Listening in the Image of God, Part 4

This is series  on listening. Relationships are in the image of the triune God, and listening is an essential (first!) component to relationships. It can be said that listening is, in fact, in the image of God, and ought to be a higher priority for the body of Christ that perhaps it currently is. This quick series can help congregations listen to their neighborhoods–in the image of God.

The Survey (Be Careful!)

Often the first way we want to listen for information is the ever-present “conduct a survey” route. The concept is great: go door-to-door (see a problem emerging already?), asking residents some questions that will provide key information about the neighborhood. Although the idea is fine, the reality can prove more difficult if you really want it to be helpful. Anything that entails “door-to-door” smells of an imposed agenda—an attempt to sell something. Unsolicited phone calls fall into this category also. Unless the homeowner knows the person who’s knocking, they may not even answer the door. Or if they do, they might be suspicious as to your motives. Perhaps not, but it warrants some awareness in trying to get an accurate picture of the neighborhood.

Another difficulty with surveys lies with the questions themselves. Some surveys are done with a particular outcome in mind, and the questions weighted toward that outcome, e.g., do you support butterflies and rainbows that will result from “our” agenda or do you support torturing puppies that will result from “their” agenda?

Even though that wouldn’t be your tactic, sometimes we unwittingly lean one particular direction without intending to. And sometimes the questions we ask are interpreted differently by different people and therefore the feedback isn’t as helpful as it could be.

The point being that although a survey can be a helpful tool, it needs to be done with more care and planning than most people think. If you think a survey would help, and I’m not convinced it’s the best way to listen, then go ahead. It can be helpful, but make sure it isn’t the only tool in your listening toolbox. My recommendation would be to hire a professional survey group to work with you. They can help you clarify the information you’re seeking, help you compose questions that will actually elicit that information, help you decide whether a phone survey or a mailed survey would work better, and help you identify who to survey and when to survey them so you get an accurate sampling of your neighborhood. They can be expensive, but you’re much more likely to get information back that’s worth listening to. Some companies will conduct the surveys for you, but that costs more yet.

If you choose to do a survey of the residents/workers in your neighborhood on your own, here are some things to consider:

  • Utilize “” or a similar web-based survey guide. The basic plan is free, and they help you formulate questions that can get you the most helpful results.
  • Make sure you survey a large enough sample of the neighborhood. It’s not enough in a neighborhood of 5,000 people to make a couple dozen phone calls or drop off twenty fliers. Check out a survey statistics book at the library or check some survey guidelines online. An accurate sample size is necessary if you want to put any faith in your results. The larger the sample size, the more reliable your results.
  • If you are utilizing a phone or in-person survey, make sure you get a broad demographic of the neighborhood. In addition to sample size, a good cross sampling of the population will make a difference. For instance, if you make all your phone calls during the day, the majority of people in your sample will be those who don’t work outside the home during the day. You’d leave out the input of almost all working folk, which would skew your sample. Again, consult a survey book or web site for help.
  • Decide if you should conduct your survey by mail, by phone, or in person. Each has advantages, and each has disadvantages. In person or phone get faster results and require fewer “contacts,” but mail is less time intensive and more objective. Bear in mind that most mailed surveys never get returned, which means you have to mail a lot more of them to get a large enough sample for accuracy. Again, consult a book or website for helpful information on the number of mailings you need to prepare and send.

If nothing else, I hope you recognize that a survey is anything but an easy way to listen to the people of your neighborhood. It can be helpful, but must be done carefully. If you decide to use a survey, make sure that you combine it with some other listening approaches.

Categories: Church in Transition, faith practices | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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