Auxano | Three Questions You Should Never Ask Your Church

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Three Questions You Should Never Ask Your Church

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Auxano just spent the last three months refining our existing survey tools and processes. We are now preparing to launch a whole new division of our organization designed to help leaders gain more information and clarity about their church.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly one year ago, just about every church and group that serves the church, has deployed surveys. I took another one for my home church just this morning. This survey was designed to understand our online worship experience better, and I gave honest, hopefully helpful, feedback. As a consulting organization that serves growth-oriented senior pastors, Auxano cannot wait to share our new suite of affordable, helpful tools that fuel ministry. Stay tuned for some big news over the next few weeks!

In the midst of all of this survey activity and excitement, I am reminded of three questions — really types of questions — that you should never ask your church:

1. Questions that have answers you do not actually want to know.

A few years ago, a friend asked a group of us for input on a project she had developed. As we sat in a room and gave her thoughtful and graceful suggestions and even some gentle pushback, this friend did not take a single note. She verbally countered everything we shared with an explanation or clarification, and it became clear she did not actually want to know what we thought. Eventually, we all just sat quietly and listened to her talk because she desired the appearance of input, but not the responsibility of input, which often leads to change.

In Auxano’s work with churches for almost 20 years, congregational surveys like this have been an essential part of understanding the current engagement, environment, and ethos of a body of believers. In almost every season of survey preparation, we’ve had to ask, “Do you want to know the answers to this question?” If so, that means you are willing to change something, move something, or even lose something by providing a direct and visible response. The answer is often no because congregational surveys are rarely useful decision-making tools, but they can be powerful decision-leading tools.

2. Questions that ask for guidance on decisions you have already made.

To be sure, there are times when leaders need to make an unpopular decision and may not require, or have time to get, input. This fact is why leadership often feels lonely. Even more so in today’s yelp-fueled age of elevated personal opinions, leaders no longer have to ask what people think about a decision; make one, and you will be sure to hear about it!

In my years on church staff, and before that as a deacon at two other churches, there were a few meetings where I provided thoughts on a decision. I only found out later that leaders had already made the decision. In each case, the leader, or leadership team, just wanted to tell people that they’d received input and guidance — they only needed the proverbial rubber stamp to move forward. I can remember feeling manipulated, used, and demeaned.

Therefore, it is vital to see the power of survey tools as methods of understanding and crafting intentional processes and purposeful communication about a decision that has been, or that will soon be made. Knowing where your people physically are in church engagement and positionally stand in communication discernment becomes the best way to lead them well. In surveying your congregation, with a new tool like this from Auxano, be careful not to imply that the survey results will affect the making of a decision. Instead, be clear that you ask the question to hear the body’s heart and prepare to lead them well around decisions still ahead.

3. Questions that cannot be benchmarked or cross-referenced for greater clarity.

Let’s face it. Survey reporting data can be easily and unintentionally misrepresentative of the actual truth. My latest research reveals that every 11-year old boy, when asked, does not answer more than one survey question about survey questions. Therefore, we should not ever survey middle school boys. Please ignore that my sample size is one — my son — and he was annoyed just now at the interruption of his Fortnite time.

When leaders ask non-specific questions or are absent the ability to cross-reference groups of people, it becomes easy to arrive at misleading conclusions. The chances of making significant decisions within too narrow a scope of data or too limited a sample of the body consistently tempers our survey work at Auxano. Our assessment team carefully examines both the margin of error within each congregation and the margin of difference by asking the same questions of other congregations.

With a proliferation of online survey tools, our team gets asked why a church should pay us to help. The honest answer is, you shouldn't. As long as you can maintain scientific objectivity in developing the questions, you can clearly benchmark against other congregations (larger, smaller, in your tribe, across tribes, etc.) in gauging your response, and you can avoid letting your biases lead to an interpretation of the data (rather than the other way around), there are better ways to steward church resources. If not, we are happy to serve alongside you and your team with any of our collaborative survey tools.

In the coming weeks, Auxano will release more information and tools designed to fuel ministry and meet today’s church leadership needs. We are consistently developing new tools to help you achieve collaborative progress. If you want to be the first to hear about and experience the momentum from the exciting tools to come, join our Auxano Insider team here.


Bryan Rose

Auxano Director of Marketing/Communications