One of the most important decisions the pastor will make throughout his/her career is the decision to move to a new ministry. A search or pulpit committee from the new church makes a thorough investigation into the minister’s credentials and general suitability for the position. But often, the minister who is being considered has no sense as to how to investigate the new church — whether or not this new position will be a good fit.
We have developed a set of considerations and attendant questions that the deciding pastor will find useful in considering a new ministry. It would be beneficial to first read Kevin Ford’s, Transforming Church. This will give a basis for the categories and questions that are listed below.
In the material below, we will provide categories in which you can mold particular questions. We will also provide specific questions to help you probe areas that are critical in order for you to gain a full understanding of the new church situation.
A healthy community within a transforming church is one where people experience a combination of several things. In a healthy community members experience social connections, caring relationships, and feelings of personal connection to the church’s overarching purpose. Are people at this church “consumers” or “partners in ministry”. What is the level of relational commitment to the church, and how much relational community they experience?
- Equipping the Members – A transforming church is composed of healthy, positive members who know how to relate to each other in healthy ways. These people are subsequently equipped to give away the ministry of the church to one another and to those outside the church.
In what ways to members here come together, besides during formal worship and other programs.
In what specific ways does the church assist members to be more effective in their every-day lives?
- Conflict – A transforming church contains conflict, however that conflict centers on the mission of the church. It is not primarily personal. Personal conflict by definition tends never to be resolved — it goes underground and can last for years, and can be passed on down through generations.
Tell me about conflicts that have been ongoing here, that don’t seem to reach resolution.*
In what areas have conflicts tended to reside?
- Church as Community—A transforming church is network of inter-related, interacting associations. Churches are also spiritual communities. Members manifest certain gifts, bear the burdens of one another, and generally become intentionally involved in one another’s lives to the betterment of the individual and the building up of the community (a.k.a. body life).
How specifically does the church help members identify their unique gifts and talents?
Tell me about this church as a caring community. In what practical ways do folks here feel responsible for one another, to care for one another and be intentionally involved in one another’s lives?
- Healthy Communication – A transforming church is alive with open, free-flowing communication.
Do people here generally feel as though they are informed as to what is happening here?
What specific channels of communication have been put in place to inform members about the church?
Do you experience the church as open, or are there things that have gone on here that remain somewhat nebulous and mysterious?
- Belonging – The degree to which church members feel valued and loved in the church will demonstrate how solidly committed members are to the community.
What strategies have been put in place to assimilate new people coming to the church?
A church’s code is its identity, or personality – it’s DNA. Do people here have a deep personal connection to what the church is all about? What is the general sense of excitement and enthusiasm about the church? Is personal spiritual growth occurring through the church? Does the church have a unique sense of focus?
- Church Code – A transforming church knows who it is, what it does, where they are going, and how they’re going to get there.
Tell me, as you understand it, what the primary mission of this church is?
What is the primary population(s) that the church is attempting to reach?
Where does the church see itself in five years?
What practical steps are being taken to realize your desired future?
What do people here feel is the heart of this church?
- Connection to the church’s purpose A transforming church is one in which members understand and align with church’s goals and direction (vision of the future).
How well do members here understand who the church is attempting to reach and serve?
How committed are you (church members) committed to where the church is headed in the next few years?
- Trust in Church’s Direction and finances – A transforming church is built on trust.
Have the last few pastors here generally been trusted?
Have any of them done anything that caused the congregation to distrust them? If so, how was that handled?
- Personal Spiritual Growth – Is the church doing an effective job in emphasizing personal spiritual growth?
What specific programs/strategies have been put in place to help people here grow spiritually?
How specifically does the church help members identify their unique gifts and talents?
Leadership is often too narrowly defined in many circles. In our research, leadership that mobilizes people for ministry is a combination of several factors. Effective leaders raise important and difficult issues with the people, engaging them in dialogue and discussion. Various points of view are respected and people are free to speak their minds. Members need to trust that leaders have the best interest of the church in mind. They need to know that the church’s financial resources are effectively managed. And they need a sense that the church has clear objectives that are well-communicated and execute
- Leadership and Assimilation– A transforming church is built on strong, wise, inspiring leadership at all levels of the organization.
How has the leadership here (both lay and ordained) engaged the congregation around the tough issues that has faced the congregation?
Tell me how members within the congregation see their own personal responsibility for the ongoing work of this church.
- Former pastors – Congregations have a way of perceiving new pastors much the way that former pastors were perceived. The expectations tend to be similar (and the unspoken expectations are the most important).
Tell me generally how the last pastor was perceived – Beloved parent? Over-bearing tyrant? Detached administrator? Etc?
