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Methodists/SPR getting "sense of the congregation"


In several answers you have members should not be "polled" about the pastor. I'm curious as to why that would not be a good way for the SPR to get a sense of the congregation, especially when there are a number of people complaining to SPR members about the pastor. Our SPR recently had a series of confidential mini-focus group meetings to see what a cross section of members thought about the church, it's programs, and its staff (2 members of SPR attended all of the meetings). The Sr Pastor was advised about these meetings, and was invited to suggest people to invite. Frankly, we wanted to assess what the general membership was thinking, and not be guided just by what could have been a minority of members who were upset. The Sr Pastor was briefed on the comments gleaned from the sessions, without specific attribution of specifics. Do you see anything wrong with this approach?

Polling doesn't really provide an accurate picture of the attitude of the congregation. Firstly, the need for a formal (written) poll will telegraph to those being polled that there is some "problem" that needs to be addressed. Secondly, the wording of a poll is almost never neutral - it will be biased one way or the other, and that bias will lead to push-poll responses (responses that are coaxed out of the person being polled by the pollster's words, attitude, demeanor, tone of voice, etc). Thirdly, the only thing faster than light is a rumor: by the time the third person is being polled e-mails/phone calls/texts will have circulated around the congregation generating gossip as to the purpose of the poll and the kinds of responses that are needed to produce the desired results. (i.e., "they're trying to get rid of the pastor!" or "did you hear that the pastor did thus-and-such!" or "now's our chance to get rid of the slug-a-bed!" ... or similar intents, pro and con). Fourthly, they are unnecessary.  

I think the last point really needs to be highlighted. By the time a Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations Committee has reached the point that they need a poll to access the mood of the church regarding the pastor's continuation, it's too late. If things are going well, a poll isn't necessary -- everybody knows things are going well, and the few grumps that are always going to be present in any church can't bring down everybody else's attitude.  However, if a poll is sensed as necessary to determine the congregation's mood, than there's something seriously wrong in-play within the church.  People aren't communicating, or are not aware, etc.

What you describe about the "mini-focus groups" isn't a bad idea, in so far as it goes, although it more than likely would become a forum for "the grumps" which will tend to magnify their standing within such small groupings. As a matter of human nature, people who are happy don't tend to speak up, while people who are not happy (the "grumps") will go out of their way to cause trouble.  Keep in mind that no official results can come from such groups. Anonymous complaints are impossible to judge in terms of their validity, and cannot be the sole basis for PPRC decisions. A "sense of the congregation" might be possible through such a system, but what it more likely is going to discern is a sense of the grumps ... for, again, it's the grumps who will take the opportunity.

I hope this helps.  


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Rev. Gregory S. Neal


I can answer questions dealing with all issues of United Methodist Doctrine and Wesleyan-Arminian Theology. In particular I can answer questions dealing with the Sacraments and other liturgical and worship-oriented questions. I can also answer questions dealing with the form, structure, and organization of the United Methodist Church and our relationship with other denominations.


I am an ordained United Methodist Elder with more than 20 years of ministerial service experience in the local Church.

I am a Clergy Member in Full Connection and have been a member of the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church since 1991. I am a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion. I am also a member of the Emmaus Community, and am currently serving as Senior Spiritual Director for the Dallas Emmaus Community. I am a member of the Order of Saint Luke in the United Methodist Church.

I have my own website:   I have written two books, "Grace Upon Grace" and "Seeking the Shepherd's Arms," both available at and in bookstores.

I have a BA in Religious Studies, History and Russian. I have an M.Div in Systematic Theology and Biblical Studies and a Ph.D in Sacramental Theology and New Testament.

Awards and Honors
Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church
Fellow of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

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