Assessment tools are used in congregational planning. Such tools are helpful in strategic planning, formation of new programs, improvement of existing projects and more.
There are internal assessment tools and external assessment tools. Internal tools help you learn about your congregation, its members, staff and other constituents who are part of your congregation. External tools help you learn more about your neighborhood and the community around you.
Here are five things to keep in mind when thinking about using assessment tools.
- Surveys that you create yourself are not typically reliable. You often receive opinions rather than good data. Plus, surveys that you create yourself do not typically have additional data sets to which you can compare the information you gather. So, I do not recommend surveys that you create.
- Look for tools that have data sets that you can use as comparisons to the information you gather. This is especially true for internal assessments.
- Tools that measure strengths are helpful because you can connect the data to your congregation’s capacity and passion. Assessments that focus on problems or weaknesses can be dispiriting. It is typically more productive to fortify strengths than to try to fix weaknesses.
- It is natural to feel overwhelmed when you receive information from assessments. Don’t try to interpret all of it at once. Start with the data that most closely relates to your original reason for using the assessment tool. Go back to your original questions. Set your original questions alongside the data. What behaviors come to mind? What action steps get generated? In other words, allow yourself only so much time figuring out the data. Go with what generates the most energy and discern what actions, however small, might be first steps.
- Assessment tools should help conversation along. They are not the lasts word. The conversation you have about the results of the assessment is more important than the data. You know the tool is helping you when it leads you to a really good face-to-face conversation.
During the rapidly evolving pandemic, please know that your congregation is not alone. We offer this short list of resources that you might continue your work faithfully and safely.
Looking for different resources? Get information that meets your needs by connecting with us at email@example.com or click Chat with an Expert at the bottom of this page.
Resource List for Online Church
This succinct guide quickly connects leaders to information on a variety of topics: COVID-19 processes and checklists, streaming software and equipment, faith formation, online giving and recorded webinars.
The Episcopal Church provides guidelines for compassionate Christians, instructions for live streaming and mass messaging, plus creative worship and faith formation resources.
Coronavirus Resources for the Church
This Wheaton College resource center offers a congregational planning manual (also available in Spanish), a free weekly webinar to prepare congregations for the coronavirus, a free online summit starting March 26, as well as tip sheets and links to top resources.
How to Lead Calmly in a Global Outbreak
In this article, experienced pastors George Mason and Mark Wingfield provide a pep-talk for faith leaders to lead calmly in a time of crisis.
Q&A: How to care for the elderly without putting them at risk of coronavirus
In this article, the chief medical officer at AARP offers advice for common COVID questions and how to support elderly loved ones.
Virtual Shabbat Box
Create a virtual shabbat with short meditations and readings. Instead of a physical group gathering, engage the senses through rituals that heal the body, mind, and spirit.
Resources for Community- and Faith-Based Leaders
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers official information for emergency planning and action steps, verified information about the virus, cleaning and disinfecting practices, and important organizational practices.
Three Big Communication Mistakes Organizations are Making During the COVID-19 Crisis
Communications leader Kem Meyer offers advice to organizations about communications during the pandemic.
In the last few years there’s been a surge of congregations interested in their communities. Nearly 10% of all Center for Congregations calls include some type of community involvement. For many congregations, the first step is to gather data about the area.
The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) provides the ARDA Community Profile Builder, a free demographic data tool for clergy and lay leaders to learn about people and assets in their communities. This unique tool allows users to view the many characteristics of their communities by searching by ZIP code or local address.
How to Use the Community Profile Builder
- Go to this web address: http://www.thearda.com/demographicMap/ and enter your ZIP code, city and state, or address in the box at the top of the page and click “Go.” After clicking “Go,” the map will take you to your community and show you all congregations in the area.
- Enter the radius (in miles) that you would like the online tool to include. One option is to think of driving distance. How far do people typically travel to attend your congregation?
- Click on the map to set the center point for the radius you selected. A dashed circle will appear showing you the areas from which the tool will draw its data.
- Click the “Profile” button. This will generate your report for the area you selected.
The generated report can include eight different community metrics from religion and housing to income level and ethnicity. It can even include population projections.
Using the Data
This data can help your congregation consider community needs before investing your resources. As an example, in the report you just created look at the Gender/Age tab. A growing number of children could mean an opportunity for children’s programming or a daycare. On the other hand, if there are no young adults nearby, you could make a strategic decision to focus your efforts elsewhere. You might even consider a new building location based on community factors.Want to start learning about your community based on data and not conjecture? Go to http://www.thearda.com/demographicMap/ to get started!
ARDA’s Community Profile Builder is completely free thanks to generous support from the Lilly Endowment and others. The ARDA, which is housed at Pennsylvania State University and has been online since 1998, has more than 16 million pages of content, from profiles of hundreds of past and present religious groups in America to denominational reports and survey findings. Thanks to ARDA Assistant Director Andrew Whitehead for providing this information.