Chapter 188

The Science of Surveys

Careful procedures lead to more objective results

To be most effective, a survey requires careful planning and analysis.

Surveys provide not only comments on where to improve but also two uplifting results: what your people gained from your sermons, and representative feedback. Representative comments—from a cross-section of church people—help keep you from placing undue weight on the scathing individual comment that comes to every pastor from time to time.

To get started, I recommend a written, one-page, anonymous survey focused on a specific sermon. It is easiest for people to respond to something concrete, such as this morning's sermon. And you will gain specific feedback. Here is a sample survey. (An actual survey would allow space for answers.)

Sermon survey

The pastor is seeking feedback from people within the congregation. Please take a minute or two right now to complete this survey. Thank you.

1. Overall, how would you rate today's sermon?

Excellent Good Fair Poor

2. How would you compare today's sermon to most of the pastor's sermons?

Better About the same Poorer

If today's sermon seemed better or poorer than usual, why?

3. What are the main points you remember from today's sermon?

4. What, if anything, did you gain from the sermon?

5. What, if anything, did you think was weak about the sermon?

6. Do you think today's sermon will change your life in any concrete way? (For example, change an attitude, cause you to do anything differently, and so on)

Definitely yes Probably yes Maybe Probably not

If yes, what do you think will change?

7. If you could tell the pastor one positive thing about his/her sermons, what would it be?

8. If you could give the pastor one suggestion about sermon content or delivery, what would it be?

9. Please add any other comments you may have about today's sermon or other sermons.

10. Are you: Male____ Female____

11. Your age: Under 30____ 3049____ 50 or over____

12. How long have you attended this church?

Less than 1 year 13 years More than 3years

Suggested procedures

Number of surveys

Regardless of the size of your church, fewer than twenty returns may not be enough feedback, and more than fifty per Sunday is not necessary to get representative opinions. You won't get every survey back, so pass out 25 to 50.


Pick one or more personable and trustworthy people to distribute the survey.

I suggest these people approach individuals as they leave the sanctuary, asking them if they would like to help the pastor by taking a few minutes to complete a survey on today's sermon. (It will be most accurate and helpful if people complete the survey right away.)

The persons should hand them out to a mix of young and old, men and women, leaders and non-leaders, and new and long-term members. The survey distributors can personally collect the surveys or tell people where to place them. A cardboard box nearby marked Surveys would ensure anonymity.

The distributors should thank people for their time.

It's possible that a few people may not be honest or fair, so I recommend surveying a cross section of church members on at least three or four Sundays.

Tabulating and analyzing the results

While you may want to just read through all the survey forms, tabulating the answers gives you a better understanding of what the feedback really means. You will see what percentage of your respondents felt positively or negatively about the sermon.

Some tips:

  • Use a blank copy of the survey to record your tabulations and analysis.
  • If you see major differences in the way people answer based on age, sex, or length of time at your church, you may want to tabulate each group separately. For example, separately tabulate surveys from male and female respondents, or those under thirty and those over thirty.
  • On questions 1, 2a, and 6a, find percentages for each answer. Save these percentages and compare them to the answers to your next sermon survey. If the next message is a different type, and you receive a significantly higher or lower score (more than 10 percentage points), you can conclude something about your congregation's receptivity to these two types of sermons.
  • On the remaining questions, it would be helpful to count the number of times a response is repeated. For example, on question 3, count which point in your sermon was remembered by the greatest number of people and which was remembered by the least number of people.
  • Throughout the tabulation, pay attention to the repeated comments. These represent the typical response to your sermons. Don't place lots of weight on the single complaint. Perhaps you can't help taking such comments to heart, but remember, they represent only one person's view, not the church's as a whole.
Using the results

Think back. Using question 3 again, was the most remembered point the first point? Did it have the most graphic image associated with it? There may be more than one reason why it was most remembered. These reasons will tell you something about your congregation and how to best communicate with them.

The results may make intuitive sense to you. They may not. If there is something truly baffling about the results to any question, you may want to talk it over with an elder you trust. It's always helpful to have more than one interpretation of survey results.