Ministerial Survey Results
UUMAN Congregational Survey 2015
This report summarizes the efforts of the Ministerial Search Committee (MSC) to learn what kind of congregation we have become, and what kind of minister we wanted to lead us. Our methodology and key survey results will be described. Complete survey results are available here. (Click here to download the PDF file; please note that open-ended answers are not included, to maintain confidentiality.)
The MSC met several times during the summer of 2015 with the Survey as a key agenda item. We decided to assess the congregation’s ministerial aspirations with both
1) a multiple-choice survey which could be taken individually, online (or in printed, handwritten form), and
2) gathering in small “Cottage Meeting” groups, hosted in individual homes and at UUMAN, where four open-ended questions about past and present concerns and aspirations, could be discussed.
The results of the latter meetings will not be published; however, each Cottage Meeting had both a facilitator and a note-keeper from the MSC, and the answers to these questions were reviewed by the entire MSC throughout the surveying process. These notes continue to be available to the MSC through a shared document drive.
The online survey is based upon a template provided by the UUA’s Transitions office with more than fifty multiple-choice and open-ended questions. The MSC wanted to ensure that as many church members and friends completed the survey as possible, and thus winnowed the list down to a total of 37 questions, in hopes that the survey could be completed in approximately 30 minutes.
Along with the objectives stated above, the Congregational Survey also serves to provide specific information that is made available to candidate ministers via the UUA’s online Congregational Record. One particular assessment, covered in Question 21 (How important are these ministerial functions to you?), is required and must be provided to candidate ministers on a scale of one to four, with no more than four each of the first-, second-, and third-most important functions.
The MSC asked several volunteers to take a draft version of the online survey; the official survey was released to the congregation on September 21 and remained open for the next four weeks. UUMAN members and friends were invited to participate with repeated messages on the UUMAN Announcements email subscriber list, the UUMAN Facebook page, and during Sunday service.
The Congregational Survey drew a total of 132 respondents. Of these, just two were completed on a printed, hand-written form; the rest were completed online at the SurveyMonkey.com website. We opened this survey to both “Members” and “Friends” of UUMAN; of those who answered this self-identification question, 88% said they were Members, 12% identified as Friends.
Reviewing the resulting response percentages among the individual questions, it may be difficult to ascertain any overriding or centralized objectives of the UUMAN community in many of the areas covered. However, there are a few questions that yielded such insights.
When asked, Why do you attend UUMAN, “Belonging to a community” was a fairly clear winner, 86%. We’ve noted from our Cottage Meetings a similar desire; conversely, we noted that any perceived efforts to fragment our community generated some of the greatest concerns.
These sentiments are echoed in response to the question Which of the following reasons for attending worship services are important to you? “Celebration of common values” and “Sense of belonging” topped this list.
The Survey also asked if respondents either had attended or planned to attend a Cottage Meeting: 90 individuals (70%) indicated that they had, or would do so.
Based on both the Survey planning meeting discussions, and feedback from respondents, we can report (anecdotally) that perhaps the most contentious question concerned personal faith, specifically, feelings about a belief system, and of the utility of a belief system. While this may be expected, it also highlights the difficulty of extracting statistically useful information from a congregation; we have since considered how we might better approach the issue in future surveys with a more simplified set of possible answers.
The benign-sounding Question 12 leads with what some might consider a highly personal and emotionally charged assertion, which respondents are asked if they agree, disagree, or are neutral: “A personal relationship with God is a vital part of my spiritual life and a necessary part of my worship experience.” This, along with “The life, teachings, and death of Jesus of Nazareth are central to my understanding of God, the Universe, and the human condition”, drew the fewest number of respondents who agreed.
Perhaps revealingly, the statement that drew the highest agreement among survey respondents was with the assertion (emphasis mine) that “‘Goodness’ and ‘meaning’ are human constructs created as a result of the human encounter with each other and the world.”
Unfortunately, clear-cut answers to ministerial expectations may be challenging to ascertain from these results. Under the category of the minister’s priorities, perhaps unsurprisingly, “Presenting stimulating and challenging Sunday services” drew the highest response (72%).
The Congregational Record requires that we ascertain the “Ministerial skills and enthusiasms most needed by the congregation.” We provided a scale of one to four, with four being the highest need, one the lowest. The UUA stipulates that only four of each of the first-, second-, and third-most important requirements can be listed. Using these criteria, our polling revealed that Community Building, Spiritual Guidance, Preaching, and Worship were the top four.
It is hoped that our candidate ministers can learn a great deal of our expectations by reviewing these responses themselves. We ask two very similar questions, with the distinction emphasized here:
How much is your affiliation with UUMAN a source of strength or comfort to you?
How much is your affiliation with the Unitarian Universalist denomination a source of strength or comfort to you?
51% answered “A great deal” to the first question, but only 29% responded thus to the second.
The Survey also provided an opportunity for UUMAN to learn more about its own members’ and friends’ backgrounds. A little over half of respondents were between the ages of 50 and 69. Also, 45% of respondents said they have a postgraduate degree (compared to about 8% of the American population at large.) 62% identify as female; 90% as heterosexual; 75% as married.