A Response to the Congregational Survey of 2017
First, thank you to everyone who filled out the congregational survey this year. We take this survey each year to strengthen the ministries of the church. Your input helps all of us do a better job so we can make disciples of Jesus Christ as we seek to know God, advance God’s kingdom and do God’s will. Thank you!
You’ll find below the PowerPoint presentation that was used in February for the initial presentation of this data. You may want to refer to that as you read this response from me. People shared what inspired them in worship, how they felt about inviting others and what they would change in the worship service. Different parts inspire different people, which is good, but there seemed to be a hesitancy to invite others. People agreed that it was good to invite them, but some aspects of our worship make it harder for “outsiders” to bridge the gap – the music, the formal and repetitive nature of our service, and how it’s organized. I’ve noticed some of these things, too, and one small step to help “outsiders” is to have every part of worship easily accessible. Using PowerPoint on the digital projector since January has met with very positive remarks and made worship more accessible to new people. I haven’t heard a negative comment yet about this change! There are some requests from people for worship to move in different directions – some want to add silence that would formalize the service, while others want to make things less formal – but generally people like the service as it is – a mix of music styles, in blended worship (which, by the way, is the most popular style of worship in the country).
As I looked at the scores for various areas of the church (building, grounds, volunteers, etc.) there were a few items that stuck out: the parking lot, the bathrooms, the nursery, handicap accessibility, navigating the building, the bulletin, sound for worship and videos during worship. Some of these areas have been addressed previously, but still score poorly on our survey. My guess in these areas as I talk with people is that: the parking lot is too small (especially on holidays), bathrooms have minor issues that make them unappealing, the nursery is getting a little outdated and is too far away from the sanctuary, few people know we have a handicap ramp, its far away and there are no signs toward it, the building design makes it difficult to navigate and the maps do little to help new people. Then, there’s the last three items, bulletin, sound for worship and videos during worship, which are the toughest to gauge. Some have told me they wish the bulletin only had information that takes us through worship. Others have suggested that new folks can’t follow the flow when congregational responses are in various places and not simply printed in the bulletin. Still others have said there’s just too much information in the bulletin so people ignore it all together. My hope is that the switch to digital projection for congregational responses (and songs) helps reduce the confusion and aids in a better worship experience, but if you have any specific thoughts on this, please let me know.
The sound for worship continues to be a point of frustration for me. Sometimes people can’t be heard because of settings on the soundboard, particularly when it comes to videos. I’ve talked to a few folks in the church and I think we can address this problem more permanently with a digital sound board for 3 or 4 thousand dollars, but I wonder if the cost is worth it. For now we are trying to manage it with staff and I hope you’ve felt it’s been better in the last few months. We’ll keep working on this problem until we have a better solution for audio and video.
The last couple of items involved team vital, which is the group working on strategic planning this year. Though there were many good suggestions there, the majority of people seemed to think that connecting to our community through town events and schools was the best avenue for our church. I very much agree! I want to see us doing more to connect in with events that are already happening, rather than trying to form our own events. We had an Easter egg hunt this year at our church, which was great, but we could have just as easily had 4 volunteers join in with the town’s egg hunt, donate 100 dollars and made a big statement about what kind of church we are. I think this is the future of how to do ministry in our community. We need to think less of the church as a fortress running our own events and more like a community organization paving the path to Jesus Christ (not a church building)!
As I presented this information to the congregation earlier in the year, I shared a few thoughts on where we could go as a congregation. I continue to believe that, generally, people are satisfied with our worship. We still struggle to connect with new/er people and I am looking to team vital to offer up some meaningful direction in regards to the direction we should take. Generally, though, I think more worship options and a thoughtful response in how to integrate new/er people is key. Small groups and missions opportunities are the usual channels to accomplish integration, so I hope to share more on this point from team vital soon.
Another area of concern for folks is recruiting volunteers. Several groups have shared in the last year their frustration with getting volunteers. Part of it is due to cultural changes, but part of it is up to us to invite people directly into participation in the life of the church. We can all play a role in this, sometimes in leading by example, at other times by asking another person if they would like to help. Many know we would like to have more choir members, an easier time lining up ushers and counters. These jobs are filled by people who have taken a step of faith to direct time, energy and money towards the church. When we all take a piece of this work, we know we are moving in the direction of God’s kingdom. We build something better than any one of us could do on our own. Join me in this effort! Have an open heart for the next step in the journey of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world right here, every day at Hillsdale United Methodist Church. God bless!
Pastor Brian Neville