Congregational Assessment Summary
Despite the challenges of COVID, distance, and online worship, with the new calendar year we are moving into a new and important phase of our transition. Central’s nominating committee is working through the names suggested by the members of the congregation to put forward a Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC). After their election by the congregation, the PNC will be responsible for conducting the search for our next senior pastor.
As we move into this phase, we’d like to share the key points of the CAT survey (Congregational Assessment Tool) that the congregation took last year. This data will help guide the PNC in their search, just as the data guide the transition team.
As those who took the survey may recall, the CAT asked members and regular attenders at Central to identify their priorities and preferences, to characterize their experience at Central, to reflect upon the type of church we are, to evaluate how well we do things, and to identify those characteristics we thought were important for the next senior pastor. Hundreds participated.
When asked where you would like to see more energy invested at Central, the top three priorities expressed by the congregation were:
Our youngest cohort (under 35) placed a particularly high emphasis on expanding outreach ministries to those on the margins of society and creating more opportunities for people to form meaningful relationships, which they named as their second and third priorities.
Compared to other churches across the country that have worked with the consultants who administered the CAT survey for us, Central was in the 90th percentile for churches in terms of how spiritual experience impacts the way we look at life and our approach to life. As a whole, our congregation tends to fall largely on the more conservative side of the theological spectrum, emphasizing the guiding role of scripture and the historical Christian faith. However, there is theological diversity and nuance within the congregation. Despite the theological diversity that exists, the CAT identified relatively little conflict and showed a congregation that emphasized resolving conflict through mutual effort. One highlight of the survey that has served us well during the COVID pandemic has been the high level of flexibility and openness to changes in worship. The congregation reported a high level of adaptability. Taken together, these characteristics point to a congregation that values tradition in faith but is open to innovation in form.
An area where the data raised an interesting priority and opportunity arose in the area of discipleship.
We were in the 90th percentile nation-wide for understanding that our members have a spiritual responsibility for life-long learning and formation, but we expressed a lower sense that the church provides opportunities for that ongoing education in a variety of ways that fit our lifestyles. This is something that has probably been felt more acutely during these months of the pandemic.
A final area that stood out in the survey relates directly to worship. One goal of the survey was to identify “drivers of satisfaction,” i.e. the factors that seem to shape individuals’ assessments of whether they were satisfied or not satisfied at Central. It’s another way of identifying what people really care about. Of dozens of options, those that emerged at the top of the list focused on worship and the pastor:
These areas were highly important to the Congregation, so they will be important for both the PNC and the new senior pastor to consider.
Like most churches around the country, our congregation identified preaching and strategic leadership as the top critical abilities for a new pastor. However, the congregation also placed an unusually high emphasis on teaching and training, i.e. the capacity to deepen understanding, form character, and equip members with new skills.
Clearly COVID and the changes that we’ve experienced over the last nine months shape the way the session, the PNC, and the new senior pastor will interpret these data collected in the CAT. Specific comments about in-person worship services before we went online might not seem directly relevant at the moment, but the very heavy emphasis our members and regular attenders placed on worship is critically important. The culture of the church, the balance of theological views, the desire to see outreach, and the recognition that we need discipleship (and opportunities that fit our schedules) are critical elements regardless of when the data were collected.