Pastors see vision, mission assessment as best means to improve their churches

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VENTURA, Calif. — A majority of Protestant pastors believe clarity of mission and vision is more important to improving their churches than other options, including facility and technology upgrades.

Those are the findings of a new Barna Group study that provided pastors with a list of 12 specific approaches to improve the strategic, operational and administrative aspects of their ministries.

Overall, 59 percent of the respondents, from both mainline and evangelical congregations, said they were "definitely" going to assess their church's vision and mission in the next year, easily making it the highest rated response of the priorities offered in the survey.

"It's really a healthy sign that churches realize that they have work to do in making it clear where they are going," researcher David Kinnaman, Barna's president, said in an interview. "Pastors are looking for direction, looking for clarity. They realize we are living in a time of change. The clearer they can be about the organization's purpose, the better.

"Pastors have a sense—pastors are learning—they need to listen more to their guts and their community, rather than packing the building with bells and whistles."

The survey, released in late February, also found that pastors rated other forms of assessment higher than they did other priorities, including "assessing their church's reputation in their community" at 38 percent and "measuring the demographic and spiritual needs of their community" at 31 percent.

"It is also significant that faith leaders are prioritizing their church's local reputation and their community's profile," Kinnaman wrote in the survey report. "In an era of skepticism toward the institutional church, these leaders seem to recognize that the most effective churches are those that are aware of needs and active in their communities."

According to the Barna ranking, assessing the church's reputation and spiritual needs of the community came in at two and three respectively.

"There is a need and a desire to understand their context in whatever setting and objective they ought to have, rather than getting more stuff," he said.


Willing to change
Kinnaman said the survey results seem to signal a willingness by pastors to make necessary changes, although they may not be personally equipped to do so or face well-entrenched flocks.

"Some pastors aren't gifted as visionary leaders, so they have a hard time creating a culture of change when many congregations are naturally reticent to change," he said. "There's unusual dynamics in a congregation that make it more reticent to change."

Unlike business enterprises that must adapt to changing market conditions and which can do so by directing their workforce, church leadership is dependent upon parishioners who often see themselves as stakeholders. In other words, in business, the workers get paid, while on the church front, it is the parishioners who pay to support the ministry.

"In a church, it's a more delicate dance," the researcher said.

Those factors make for an interesting puzzle when pastors are open to making necessary changes in response to the "new economic, technological and social realities."

"Many of them are struggling with the foundational questions of mission and vision," Kinnaman said in his formal report. "In other words, they want a clear direction to pursue, not necessarily just more ministry resources, like facilities, equipment, technology or ministry tools."

The willingness to use assessment tools to improve their congregation did not end with the church's mission and vision. The sixth-ranked priority in the Barna study was "conducting an assessment of spiritual transformation in your church," noted by 22 percent of pastors.


Other priorities
When it came to upgrading and retooling their organization, the most common priorities of pastors were "focusing on safety and security issues" at 25 percent and "revamping the budgeting and spending process" at 25 percent, numbers four and five respectively.

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

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

The report also showed varied responses based on church size and the age of the pastor. Conducted through telephone interviews, the survey was based upon a nationwide, random sample of 614 senior pastors of Protestant churches throughout the continental United States.

The private, non-partisan Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. It also produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development.

For more details on the study, visit www.barna.org.