have or didn't think to mention. Often that bit of data will put puzzle pieces together and shed a new light on the past.
You will also find that you may need to modify your questions or add other questions to probe a problem or an event that surfaces during the interview phase. Be careful, however, to ask open-ended questions that don't lead the interviewee to a particular response.
An interim pastor is far more likely to achieve accurate results from the interviews than is a settled pastor. (If you are a settled pastor attempting to conduct an assessment I suggest that you hire a third party to conduct and compile the interviews).
Step Two: Administer professional instruments
Survey instruments like the Natural Church Development Survey or the Transformational Church Assessment Tool provide objective results, so you can administer these to the congregation without fear of bias. This is important because interim pastors with plenty of experience can fall into the trap of thinking they know what their current client church's problems are. Researcher's bias!
The Transformational Church Assessment Tool (TCAT) is an online instrument that records how church members answer 78 questions about the church. It measures seven practices deemed necessary to a productive disciple making ministry. These include worship, mission, leadership, prayer, relationships, community and engagement. Congregational strengths and weaknesses are identified, giving the pastor(s) a roadmap toward greater mission effectiveness. You can learn more about TCAT online.
The Natural Church Development Survey (NCD) measures how well the church functions in areas deemed needful for a healthy church. These include leadership, ministry, spirituality, structures, worship, small groups, evangelism and relationships. The survey is administered by having thirty church members and the pastor fill out a questionnaire provided and interpreted by an NCD consultant. Natural Church Development resources are available online.
The two instruments examine many of the same elements. The difference is in their focus: the NCD survey attempts to measure "church health" while the TCAT examines the church's effectiveness as a disciple making body.
Step Three: Review church documents
A church's written records should be a repository of the church's past experiences. They should be read carefully for patterns of conduct, previous decisions and formal policies that have contributed to the church's stagnation. Gather together the following types of records and block out two full days to review them all, without interruption:
- Attendance Records
- Financial Records
- Annual Business Meetings
- Governing Board Meetings
- Constitution and By-Laws
- Policy and Procedure Manuals
As you read through the documents be sure to take note of items that need to be discussed. For example, financial decisions are often made without careful consideration of whether the funds are allocated to productive ministries or not. Provisions in the constitution are out of step with how the church now operates and may need to be amended.
Pay special attention to records of the governing body's meetings. Watch for micromanagement (the board handling matters that should be handled by paid staff or delegated to appropriate volunteers), inability to make decisions (the same issue is tabled again and again without action), decisions made contrary to the direct counsel of scripture and for the absence of time devoted to prayer, personal interaction and Bible reading.ii
Step Four: Write the report
A thorough assessment should result in a written report that conveys a clear, accurate picture of the church's status, a review of elements that have brought the church to this state, and recommendations for moving forward. If executed properly this report serves a variety of purposes.
- The congregation will understand what they are experiencing
- The transition team will know why they are dealing with the issues delegated to them
- The planning team will have a clear set of objectives to strive for
- The prayer warriors will have greater insight into the church's spiritual condition
The report should begin with a description of the data gathering process and a short curriculum vitae of the consultant (if you use one) or of you, the interim pastor.
The first major section of the report will be a history of the church with exposition of significant decisions, important events and the actions of influential people. The objective is to identify how the church's history has led to the present and to surface any long-term trends that need to be changed in order to move the church forward.
The second major section will be a collation of information gathered in the survey instruments, review of documents and personal interviews. It should include a narrative of all the major themes surfaced during the interviews, troubling items uncovered in the document review that need to be addressed and anything else that appears to be hindering the church's forward progress.
The third section should be the SWOT analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats accompanied by specific recommendations that need to be implemented in order for the church to move forward.
Get "buy in"
The final step is to submit your report to the governing board for their input. There may a couple of rounds of editing, but when they finally say, "Yup, you've got us" the report is then ready for the congregation.
Deliver the report to the congregation in an open forum meeting, so people can ask questions. Take as much time as is required. The objective of this meeting is to get "buy in" so people will own the problems. This won't solve the resistance to change problem, but it should attenuate it and make it easier to manage.
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