- Staff Relations – Some of you will consider churches with paid staff. Relationships among staff members, and between the staff and the pastor, are critical to the overall functioning of the church.
Have there been staff persons that have engendered some controversy?
What have been the successes and weaknesses of staff development?
- Board Relations — Ruling boards of churches play and integral part in the life and leadership of the church.Have there been particular issues in the board that have been very difficult? If so, what were they, and how were these resolved?
In what areas does the board spend the majority of its time? Fiduciary matters and technical issues? Strategy? Adaptive (transformative) issues facing the church community?
- Boundaries – A transforming church is composed of individuals, divisions, and/or teams that maintain healthy boundaries.
Were the expectations (contractual) of the former pastor clear to the leadership and congregation in general? If not, where were there problems?
Did the former pastor(s) take his day off? What were the general feelings toward him/her when s/he was away on vacation? Study leave?
- Member Satisfaction – A transforming church is made of members with high levels of satisfaction.
Are you happy to be a member here?
Would you be willing to have friends attend with you here?
- Financial and Management Communication. Finances are an area where poor communication can lead quickly to misgivings and distrust.
Do most people here feel that the church effectively manages its financial resources? If not, in what areas are there questions?
Are financial matters discussed openly with the congregation?
An outward focus is evident when a church meets a variety of needs. It includes meeting the needs of various demographic segments (children, seniors, singles, etc.). It also includes making a contribution to the local community.
- Mission, Outreach, and Evangelism – A transforming church should exist for those outside the church.
What is the overall orientation of the church toward outreach?
How is this orientation specifically implemented?
- Programming for various age groups. In order for the members of a church to minister effectively with one another, and to those outside the walls of the church, specific programs to equip the membership must be effectively administered.
How do the programs of the church specifically prepare members to minister to others?
- Making a difference in community – The church, to fulfill its commission effectively, must reach beyond itself and make a difference in the lives of people in the community.
How does the surrounding community perceive this church? Is it positive? Negative? Indifferent?
A transforming church must be able to reinvent itself. Change is inevitable. How a church handles change is critical. Care must be taken to examine the communication surrounding change, whether or not the church’s members embrace change, and how innovative or creative the church is in its approach.
- Managing Change – A transforming church navigates transitions and responds effectively to changing conditions.
When changes in worship, programming, staffing, or buildings were instituted, how were these generally received by the congregation?What change, instituted in the last five years, got the most resistance? How was this handled?
- The Right Direction –Members perceive that the church is moving in the right direction and they embrace the changes that are necessary.
Does the average member have as sense of where the church is going in the next five years?
Is there general agreement about the direction of the church?
What strategies/initiatives have been put in place to move in this direction?
- Innovation and creativity. If the church is innovative, it means that it probably relies on staying ahead of the curve in new products, services, and programs as a means to accomplishing its goals. This works well when efficiency is not hugely important.
What programs/initiatives/strategies have been implemented in the past five years that you would term ‘innovative?’ How were these initiatives generally received by the congregation?
Are there currently initiatives on the ‘drawing board’ that await implementation? Who is responsible for these initiatives?
A Sense of the Church
To get a sense of the overall mood of the church, how it perceives itself, and how it carries on its business, it is best to get stories from members that are reflective of the church. Below are some areas you may wish to explore with behavioral questions (e.g. Tell me a time when you were involved in a creative initiative the church was conducting).
o Creative vs. Unimaginative
o Warm vs. Cold
o Innovative vs. Unoriginal
o Contemporary/cutting edge vs. Traditional
o Family-oriented vs. Individual-oriented
o Loving vs. Uncaring
o Upbeat vs. Pessimistic
o Fellowship vs. Animosity
o Outreaching vs. Inward Focus
Worship –Worship is the one time when members gather collectivelyrelating to one another and expressing devotion to God.
Do members enthusiastically recommend the worship service to friends outside this church?
Have sermons proved helpful and challenging in people’s every day life?
How does the music enhance the worship experience?
Christian Education –
Do the programs of the church effectively teach the faith to children?
Building and Facilities – Buildings and other facilities not only provide space for the ongoing work of the church, they also are visual representations of the church and its mission in the community. Below are some issues to ask yourself as you peruse the facilities.
Are the church buildings and property visually appealing from the outside, and highly visible to people in the local community?
Because of the location, can newcomers easily find the church?
Do the buildings feel welcoming?
Are the buildings and facilities effective in supporting the various ministries (children, teen, young adult, adult, senior, etc)?
Are there any current plans to expand facilities? If so, what are the plans, and in what stage of development are they?
Have any plans to expand facilities been scrapped recently? If so, why?
Are there any off-campus facilities (owned or rented) that are currently being used by the church? If so, what programs reside there?