How Pastors Plan to Improve Their Churches (Feb 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

© Barna Group, 2012

February 27, 2012

Today’s organizations face pressure to stay current, efficient and relevant. This is especially true for nonprofit organizations, like churches. A new Barna Group study examined how pastors of Protestant churches plan to improve the strategic, operational, and administrative aspects of their ministries.

The nationwide research project was conducted by asking pastors in what ways they are likely to improve their churches in the next year. 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.

Assessing

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.

Research Implications

David Kinnaman, who directed the research study, commented on the research: “Like other organizational leaders, pastors are trying to right-size their efforts to the new economic, technological and social realities. Most pastors are open to changing their ministries, yet many of them are struggling with the foundational questions of mission and vision. In other words, they want a clear direction to pursue, not necessarily just more ministry resources, like facilities, equipment, technology or ministry tools.

“It is also significant that faith leaders are prioritizing their church’s local reputation and their community’s profile,” the Barna president concluded. “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.”

About the Research

This report is based upon a nationwide, random sample of 614 senior pastors of Protestant churches throughout the continental United States. The study was conducted via telephone interviews. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with each aggregate sample is ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the aggregate sample to known population percentages in relation to regional and denominational variables.<

– Barna Group (which includes its research division, the Barna Research Group) is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. It conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries.

Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. Additional research-based resources are also available through this website.

© Barna Group, 2012

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1583 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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