We are so grateful to Holly Cooper for helping us to make sense of some of the data from our congregational survey! Below, you will find Holly’s wonderful summaries of the first three open-ended questions in the survey, regarding your favorite thing about the congregation, and the top three functions of the congregation and the minister. Enjoy!
What is your favorite thing about our congregation?
The strongest trend that emerged from the responses to this question were that respondents felt the congregation of Wildflower Church is warm and friendly. People also felt a strong sense of community in the church, and a bond with friends and others. A number of respondents cited the diversity of the congregation as a strength and a few specificity mentioned diversity including disability, age and race as important.
A strong feature of our congregation people cited was our commitment to social justice views and activities. Also cited was the importance of liberal views and values. Several respondents said the passion and commitment of members was an important part of Wildflower. A more general reference to values and the message from the minister or at the Sunday pulpit were also mentioned.
Church activities were cited as important, those that occurred outside of Sunday worship. Programs and activities for children and youth were considered a strength by many.
The minister was mentioned as being important and capable by many. A factor people appreciated was the message from the minister. In addition, a significant number of respondents cited the music and choir as something they valued.
Qualitative information can be counted and it is tempting to use the responses ranked by the number of times they were cited by respondents. However, counting the number of results in each category and ranking responses in this way is not statistically valid.
What do you perceive the top three functions of our congregation to be?
Different respondents interpreted this question along two different lines. Some people responded with answers indicating the term “congregation” meant the larger community of the church. They responded with answers such as provide Sunday services, a spiritual home, a safe space, community, a place for liberal or UU values. Others responded with answers relating to what they as individuals do being UU’s, such as social action, supporting the church with time and money, participating in running Sunday services, and similar ideas. I have included answers regarding both interpretations in this summary.
A strong theme relating to the congregation as a community was clear. The most single response was that the congregation was a community for its members. General statements about community and community support were submitted, along with ideas about mutual support, being a spiritual home, a place to recharge, and a safe space. The congregation as a place for spiritual growth was cited by many as an important function. Another strong trend in responses related to the congregation being a welcoming community and welcoming of diversity. Also mentioned by participants was the congregation being a place where liberal or UU values were shared, and where people could learn.
Some responses relating to specific church issues were submitted by participants, but these were very small in number compared to social justice and community ideas. The most frequently mentioned one was the importance of education and activities for children and youth, although education without mention of age was also cited. Activities and interest groups were listed as important. The least number of responses related to the importance of the pastoral support, financial support, and running the church.
The second theme of the congregation as part of the larger human community had more responses than the church taking care of its own. The idea that the congregation was a place or community supporting social justice and social justice activities was a significant idea in participants’ responses. A small number of respondents implied that they felt the emphasis on social justice wrongly outweighed the emphasis on meeting the needs of the congregation itself as a community. In addition to general statements about social justice, participants also mentioned reaching out to the larger community (to provide help) and helping or supporting those in need. Some respondents stated or implied that helping those in need of support related to fellow congregants, others that those in need were members of the larger community.
Overall, the responses to the question of “what are the top three functions of the congregation” were many and varied. The theme of social justice emerged slightly more strongly than the theme of the community or spiritual home. A minor theme of running the church, was included in some responses.
What do you perceive the top three functions of our minister to be?
The skills, talents and personality traits listed by respondents to this question were largely predictable, but also varied widely. Reading these responses at times seemed to indicate people were looking for a superhero, or a person with extraordinary abilities.
The theme that emerged as most important to the most participants related to Sunday services. Many indicate the importance of the message or sermon delivered. Others listed leading services, leading worship, and ability to provide a thought-provoking message as crucial. Many also wanted the minister or the message to be inspiring or be a good communicator. It was clear that being a good public speaker who can compose a good sermon and organize a good service was important to most people responding.
A small number of people specified growth of the church congregation as important. Some people want the message or Sunday service to attract new people, some expect the minister and inspirational teachings in general to lead more people to join. Also listed, as a practical matter was attracting members and growing the church financially.
Other abilities and skills related to commonly expected duties of a minister also made a strong showing in the responses. Primary among these was leadership. Respondents want a good leader, someone who will not only lead Sunday services, but lead and participate in other church activities such as study groups and social action. Many people also listed spiritual growth and being a spiritual guide, role model or providing guidance to the congregation and individuals as important.
Another important theme discussed by many participants pastoral care. A very large portion of responses listed this as important, second only to leadership skills. Most related this to pastoral care of individuals in the congregation, and counseling or supporting individuals. Some responses also specified pastoral care of the congregational community as important.
A major theme that emerged from responses to this question reflected similar ideas to the previous two questions, this was the importance of social action, social justice, and inclusivity. People want a minister welcoming and encouraging of diversity, one who speaks about and inspires listeners to social action. They want a minister who will challenge our ideas, speak about and educate us on liberal values, and UU values. They want a minister who can represent UU values to the larger community.
Again, similar to responses on the previous questions, people want a minister who is a part of the church community. A person who will serve and nurture the community, educate the community, and be a good role model for the larger community.
On a practical side, a number of respondents want a minister who is a good manager. The minister should be a capable manager of the church and the church staff, organized and able to organize activities and duties.
Some interesting comments related more to personality than skills were listed by some people. They want someone who is welcoming, loving, and has a good sense of humor. Someone felt it was important that the minister be unconventional, “weird” like Austin. Traits also listed were being helpful, supportive and friendly; able to make people feel comfortable, an advocate for the congregation’s needs. Someone who will talk and listen to individuals or small groups about important issues. Someone who is honest
and kind. Someone who will inspire unity, motivation, and enable us to better support one another.
In summary, valued skills included leadership, arranging Sunday services, and pastoral care were high on the list of areas of importance in a minister. Growing the congregation and managing the church was also an important skill. Participating in and inspiring the congregation to social action and social justice were also valued skills. Being part of the church community and teaching UU values were important in a minister. A kind, loving, and welcoming personality were also valued. Someone once said to me (I think it was my mother) that UU congregations either want a minister who is scholarly, one who is a good leader and manager, or one with good people skills. I’m sure there are other ways to define a minister, but it appears from these responses that a good minister for us is a capable leader and speaker who has good people skills.